Writing from Invention to Decipherment, Oxford University Press

Ed. by: Silvia Ferrara, Barbara Montecchi, Miguel Valèrio

The French translation of Il Salto, with the title "Avant L'écriture", Seuil

Computational methods for undeciphered scripts (Bologna University Press)

Michele Corazza

The study of ancient, undeciphered scripts through computational means presents unique challenges that depend both on the nature of the problem and on the peculiarities of each writing system. This volume presents two computational approaches that were successfully applied to two writing systems from the Aegean and Cyprus; the success of these endeavors paves the way for new discoveries and methods.
The first part features a discussion of the Linear A and Cypro-Minoan writing systems, as well as a background of the computational approaches used. The description of the paleographic and technical aspects is aimed at scholars of both disciplines and provides an extensive background, which is crucial to understanding the goals and methods of this study.
The second part is a discussion of the experimental results, which includes a proposed decipherment of the Linear A fractions. Further, the experiments on Cypro-Minoan demonstrate that, contrary to previous hypotheses, it is a single writing system, rather than comprising three separate systems. The two experiments used completely different computational methods, since the method used to decipher Linear A is based on constraint programming, while the Cypro-Minoan experiments are based on a deep learning model.



Cretan Hieroglyphic


Matilde Civitillo, Silvia Ferrara, Torsten Meissner (eds.)

Cambridge University Press

Nearly 4000 years ago a hieroglyphic script was used on Crete which predates Linear A and Linear B, indeed any other writing in Europe, but remains undeciphered since its discovery at the beginning of the twentieth century. This is the first comprehensive account of this script, which is analysed by the leading experts through an array of lenses, including archaeology, philology, palaeography, cognitive studies and decipherment theory, in order to showcase its importance in the history of writing. The book takes a broad approach to writing, understanding it not solely or even mainly as a visual tool to convey language, but primarily as a social and cultural phenomenon rooted in agency, materiality, and semiotics. The volume will provide an invaluable tool for scholars and will facilitate further research. This title is also available as Open Access on Cambridge Core.

The Roots of Writing. Origins, Developments, Methodologies of Investigation of Writing Expressions,  TECA, Vol. 13 No. 7ns (2023)

The German translation of Il Salto, with the title "Der Sprung", C.H.Beck

The Spanish translation of La grande invenzione, with the title "La gran invención", Anagrama

The Greek translation of La grande invenzione, with the title Η μεγαλύτερη εφεύρεση: H υπέροχη ιστορία της γραφής, Patakis.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Macmillan) published The Greatest Invention, USA, 1/3/2022


In The News


"Ferrara says she wrote the book the way she talks to friends over dinner, and that’s exactly how it reads. Instead of telling a chronological history of writing, she moves freely from script to script, island to island . . . She is constantly by our side, prodding us with questions, offering speculations, reporting on exciting discoveries . . . . her book doubles as a manifesto for collaborative research." —Martin Puchner, The New York Times Book Review

"If one has any doubts that the ancient past deserves our attention as much as the future Ferrara also energetically imagines, this book should dispel them. Encountered at the right time, this book could ignite a passion, even change a life." —Booklist (Starred Review)

"Ferrara’s survey is intricate and detailed, bolstered by photos and drawings of the various writing forms . . . The result is an intellectual feast." —Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

"Part reconnaissance, part time machine, part ode to our complex species, Ferrara's enchanting book unearths not only our writing systems but our humanity itself." —Amanda Montell, author of Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism and Wordslut: A Feminist Guide to Taking Back the English Language

"From Crete to Easter Island, everywhere in between, and back again, Ferrara illuminates the sheer magic that the invention of writing actually was, while also sharing the pure joy of being a scientist. Plus, the translation is exquisite." —John McWhorter, author of Nine Nasty Words: English in the Gutter: Then, Now, and Forever and Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America

"Deftly translated by Portnowitz, Ferrara’s book is more than a cook’s tour of the history, present, and future of writing . . . Ferrara capably conveys the sensory magic of writing: sound made visible and tangible." —Kirkus Reviews




Il Salto. Segni, figure, parole. Viaggio all'origine dell'immaginazione. Silvia Ferrara, Feltrinelli, 2021.



Die Grosse ErfindungThe German translation of La Grande Invenzione, July 2021, Beck.


The French translation of La grande invenzione, with the title La fableuse histoire de l'invention de l'écriture, Seuil.

Silvia Ferrara ci guida alla scoperta delle scritture inventate dal nulla e di quelle rimaste indecifrate fino a oggi, non solo tra i segreti della storia, ma anche nei meandri della nostra mente. Cina, Egitto, Messico, Mesopotamia, Cipro e Creta.

La Grande Invenzione, Feltrinelli


On October 31st 2019, La grande invenzioneStoria del mondo in nove scritture misteriose, published by Feltrinelli, is out. It is written by Silvia Ferrara, the Principal Investigator of INSCRIBE.


