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Hidden Writing
Organized by John Bodel and Stephen Houston

Monday, April 11, 2016
Petteruti Lounge (75 Waterman Street)

This full-day workshop explores "hidden writing" -- scripts intended by form or placement to challenge, puzzle, and present difficulties of access, yet, with effort and skill, meant eventually to be legible by human and, at times, supernatural "readers." Examples would include Maya full-figure glyphs, "insect" or "bird script" from the Warring States period, puzzle-writing, "wild calligraphy" from China or Japan, and Arabic script so stylized as to be difficult to fathom.

"Hidden writing" contrives additional obstacles and challenges through formal embellishments or what might be called "sign involution" -- that is, by taking a perfectly lucid system of script and expanding, embellishing, adding extraneous elements for design reasons or reasons of ideology. Additional training or knowledge (or at least effort) is required. It is writing with self-conscious, deliberate impediments built in. Or it may be script whose aesthetic or formal component outweighs any impulse to "efficient" parsing. Other writing might be of abridged access, placed in hidden locations, not intended for human eyes, and possessed of magical efficacy that departs from any conventional notion of reading.


9:10 am: Welcome by John Bodel (Brown University, Latin epigraphy, history, and Stephen Houston (Brown University, Maya text & image,

9:30 am: Andréas Stauder (EPHEE, Egyptian writing & civilization,

10:15 am: Wang Haicheng (U of Washington, Chinese art, early periods,

11:15 am: Graham Oliver (Brown University, Greek epigraphy,

12:00 pm: Jeffrey Moser (Brown University, Chinese art, later periods,

2:30 pm: Scott Redford (SOAS, U of London, Islamic art & archaeology,

3:15 pm: Stephen Houston (Brown University, Maya text & image,

4:15 pm: Rachel Saunders (Harvard Art Museums, Japanese art,

5:00 pm: Discussion

View Full Schedule and Speaker Biographies


Animal Magnetism: The Emotional Ecology of Animals and Humans

A Mellon Foundation Sawyer Seminar
Organized by Susan Alcock, John Bodel, and Stephen Houston

Why Do We Watch Stupid Cat Videos? How Do Pets Amuse?
Thursday, December 6, 2012 at Noon

Building the Extended Society
Friday, April 26, 2013, 2:00-5:00 p.m.

The Emotional Bond: Deepening Relations Between Animals, Humans, Nature
Saturday, October 26, 2013, 10:00 am-4:00 pm

Snakes on a Plane

Wednesday, November 6, 2013 at 7:30 pm

Ewen Bowie (University of Oxford)
"Masters, Slaves, Animals and Freedom: A Mytilenean Perspective"

Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at 5:30 pm

Menageries and the Giving and Costly Pet
Friday, February 7-Saturday, February 8, 2014

Beasts, Monsters, and the Fantastic in the Religious Imagination
February 28-March 1, 2014

Animal Magnetism: The Pushmi-Pullyu of Consocial Life
Friday, April 4-Sunday, April 6, 2014

For more information, visit the Animal Magnetism pages on this website.


Robyn Veal (McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge)
"Regional Environmental Economics: Timber and Fuel for Roman Lazio and Campania"

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 at 5:30 pm
Rhode Island Hall, Room 108

Fuel is a little considered part of the ancient economy, and yet it was required every day to cook food, heat buildings and baths, process metals, and make ceramics, to name the most common uses. It constituted perhaps 20%, or more, of the value of the economy. The provision of fuel is both complementary to, and in competition with, the provision of timber. Both wood and ‘non-wood fuels’ were used in Roman Italy, and the historic sources on both wood and fuel provide an interesting framework with which to compare the archaeological data. Using charcoal data from several sites in Rome, and Pompeii and surrounds, this paper will examine the fuel economy quantitatively and qualitatively, from the third century BC to the Imperial period.

Robyn Veal's main interests lie in environmental history and economics. Related areas of research include landscape archaeology, climate and topography, and ancient science and technology. She graduated in science, business and arts, before completing her doctorate in archaeology at Sydney on the fuel economy of Pompeii. She held the Ralegh Radford Rome fellowship at the British School at Rome (2011-12) and is currently the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research Anniversary Fellow (2012-2015), at the University of Cambridge. Her current major project is entitled 'Forest exploitation and sustainability in province and empire.' It will compare the fuel consumption of Rome and central Italy with that of Londinium and southern Romano-Britain in the Imperial period. She is also an honorary research affiliate at the Department of Archaeology, University of Sydney and she works with a number of international excavation teams, mostly in Italy (but also in SE Asia and the UK) as an environmental archaeologist and historian.


