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Telling Stories from Laundry Lists: Linear B and Mycenaean Histories

Date and Time: 
Monday, May 1, 2017. 05:30 PM - 07:30 PM
Meeting Location: 
Building 110, Room 112
Approaches to Data Scarcity in Ancient History
Meeting Description: 

The decipherment of Linear B in 1952 was both a triumph and a disappointment. Even John Chadwick wrote that "for the most part the [Linear B] tablets are drab and lifeless documents." The information in them, however, was usefully extracted by linguists and lexicographers on the one hand and by economic historians and archaeologists on the other. Because of the limited number of texts preserved, scholars tended to treat all documents as if they came from a single corpus, even when they were separated by time, space, and archaeological context, and made use of socioeconomic typologies to fill in the large gaps in the evidence. In this talk, I explore the weaknesses of these approaches and attempt to come to grips with issues of data scarcity in the study of the Mycenaean world.

Dimitri Nakassis is an archaeologist and classicist in the Department of Classics at the University of Colorado Boulder who studies the material and textual production of early Greek communities, especially of the Mycenaean societies of Late Bronze Age Greece (ca. 1600-1100 BC). He developed new methods for investigating individuals named in the administrative Linear B texts and argued from this evidence that Mycenaean society was far less hierarchical and much more dynamic than it had been considered in the past. He also works on Homer and Hesiod, Greek religion and history, archaeological survey, Linear A, and the economy, society and prosopography of the Mycenaean world, and he is currently writing a second book on political authority in Mycenaean Greece. He is co-director (with Sarah James and Scott Gallimore) of the Western Argolid Regional Valley, a diachronic archaeological survey in southern Greece, and co-director (with Kevin Pluta) of the Pylos Tablets Digital Pro ject, which involves the digital documentation of all the administrative documents from the "Palace of Nestor" at Pylos. In 2015 he was named a MacArthur fellow.