Emmett L. Bennett, Jr.— 2001 Gold Medal Award for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement
Throughout his career, Emmett L. Bennett, Jr. has had a major impact on research of Mycenaean texts. His dedication and efforts have gone a long way in establishing the field. A prolific writer and decipherer, he has published a multitude of journals, essays and texts on the prehistoric Aegean.
During the period 1939–1952, Emmett L. Bennett, Jr. was entrusted by Carl Blegen with studying and editing the first Linear B tablets found on the Greek mainland. This was at a time when even the Knossos tablets were still effectively unpublished, so Bennett had to start from scratch. After the end of WWII, Bennett set to this work with his characteristic combination of ingenuity, uncompromising attention to detail and exactitude, and respect for cooperative archaeological research. During this period he devised a conventionalized signary for representing the inscriptions and worked with painstaking care at both editing and analyzing the texts. His doctoral dissertation in 1947 analyzed the script and laid the groundwork for future study of scribal hands.
In the 1950s Bennett was wrote frequently and with great depth and expertise on Aegean prehistory. He produced corrections to the publication of the Knossos tablets that were essential for interpreting these texts correctly. A complete index of Linear B sign groups was created along with an edition of the newly discovered Mycenae tablets that included extensive discussion of their archaeological environment. He next published an updated version of the Pylos tablets incorporating the discoveries of 1952–1954. A transliterated edition of the Knossos tablets was published, with the collaboration of John Chadwick and Michael Ventris. Bennett also wrote the fundamental article (Etudes Mycéniennes) on how to present a Mycenaean corpus volume and index.
During the period 1957–1978, Bennett created and edited Nestor, the chief bibliographical monthly newsletter for the field of Mycenology and now of Aegean prehistory as a whole. Nestor contained not only comprehensive lists (pre-computer) of publications in these fields, but also provided a forum for the expression and instant testing of new ideas, both detailed notes and broader theories. As such, it was the forerunner of such electronic lists as Aegeanet. Nestor also included a section of humorous commentary on the field, which helped to keep incivility at a minimum and inspired a sense of fun about working in this area.
At this time, Bennett also ran a major international conference on Mycenaean studies at Wingspread in Wisconsin at which the definitive signary and editing conventions for Linear B drafted. He continued his other literary endeavors by editing the volume of papers (Mycenaean Studies 1964), and writing an exemplary study of a thematically unified set of tablets (The Olive Oil tablets from Pylos). He wrote numerous reviews, re-edited the Knossos tablets, and wrote definitive studies of Mycenaean ideograms and regional palaeographical variations. In 1973 and 1976 he produced, with Jean-Pierre Olivier, the standard transcription of the Pylos tablets. Nestor continues as the central unifying monthly publication in Aegean prehistory.
For the period 1979–1998, Bennett wrote the key study (Chaumont Colloquium 1979) of the total palaeographical and administrative-textual history of arguably the most important religious text in the Linear B corpus: Tn 316 (the famous “human-sacrifice” text). He produced yearly reviews and significant articles on topics as broad as landholding systems, Mycenaean chamber tombs, attempts to decipher Linear A, Minoan fractions, and the Ventris decipherment. His work from 1987–1992 and after, was focused on improved publication of the Pylos texts which led to new joins and to new series classifications. It also prompted the current international group endeavor that should produce a definitive corpus volume early in the new millennium. Bennett has also addressed decipherments of other scripts (Indus Valley 1994–1995) and the very origins of writing (token systems 1992–1993). He remains, at the age of 80, actively involved in field work, text editing and work with students from the USA and abroad.
Emmett L. Bennett, Jr. is an individual whose impact upon a key area of research in Aegean prehistory has been global. He played a major role in creating the field, and in producing essential primary tools of research. His work editing the bibliographical journal that united the field invited a broader definition of its place in prehistoric archaeology. In establishing the principles for scholarly work, he promoted the work of younger scholars and assured a proper spirit of international cooperation. He selflessly (without remuneration of any sort, even honorific) donated his lifetime scholarly collection to the founding of an international research center. He generously handed over his prize creation Nestor to another program well before he had to. He remains active and involved in ongoing work and is revered as no other scholar in this sub-field of archaeology for his humanity, sense of fairness, sense of whimsy, and his gentlemanly dedication to proper scholarly conduct.