Our new site is up!!

We have a beta version of our website up now, www.fromstonetoscreen.com.  We are very happy with how it looks and hope you like it!

If you have any comments or thoughts, definitely let us know!  We love how much the project is growing and appreciate all of your support.

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Finding the Answers in the Squeezes: When We Discovered that Graduate Students Haven’t Changed in 80 years

B1TwJrNCEAAUlhh.jpg-largeWe have a very extensive squeeze collection here at From Stone to Screen.  1051 squeezes, to be exact – although about 200-300 of them are duplicates.  The point of this entire project has been to digitize the squeezes, which we have diligently been doing, and to put them up on an online database.  This hits a snag sometimes when we can’t identify where exactly the squeeze is from.  Such as last Friday when Lisa came across this gorgeous squeeze while she was working at the Digital Initiatives lab.

Normally, we identify our squeezes by an index that was written up by Professor Nigel Kennell in the ’70s or by the handwritten notes by Professor McGregor that has the IG (Inscriptiones Graecae) number or the EM (Epigraphic Museum) number somewhere on the squeeze.  With the delicate state of some of our squeezes, we are very grateful for these references.  When Lisa couldn’t identify this stunning squeeze, though, she decided to try and take it to social media.  She sent out a tweet on Friday afternoon calling all Greek epigraphists to help identify the squeeze which was quickly retweeted around the small but active epigraphic community.

Monday morning we tweeted out the image again hoping to catch some more scholars who hadn’t seen it before the weekend (because, in all honesty, it was late Friday afternoon).  Within a couple of hours we had a very helpful reply that identified the squeeze as a stelae from Aixone.

Comparing our squeeze (right) to an image of the inscription on the stelae (left)

Comparing our squeeze (right) to an image of the inscription on the stelae (left).

Lisa compared the two images and agreed- they’re a match!  We’re thrilled to have an answer to our mystery so quickly, through the wonders of the internet.  This is one of the first times that we have gone to the public like this for help and it was fun to see how many people were thinking about the squeeze, proof that what we’re working towards will be used by other scholars in our field.

We are also deeply amused by how much simpler this process was than the debates that took place in the 1930s.  One of our favourite parts of our squeeze collection is actually a letter between ‘Mac’ (Malcolm McGregor) and ‘Gene’ (Eugene Schweigert) from 1935 arguing over certain transliterations from a fragment of the Athenian Tribute Lists.  Considering Mac was at the University of Cincinnati and Gene was at Johns Hopkins, the debates must have taken quite a while to come to a resolution.  With how difficult squeezes are to read, it’s understandable that there was a lot to discuss.  Plus, if you’ve read our previous posts about the process of digitizing squeezes, you know that one advantage to our new images of them is that epigraphists no longer needs to be able to read Greek backwards.  Don’t forget, too, that epigraphic Greek was written in all capitals with no spaces or punctuation, it’s no surprise that sometimes the arguments came down to a single letter.  Which was backwards.  Today’s accessibility to images enables us to quickly compare images instead of relying on other peoples’ squeezes and readings of the inscriptions.

Beyond that, this letter also gives us an amazing insight into a man who is a legend in our department and a key player in the research on the Tribute Lists.  When this letter was written he would have been finishing up his doctorate at the University of Cincinnati and only 25, around the same age as most of us who are working on this project.  The two men are obviously friends and Gene begins the letter with “Short but violent spell of nostalgia now over.  Its reoccurrence after some… puzzled famous Johns Hopkins physicians.  Nature finally performed her cure.”  Then he goes on to refute some of Mac’s theories and cheekily writes in the middle “Don’t worry about ἐξ ἀπογραφῆς or ἐδήμευΓαν etc. Your guess is just as likely.”   Whether or not Mac was reassured that his guess was just as likely we’ll never know, but this conversation is reminiscent of ones heard around our department all the time.

This letter was written four years before the first volume on the Athenian Tribute List was published by McGregor, Merritt and Wade-Gery.  Both men are mentioned in the letter and at the end Gene says that he wishes he could spend more time with Mac and West.  Allen Brown West, though, died in a car accident in 1936 and the first volume was dedicated to his memory.  The forward in the volume makes it quite clear that his work was invaluable to their research and that his friends missed him very much.  Reading the letter, it’s not hard to see the similarities between these men who were at the beginning of their academic career 80 years ago and those of use who are working on this project today.  It’s comforting, and entertaining, to see that they had to adapt to having long distance friends (which anyone in academia can tell you is a occupational hazard).  In our department, working on a project at this magnitude is only possible because we rely on each as friends as well as colleagues, and it was nowhere near the scale as the ATLs.  Who knows?  It could always keep growing.

