John Colarusso’s work on ‘gibberish’ Greek vases featured in National Geographic


McMaster professor John Colarusso was recently featured in an extensive story in National Geographic, detailing his work to decipher the linguistic code in a series of rare Greek vases:

“I had goosebumps when I realized we were really deciphering sounds perhaps 3,000 years old,” Colarusso says now.

The goosebumps came, in fact, from the New York Goose Play Vase, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The vase, dating to 400 B.C., depicts a scene involving a policeman and a dead goose in a basket.

On the vase, some characters speak decipherable Greek phrases, but the policeman says something that sounds like “noraretteblo,” meaningless in Greek. Colarusso, blind to the scene on the vase, translated the phrase into “This sneak thief steals from the man over there” in ancient Circassian.

Colarusso, a professor in the departments of Anthropology and Linguistics & Languages, is an expert in the diverse Caucasus region that straddles Europe and Asia.

Read the full story in National Geographic.