“This book tells of an invention still clouded in mystery: writing. It is nowadays certain that writing was conceived from zero more than once in history. But how did this take place? What made it possible? And why? To help us shed light on this mystery, Silvia Ferrara guides us through the original inventions of scripts and those that still remain undeciphered, a journey through the secrets of history but also through the meanders of our mind. China, Egypt, Mexico, Mesopotamia, Cyprus and Crete. The enigmas of the islands and the heavy controls of cities and empires. The experiments with writing and the solitary inventions, the still unreadable writing systems of Easter Island and the Indus Valley, the Voynich manuscript, the obscure khipu of the Inca, the Phaistos Disk, and many others. This book is a tour de force through our unbound capacity to create stories and symbols, full of sibylline inscriptions and sparks of genius from the past, the endeavours of today’s scientific research, and the vague, unpredictable echoes of writing a hundred years from now. “Writing is the greatest invention in the world. This book is about our urge to endure.” From the dawn of civilisation to our days, a journey back to the birth of writing and into the mysteries of undeciphered signs. A journey that is not over yet.”

La Grande Invenzione will be translated and published in the USA (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), UK (Picador), Germany (Beck), France (Seuil), Spain (Anagrama), Greece (Patakis) and China (Chonquing).

Contare a Haghia Triada


INSCRIBE is proud to announce that our researcher Barbara Montecchi has made progress towards a better understanding of Linear A with her latest monograph: Contare a Haghia Triada. Le tavolette in lineare A, i documenti sigillati e il sistema economico-amministrativo nel TM IB, Incunabula Graeca 107, CNR-ISPC.

This volume was published with the support of the Institute for Aegean Prehistory (INSTAP) of Philadelphia and contains the first corpus study of the Linear A archival documents from Haghia Triada, Crete. Its 147 clay tablets and more than 1000 cretulae, found at the beginning of the last century and dated approximately to the 15th century BCE, make up the largest archive so far from the Neopalatial period. They are the indispensable starting point for any attempt at understanding Minoan economy.


Paths into Script Formation in the Ancient Mediterranean


Our latest book, Paths into Script Formation in the Ancient Mediterranean, published as the first ever Supplement of SMEA NS (Studi Micenei ed Egeo Anatolici Nuova Serie), is out now! 

Here is how it starts:

All beginnings are arbitrary, often mysterious, at times accidental. For archaeologists, historians, and epigraphists, it is difficult, if not impossible, to know exactly when a point in a process becomes the beginning of something. Nowhere is this more acutely felt that in the inception of writing. We cannot, no matter how much data at our disposal, stare at the first written sign, at the first inscribed text, at the first painted word. We are at the mercy of whatever remains for posterity, left to handle physical vestiges selected at random by what one of our authors has described the “chronophage”. Time has slowly eroded the opportunity to reconstruct the tangible inception of writing.

This is where paths become important. At what point does the intention to create something declare itself, if the beginning is arbitrary? At what point does the accident become a prospect? At what moment is opportunity seized and longevity ensured? And who is responsible for such trajectories? The questions that underpin the many paths and creations of writing, the quest for pre-conditions that enable such creations, the contexts that determine birth and transmission, efficiency and permanence are the scope of this book.

Within this framework, the volume aims to throw light on the two different faces of the creation of writing – invention and adaptation – and on the multidimensional nature of such processes. These concepts are not simple, as they interface with other realms surrounding writing, such as the social and cultural contexts of local groups, their intentions in putting writing to use, the selections of sign shapes for a newly invented or newly adapted script, and its relation to iconography and language. All this brings to light different perceptions of what writing may signify for a group of individuals, the different ideological uses (and re-uses) of signs or symbols, and the claims to social differentiations underlying script creations or adaptations.



Anna Lucia D’Agata, Preface

Silvia Ferrara, Miguel Valério, Introduction

Image-Bound Scripts at the Inception of Writing
1. Roeland P.-J.E. Decorte, The Origins of Bronze Age Aegean Writing: Linear A, Cretan Hieroglyphic and a New Proposed Pathway of Script Formation
2. Mark Weeden, Hieroglyphic Writing on Old Hittite Seals and Sealings? Towards a Material Basis for Further Research

Adaptations: Between Pictorialism and Schematism
3. Juan Pablo Vita, José Ángel Zamora, The Byblos Script
4. Miguel Valério, Cypro-Minoan: An Aegean-derived Syllabary on Cyprus (and Elsewhere)
5. Javier de Hoz, The Southwestern Palaeo-Hispanic Script: State of Knowledge, Hypotheses and Controversies
6. Ignasi-Xavier Adiego, Local Adaptations of the Alphabet among the Non-Greek Peoples of Anatolia
7. Alex de Voogt, The Meroitic Writing System: Change and Variation

Patterns and Diversity: A World of Possibilities
8. Gordon Whittaker, Aztec Hieroglyphic Writing: A Comparative Perspective
9. Piers Kelly, The Invention, Transmission and Evolution of Writing: Insights from the New Scripts of West Africa