The question is, are our letters to each other just as entertaining at the one below?  I think you’ll have to wait 80 years and accidentally find a copy of our e-mails in a drawer to find out.  Until then, here is the sign-off from Gene’s letter.

I often think if I possessed Aladdin’s lamp I would wear it out wishing that I could transport you and West here.  Merritt would like that, too.  He said he would like a month’s session of pow-wow with West… Merritt is a jolly fellow.  You should have been here this afternoon when he brought me – well, I haven’t enough room. Another time.

Letter from Gene to Mac, pg. 1

Letter from Gene to Mac, pg. 1

Letter from Gene to Mac, pg. 2

Letter from Gene to Mac, pg. 2

If you would like to read more about the adventures of Mac, Gene, West, Merritt and Wade-Gery, the forward of the first volume of the Athenian Tribute List has some more details on their journey to publish the ATLS.

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Digging the Dead…City: The Caere Project and the Excavation of Etruscan Ruins

Our latest post is written by one of our newest MA students, Kevin Lee.  We’re happy to have him helping out with the project and it sounds like he has an amazing time digging every summer!

You’ve heard of the famous Banditaccia necropolis at Cerveteri no doubt.  You know, rows and rows of Etruscan tombs and tumuli about 40 minutes northwest of Rome?  A veritable city of the dead?  Home of the friendliest stray dog and worst hamburger in the Repubblica italiana?

IMGA0459No?  Well, humor me anyway.  Suppose you wanted to visit this fabled land where the Etruscans of ancient Cerveteri laid their dead to rest and left them some goodies to enjoy in the afterlife until two millennia later when archaeologists so thoughtfully came in and jacked it all.  Imagine yourself in Rome’s Trastevere station (I choose that one instead of Termini because I’ve noticed Termini inspires very…mixed feelings, let us say, among those who have experienced its unique charms).  If you hop an FL5 train towards Civitavecchia and ride it out for about 20 minutes, you’ll arrive at a station called Marina di Cerveteri.  You disembark, and find yourself in a whitewashed resort town that has no intention of leaving the ‘70s, and realize this is not where you want to be.  So you follow the locals to the nearest intersection and catch that friendly-looking municipal bus which has enough legroom for people approximately 1 micron in width and ride it up the hill to Piazza Aldo Moro.  Ah, now you’re in Cerveteri itself, with that stately medieval castle of the Ruspoli clan to your left and the outdoor café to your right where the elders of the town seem to be practicing their age-old art of staring directly through you.  A pleasant walk around the medieval borgo and along the Via della Necropoli, lined with enough stone pines to make Virgil’s shade wax poetic, and within half an hour you’ve arrived at the Banditaccia’s gate.

Or you could just take a car or go with a tour group, but that would just be too easy, wouldn’t it?

IMGA0400If you’re lucky a huge white and well-fed Great Pyrenees will lop up to you at the gate, tongue lolling out, and roll over begging for pets on a stomach caked with approximately 5 years’ worth of unwashed dirt.  Inside you’ll walk among and through an array of tombs so varied and whimsical you’ll expect a purple-suited Gene Wilder to pop out of the Mengarelli Tumulus and start singing “Come with me, and you’ll be, in a worlllld of pure imagination.” Within moments you too will fall in love with (or at least be fascinated by…or slightly interested in) the Etruscans, and as you sit at the visitor center eating a dry hamburger whose thickness could have been used by Demokritos to demonstrate his concept of the atom, you’ll ponder this ancient people whom romantic writers like George Dennis and D.H. Lawrence liltingly lionized as peaceful, nature-loving hill-elf folk before those nasty Romans came with their laws and sewer systems.

10474856_10152429319705091_6191531623096349725_nThese are the people I’ve dug for the past three summers.  While my interest as broadly conceived is comparative urbanism across the ancient Near East and Mediterranean, my practical focus has been on digging Etruscans and Etruscan accessories.  Contrary to the notions of Dennis and Lawrence, the Etruscans were not Na’vi antici, but as Livy will be happy to tell you perfectly predisposed to some good old-fashioned cattle-rustlin’ in Roman territory, wars, and to becoming kings who made the Romans build those impressive sewers (the gall!).  They also weren’t particularly nature-loving in the modern sense.  On my first dig in 2012 at Poggio Civitate, the site of an Etruscan manor house in northern Etruria approximately 20 kilometers from Siena, our director, Dr. Anthony Tuck, would point to all the surrounding hills and note the relatively scrubby growth, saying “That’s in part because the Etruscans who owned this hill clear-cut the whole area to fuel their workshop.”  That ought to make James Cameron think he didn’t evil-up his cartoonishly villainous space miners enough.  Whereas they left intact large swaths of alien jungle in spite of their futuristic earth-movers and giant Tonka trucks, their 2,000+ year-old ancestors far outstripped them with little more than iron axes.  And using nothing more than those axes and their grit, the southern cousins of the Poggio Civitate lords cleared the defensible Cerveteri plateau and established one of the major cities of the ancient Mediterranean atop it.

