Codebreakers and Groundbreakers

Fitzwilliam Museum

24 October 2017 – 4 February 2018

A pioneering exhibition exploring the links between breaking the Enigma codes and deciphering one of the oldest written languages in Europe.

UK Typex machine

While Alan Turing, Bill Tutte and others were breaking the codes of German communications and thereby changing the course of the Second World War, Michael Ventris and John Chadwick were solving a mystery that stretched back to 1500 BC: Linear B, the ancient written language of Mycenaean Greece.

In this exhibition, the work of both teams is studied side by side, throwing light on the interdisciplinary nature of cryptography, and exploring both its history and its future. Personal letters and possessions of the Cambridge codebreakers are on public display, some for the first time. Also rarely seen are coding devices used by both the German Navy and the British government to disseminate secret messages.

Highlights from the Linear B display include two intact clay tablets from the palace at Knossos, one of which records the transfer of coriander, an ingredient in perfume, and the other the allocation of rations to women involved in the textile industry.

While Linear B is a staggering linguistic achievement that unlocked 600 years of ancient history, the codebreakers paved the way for computer science and Artificial Intelligence. The exhibition goes on to ask who and what will herald the next evolution of cryptography.

Venue information

Opening times

Tue – Sat, 10am – 5pm Sun & Bank Holidays 12noon – 5pm Closed Mon, 24 – 26, 31 Dec and 1 Jan

"Art Fund" is the operating name of the National Art Collections Fund, a charity registered in England and Wales (209174) and Scotland (SC038331)