Our full squeeze collection can be accessed on UBC’s Digital Initiatives site.
“Squeeze. This is one of epigraphy’s less choice technical terms: the irreverent have been known to affect a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of it, and some better noun ought long ago to have been adopted. Official reports often refer, for the sake of clarity, to ‘epigraphic squeezes’.”
In my background research for this project, I’ve come across A.G. Woodhead’s 1959 publication, The Study of Greek Inscriptions. He covers the main topics related to epigraphy and has a delightful way of describing both the mundane and the wonderful aspects of classical research; I’m going to quote him frequently as I describe what a squeeze is, simply because his phrasing makes a potentially dull topic suddenly charming.
An epigraphic squeeze, then, is an impression of an inscription. These are generally made using filter paper, a stiff horsehair brush and some water. It’s all very technical. Two of the FSTS team, Chelsea Gardner and David Assaf, were excavating in the Agora in the summer of 2013 when a visiting scholar was given a permit to make squeezes; they asked, and received permission, to watch him make squeezes and got to make their own.
“The brush should be stout and fairly weighty, should have a handle well adapted to a firm grasp, and should be in general shape rather like a lady’s hairbrush, although with a head more rectangular than such brushes are apt to have.”
The paper used is generally chemical filter paper, which has a high wet strength meaning getting it wet and pounding it onto stone with a horsehair brush isn’t going to destroy the paper. Once it’s dry, the paper can be peeled off the inscription and you have a perfect mirror image of the writing impressed on the paper.
“When thoroughly dry it will retain permanently the impression of the surface with which it was in contact, and so offers a valuable means of preserving the record of the stone itself for future use.”
The beauty of a paper impression, if you haven’t guessed, is that you can tuck it in your suitcase and bring it back to your office for study; for some reason governments frown on archaeologists attempting to do the same with the original stones. Just like traditional archaeologists, an epigraphist might spend a summer in the field collecting data and the fall, winter and spring in their office trying to make sense of it all.
This is exactly what Malcolm McGregor did with his summers in Greece: made squeezes and brought them back to study. Almost all of our 1000 squeezes were made by Malcolm McGregor and were donated to UBC upon his retirement in 1975. These paper impressions are now 40 – 70 years old and for the most part are in decent condition, though repeated handling does increase the chances of tearing or damaging the squeeze. In some cases, the paper was too thin and the horsehair brush has created holes in the paper, making it flimsy and fragile. These are now artifacts in their own right, and by digitizing them, we can preserve them for generations.
About half of our collection is squeezes of the Athenian Tribute Lists, as McGregor and his colleagues B. D. Merritt and H. T. Wade Gery, worked extensively on reconstructing the fragmented lists of first fruits or aparchai paid to Athens by members of the Delian League. The rest of the collection are primarily inscriptions from Athens, but we do have a small selection of squeezes from Nemea.
As paper objects, squeezes are susceptible to water damage as well as tearing, and some in our collection have become discoloured and brittle as they’ve aged. They also suffered damage when their filing cabinet was moved during renovations, leaving many of the squeezes crumpled. This folding is an enormous problem because of the three-dimensional nature of the text–it’s difficult to flatten a squeeze after it’s been crumpled without ruining the letters. This represents another benefit of digitizing the collection–these images will be clear and legible long after the squeezes themselves have become difficult to use.
We hope that making these collections available online will create a lasting, permanent collection for current and future students at UBC and elsewhere. We’re also hoping to revive interest in epigraphy within our department, give our undergraduate students the option for on-campus experience with artifact analysis, and make the collections available to scholars around the world.