While the Etruscans had a multitude of names for this city (e.g., Kaisra, Cisra, Kysry, etc.) the Romans knew it as Caere, and that is the name that has stuck.  Up until recently, the focus in Etruscan archaeology has been their tombs, as those were the big remains which captured the attention of earlier investigators.  Little overall was known about their settlements and cities, which, being made largely of perishable materials such as wood and mudbrick, were not as sexy to early researchers as those decorated tombs a short walk away.  Recently the winds have been shifting in favor of more Etruscan settlement archaeology, and the Caere Project is part of that wave.  I have dug there for the past two seasons, in 2013 and 2014.  The excavation is held near the approximate geographic center of the ancient city, in close proximity to the Roman theater built during the reign of Claudius as well as a large elliptical structure of uncertain status (council chamber? Ritual hub?) and two large Etruscan sanctuaries tentatively identified as being dedicated to Uni (Juno) and Cel (Tellus).

While today the area the Caere Project excavates is beneath a former vineyard, in the Etruscan and Roman periods it was home to a subterranean ritual space termed “the Hypogeum of Clepsina” by the project, after an inscription to the left of the entrance mentioning renovations during the tenure of the praefect Gaius Genucius Clepsina in 273 B.C.  Interestingly, just because the hypogeum was subterranean does not mean it was a room without a view. Excavations in 2012 revealed windows that looked out onto a great lustral basin.  Based on calculations made by the project director, Dr. Fabio Colivicchi, the hypogeum is aligned so that on the Winter Solstice, the Sun directly illuminates the a niche, where an altar or other ritual fixture may have once stood, flanked by painted palm trees.  Furthermore, echoes during the excavation process suggested the presence of more subterranean spaces beneath the hypogeum.

IMGA0434As exciting as it would be to excavate an underground complex, the paperwork and expense for such an undertaking is massive, so our Indiana Jonesing must wait and for the past two years the project has focused on the easier task of excavating the urban fabric surrounding the hypogeum.  In 2013 we dug the area south of the hypogeum, which contained a major road used during the Roman and Etruscan periods, on both sides of which were remains that suggest mixed domestic-production areas.  A small subterranean room with a pillar altar as well as a 6 meter-deep cistern and well were found on the south side, while a structure containing fragments of bronze and a corner pool (forge?) was found north of the road.  In 2014, we excavated a smaller and more concentrated area directly north of the hypogeum.  In spite of the plowing damage from early modern vine trenches and the modern town’s aqueduct pipe which blew right through the middle of our trench, we uncovered several structural remains, including a drain, a platform of some sort, and, most intriguingly, a c. 8th century B.C. hut, the oldest evidence to date of habitation on the plateau.  Unfortunately I did not get to investigate the hut, as my area was the very messy zone of mixed contexts (and thus relatively useless for analysis), the product of industrious plowing by the site’s medieval and early modern occupants.

The site has produced some fantastic finds for learning about the urban context of a southern Etruscan city: painted terra cottas, a wealth of pottery, utilitarian and otherwise, and votive heads, to name a few categories.  The spread is also interesting to note.  In the southern area excavated in 2013, most of the finds could be dated to the Roman period.  In the northern area excavated in 2014, most of the finds could be dated to the earlier Etruscan period.  We know that Caere’s fortunes waxed and waned over time.  After the city was subsumed into the Roman Republic it lost much of its prestige, but remained an urban center into the Julio-Claudian dynasty when Claudius gave special attentions to the city as a historic center of Etruscan culture.  The city gradually withered afterwards, although some ritual activity at least persisted at the site during the Severan dynasty, as an inscription in the hypogeum suggests.  These areas are not very far apart, so it is interesting that the finds from one are predominantly Roman and those from the other predominantly Etruscan.  Since the finds are of a different age, this demonstrates changing site usage through time.

IMGA0476Thus stands the Caere Project.  It is set to continue for the foreseeable future.  While yours truly will not be returning there this summer, having already signed on to another dig, the project’s progress can be followed at its website.