Carlo Severi (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris)
"Semasiography, Picture-Writing and the Amerindian Arts of Memory"

Wednesday, October 30, 2013 at 5:30 pm
Mencoff Hall, 68 Waterman Street, Second Floor Seminar Room

In this paper, Severi argues that the logic of Native American Indian mnemonics (pictographs, khipus) cannot be understood only from comparison with writing, but requires a comparative anthropology. Rather than trying to know if Native American techniques of memory are true scripts or mere mnemonics, we can explore the formal aspects both have in common, and compare the mental processes they call for. In this perspective, techniques of memory stop being hybrids or imprecise, and we will better understand their nature and functions as mental artifacts. This interpretation of picture-writing system can provide for a new perspective on Amerindian semasiographies, both in theoretical and in empirical terms.

Carlo Severi is an anthropologist of memory who serves as the Director of Studies at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris and the Director of Research at CNRS. He pursued his doctoral degree under the tutelage of Claude Levi-Strauss at EHESS, first studying indigenous theories of mental illness and the transmission of shamanistic knowledge among the Kuna of Panama. His work has considered psychology, image,and memory from an anthropological lens, with recent publications including Paroles en Actes: Anthropologie et Pragmatique (2010), El Sendero y la Voz: Hacia una Antropologia de Memoria (2010), and Traditions et Temporalités des Images (2009).


Why Do We Watch Stupid Cat Videos? How Do Pets Amuse?

Thursday, December 6, 2012 at Noon
Rhode Island Hall, Room 108

Organized by: Susan E. Alcock, John Bodel, and Stephen Houston (Brown University)

Come be introduced to Brown's Mellon Sawyer Seminar, "Animal Magnetism: The Emotional Ecology of Animals and Humans" (organized by the Program in Early Cultures).

Watch some of Brown faculty members' favorite YouTube clips of cat and other animal antics, and hear perspectives on why we find them funny, compelling, or even addictive.

The audience will vote on submissions in the student competition to create a logo for "Animal Magnetism".

Pizza and soda will be served, or feel free to bring a lunch.


Logo Design Competition! Animal Magnetism Seminar

Submission deadline: December 1, 2012 by 5:00 pm
Prize: $250 for winning design; $50 each for two semi-finalists
Eligibility: Open to all undergraduate students at RISD and Brown University

The Program in Early Cultures at Brown University solicits submissions for a logo.  The logo should express the subject of a year-long Mellon Sawyer Seminar at Brown: “Animal Magnetism: The Emotional Ecology of Animals and Humans.”  The successful logo is intended for use in all Seminar publicity, both on College Hill and elsewhere.

How humans live with animals and fold them into their emotional lives as pets, companions, and even family.  The framework in time is the ancient world, from the Old World and New: Greece, Rome, South and Central America, China, Africa.

Winning Logo 
The submission will encapsulate these deep ties of affection by graphic means.  It should include the words, “Mellon Sawyer Seminar” and “Animal Magnetism.”  Further, it should reference such ties in the ancient world, as inclusively as possible. The design should be bold, eye-catching, and legible.

Time Frame    
-- submission of designs: December 1, 2012 by 5:00 pm
-- final selection: December 10, 2012

Please submit a high resolution .jpg, .gif, or .pdf to AND


Being Nobody?
Understanding Slavery Thirty Years after Slavery and Social Death

April 13-15, 2012
Organized by: John Bodel (Brown University) and Walter Scheidel (Stanford University)


The Gift in Antiquity

“The Gift in Antiquity” was an international conference that took place at Brown University on May 2-4, 2010. The conference was organized by Michael Satlow. For more information, visit the Conference website.


Theoretical Archaeology Group (TAG) 2010

The 2010 TAG operated around the general theme of ‘The Location of Theory’ -- an intentionally open ended rubric. The conference was held April 30-May 2, on the Brown campus. For more information, visit


Kirk Lecture Series

Made possible by generous grants from the Kirk Foundation, this annual interdisciplinary lecture series in the Program in Ancient Studies examined topics of broad interest involving the ancient world and was held from 2001-02 through 2005-06.

Topics for previous years:

  • Geography, Ethnography, and Perceptions of the World in Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance (2005-6)
  • Writing and History in the Ancient World (2004-5)
  • Origin and Function of Writing in Ancient Civilizations (2003-4)
  • War, Peace, and Reconciliation in the Ancient World (2002-3)
  • Perceptions and Representations of the Past in Ancient Civilizations (2001-2)