Saxa Loquuntur – How to understand the tales of stones
As I told you last week, I was on my way to Italy – and now, I am back here in Austria, sitting in my appartment, enjoyed a wunderful silent and easy Sunday without people and with a lot of reading and a lot of movies. And no, I did not think about my thesis. 😉
I was in desperate need of such a day – and I have taken off the next two days, just to recover myself, get my appartment cleaned, my clothes washed and my brain restarted. What helps you better with that than housework? At least, it helps me a lot. 🙂
This post will be a short summar of my trip to Italy. One of many trips to the lovely city of Aquileia, now not that big deal, but maybe some of you know Grado? On your way to Grado you are passing Aquileia. If you have time, take a stop, get some ice cream and wander around. The city has some secrets to share.
I was here for the epigraphic summerschool of our university – this time with a little presentation of myself and some really important tasks, e.g. doing photographs of unpublished inscriptions and showing some photogrammetry and SFM, to get people involved with the material.
For me, teaching like that (yes, I may look like the holiday version of Lara Croft, but actually this is my teaching outfit on summer courses near the sea) has one important feature to give to students. Epigraphy is about text, yes. That does the name of this discipline define very clearly. Something engraved on a material. But for the text you need the material. And therefore, it is not only important to note the text, to follow the rules of documentation, translation and editing of inscriptions, but also to actually feel it. You have to work on the stone, the metal plate, the potsherd, etc. You have to touch it, describe it, think about it. You take measurements, descriptions of the reliefs and the decoration, you note everything you came across on the setting of the inscriptions and the letters.
How do we do an epigraphic course? Well, we start with one day of introductional presentations and then we will go and work on the material – that is, why Aquileia is so great as location for epigraphic courses. There is a very large number of inscribed stones – so, one will never get lonely. I can tell by now, it was my fifth course and I am still finding new things in the museums… 😉
So, how to read an inscription? Well, first step: No. You just don’t go there and start reading. Latin epigraphy (which we are dealing with in this post) is characterized by certain abbreviations of names, titles, positions of military and civil Roman careers, as well as by certain formulas. Things change by time, so some of these characteristics are even important for dating the whole thing. So, before you actually read the inscription – you spell it. You sit, you have your pen and your sheets ready and then you start to decipher one letter after another.
After spelling comes the reading and the resolving of the abbreviations. So, this will be step 2. Then you describe everything on the inscription field, the letters and so on. Next, the monument itself has to be described. What is it, when has it been found, where has it been found, are there any other notes on this site, other insriptions or dated material? Where is the object located now, does it have an inventory number, etc. Describing is hard work, you know. I am sometimes just taking the pictures, my colleagues describe the objects and help me with the setting of the lights. It is not that easy to take good photographs of inscriptions – basically, you should be able to read the whole text. So, this will be a question for the right light. In photography, everything is about light.
As far as I am now, I am unfortunately not allowed to post any photographs showing me with my working methods on the objects (how I set the light etc.), but I am working on it – I think it will be a nice tutorial for those of you interested in the process.
For the understanding of the many tales our material has to tell us, especially when bearing inscriptions of any kind, please, make yourself clear that you are dealing with a source which carries the directly engraved thoughts of people now long gone and vanished from this world of ours. This is why epigraphy is actually a very important discipline – yes, as long as they do not forget about the importance of involving archaeological method and information as working.
I hope, I have given you a short insight of our summercourses – there will be one next year, same time, so… if you are interested, please, do not hesitate to ask me about it.
For now, I hope you enjoyed this post – please, feel free to ask any questions on your mind. And stay tuned for more stone-things. 🙂
All the best,