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We’re upgrading!

Our project has had some amazing opportunities and exposure this academic year, and we’re only two months in!  To reflect this, our team is in the process of redesigning our webpage!  We have some great ideas and can’t wait to put them into place.

We also want to hear from you, though!  As our readers, supporters, and the whole reason why we’re doing this, we value your opinion and want to know what you’d like to see.  We would really appreciate it if you could take a minute to answer our poll and let us know what you would like to see on our website!  Vote on a particular aspect you think would be great to see upgraded or suggest your own!  We would love any feedback you have.

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Spells, Potions, and Curses of the Ancient World

Happy Halloween! Today’s post is a slight departure from our regular talk of digital humanities, but still has an epigraphic focus – we’re looking at ancient papyri texts with spells, curses and potions.

Invisibility Spell

P. oxy. LVIII.3931

P. oxy. LVIII.3931

Translation by Richard L Phillips:[1]

ASSESOUO, dim the eyes of every man or woman, when I go forth, until I achieve as many things as I wish, and I say, Choreith, listen to me, (you) who are in charge of the universe, ALKME, master of the sea; (you) who are in charge of the night. 



P.Oxy.LVIII 3931; Papyrology Rooms, Sackler Library, Oxford

The back side of the papyrus seems to have a potion recipe on it, cautiously restored as:

Soak fine….in oil with crocodile dung and a few mature mallows and rub on the face.

Crocodile dung sounds really gross, but weighed against the benefits of invisibility…I might be tempted.


Prophetic Dreams

To see a true dream:

Upon going to sleep say after you have eaten ritually pure food, “Verily by Neith, verily by Neith, if I shall succeed in a certain activity, show me water, if not, fire.” 


Neith, Goddess of War and Hunting, Nurse of Crocodiles, Cow of Heaven, Opener of the Ways.

These two examples basically mean the ancients sat around doing the papyri equivalent of a Buzzfeed quiz;  Which psychic power should you have?[2] Or at least, that they had the same silly desires we do – invisibility and the ability to tell the future. What other frivolous concerns did they decide were worth dabbling in the supernatural?


Spell for the Chariot Race

Spell for the Chariot Race


“…Sarakenos Belehmu Parthaon Didyme Nymphike Pele- Strabos…by the holy names that are attached to you…smite the horses of the Blues, hold them back so that…Parthaon Nymphike Strabos Pele-. I adjure you, spirit of the dead, by (voces magicae). I adjure you […by] Gabriel, Raphael, Michael, Bouel, go off to the (hippodrome?) so that you may cast down, cause to fall, and bind the…Parthaon Didyme Strabos Nymphike Pele-…I adjure you by the God of the Gods…Ousirapis Ousor Mnevis Ous-…of the Lord Ouser-…drag, cause to fall…smite…”[3]

The text of this curse, from 4th Century Beirut,  is missing the end of each line but it is clearly a curse against the horses rather than the charioteer. Chariot races were extremely popular in the Roman world and people got as heated about their faction as any modern sports fan does for their team – check out the Wikipedia entry on the Nika riots,”the most violent riots in the history of Constantinople”; it began in the hippodrome, escalated to the nearby palace and half the city was destroyed.

Curse tablets directed against sporting rivals or specific horse teams like the one above are often found buried in and around the sites of chariot races, but curses were also a popular way to deal with legal troubles, business rivals and thieves.[4]

The commonalities between spells, curses and potions of the ancient world are that they invoke the gods – the more, the better, it seems – there is a ritual formula that anyone can use, no special training necessary, and they tend to borrow foreign words in much the same way that modern tv shows throw out Latin or Sumerian when they want to really impress the viewers. Co-opting foreign words because they sound more magical is just one more thing that hasn’t really changed with time.

Have a happy Halloween, everyone, and if you find any crocodile dung…let me know how that invisibility spell works out for you.

Jack-o'-Lantern 2003-10-31

Jack-o’-Lantern 2003-10-31


[1] R. Phillips, “Blinding as a Means of Becoming Invisible” ICS 35-36 (2010-11) 111-20.

[2] I got Clairvoyance, for the record.

[3] H. Amirav, G. Bevan, D. Colomo

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curse_tablet

Further Reading:

Adams, Geoff W (2006), The social and cultural implications of curse tablets [defixiones] in Britain and on the Continent, Studia Humaniora Tartuensia, 7.A.5: 1–15.

Baker, K. (2003), ‘Greco-Roman Curses: Curse Tablets’, History of Magick

Kotansky, Roy, Greek Magical Amulets: the inscribed gold, silver, copper and bronze lamellae (Part I: Published Texts of Known Provenance), Papyrologica Coloniensia 22/1, Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1994

Ogden, Daniel (1999), “Binding Spells: Curse Tablets and Voodoo Dolls in the Greek and Roman Worlds”, in Ankarloo, Bengt; Clark, Stuart, In Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: Ancient Greece and Rome, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, pp. 3–90.

Tomlin, Roger (2005), Curse Tablets of Roman Britain, et al, Oxford, ENG, UK: Oxford University.


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Open Access Week, October 28th – 29th


Every year UBC hosts participates in International Open Access Week, a global event aimed at the promotion of open access in scholarship and resarch. From Stone to Screen has been asked to join the panel on Student Innovation in the Open,  where we will present the digitizing work we’ve accomplished over the summer and talk a bit about how these resources are being integrated into classroom use. This is a great opportunity for us to engage with the academic community and discuss the value of open access to material, something we at FSTS feel very strongly about.

Open UBC is held in conjunction with the International Open Access Week, which encourages the academic community to come together to share and learn about open scholarship initiatives locally and worldwide. Open UBC showcases two days of diverse events highlighting areas of open scholarship that UBC’s researchers, faculty, students and staff participate in as well as guests from the global community. These events include discussion forums, lectures, seminars, workshops, and symposia on topical and timely issues from every discipline. All of these events are FREE and open to the public, students, faculty, staff and schools.

All sessions will be held in the Lillooet Room (301), of the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre at UBC. Check out the schedule and if there are panels or talks you are interested in registration is free but required; coffee and snacks are provided.



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The Future of Archaeology: Why 3D Rendering is Virtually Vital

Since starting to research photogrammetry in preparation for Saturday’s International Archaeology Day workshop, I’ve realized a couple of crucial points. One is that 3D rendering of objects and landscapes is fast becoming a standard practice in archaeology and the second is that the process is one of the few archaeological processes that can be picked up at home with no investment other than your time.


For our workshop we are using the free software 123DCatch, which has apps for computers, tablets and smartphones. The multi-platform app means that a student – if they have WiFi at the dig site – could potentially photograph and render in 3D on site and in mere minutes with their cell phone, producing detailed and accurate copies of artifacts or archaeological features that were once painstakingly drawn by hand.


If you’ve read Kat’s post on her dig over the summer in Italy, you already know there is plenty of slow, painstaking work in archaeology; there is no substitute for the precise, methodical uncovering of artifacts and features long buried under the dirt. (Fun party trick – just mention Heinrich Schliemann’s excavation tactics and watch your archaeologist friends cringe in horror and dismay.) That’s not to say that archaeological geophysics isn’t making strides in its own right, but those methods can only be used to identify buried features; no push of a button is going to actually shift the dirt carefully enough that we can replace eager students “cleaning dirt off of dirt”.


But where we can save time – in surveys, in rendering the artifacts and features more precisely and in greater detail – we have an obligation to do so. This is not just a question of getting your excavation finished in good time, or even getting the results published. I keep coming back to what Tom Elliott said when opening the EAGLE Conference – that we are all working together as the antidote to the destruction of our shared cultural heritage. This isn’t just an academic’s attempt to justify their work – there are genuine threats to our cultural heritage and the preservation of it is necessary and vital.

The Associated Press reports the Islamic State has taken to destroying key archaeological sites in Iraq and Syria– much of which includes the ancient land of Mesopotamia– and subsidizing their income with black market sales of ancient artifacts. In addition to Mosul, the Islamic State controls four ancient cities — Nineveh, Kalhu, Dur Sharrukin and Ashur– which gives them nearly unbridled access to a treasure trove of statues, tiles, and other highly-coveted items by collectors. Nineveh alone contains 1,800 of Iraq’s 12,000 registered archaeological sites. (Brietbart.com Sept. 21, 2014)

We fully believe that any student heading out on a dig in the future should be armed with a basic knowledge of photogrammetry, given how easily accessible the software is and how simple it is to use. Our scholarly focus may be on the past, but we need to keep our eyes on the future at least in terms of the tools and techniques we use in the field.

Further reading:

 A Discussion of the Analytical Benefits of Image-Based 3D Modeling in Archaeology

Photogrammetry in Archaeology: Using the Future to Understand the Past in the Present

Digital Archaeology in the News:

3D Model of the Amphipolis Tomb

Beyond Ankor: How lasers revealed a lost city





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