A rapid introduction to the undeciphered Aegean writing programs

A rapid introduction to the undeciphered Aegean writing programs
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The Phaistos Disc – stare below

Every so customarily a news article will set up the rounds of the internet – or, for that topic, a paper could be printed in an tutorial journal – presenting a new ‘decipherment’ of an undeciphered historic writing arrangement. Clearly, such decipherments respect taken location within the previous – almost definitely most famously that of Egyptian hieroglyphs – and it’s no doubt skill that extra will procure location within the kill; but in phrases of the undeciphered writing programs of the Bronze Age Aegean, at the least, there’s resplendent motive to be extremely sceptical about one of these claims of decipherment. This post is a rapid info to some key facts in regards to the many connected writing programs discovered in Bronze Age Crete and mainland Greece, starting up with the one deciphered writing arrangement, Linear B, and then surveying the undeciphered ones roughly in order of how grand each person is aware of about them, wanting very rapid at the attach and when they’re from, what sorts of paperwork exist, and the intention in which grand (if anything) each person is aware of in regards to the writing arrangement or the language it represents.

Linear B

p1030578 (2)Linear B pill from Mycenae

Date: 14th-13th centuries BCE.

Region: Crete; mainland Greece.

Assortment of known paperwork: c.5,000.

Legend kinds: clay tablets/sealings/labels; some painted inscriptions on vases.

Utilize: administrative.

Deciphered? Yes, in 1952 by Michael Ventris, based on previous work by scholars along with Emmett L. Bennett Jr. and Alice Kober, and printed by Ventris and John Chadwick.

Language: Greek, namely a dialect known as ‘Mycenaean’ which, even if older than any of the classical Greek dialects, is now not any longer the exclaim ancestor of any of them.

So, we realize all the pieces about Linear B, then? Sadly no longer! Of the 87 syllabic indicators that set up up the writing arrangement, 14 are easy ‘undeciphered’ (which can mean anything from ‘now we respect a intellectual resplendent understanding what sound this signal represents’ to ‘it will also very wisely be almost anything’; basically the latter in prefer to the aged. For the very alive to, stare my PhD thesis). Plus indisputably there are easy many words whose that intention we don’t know, tablets whose contents or context we don’t realize, and tons others. and tons others. – tons of labor easy to be performed!

Linear A

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Linear A inscription on stone vase

Date: mid-18th-15th century BCE.

Region: basically Crete; just a few finds in plenty of locations e.g. Kythera, Thera/Santorini.

Assortment of known paperwork: c.1500.

Legend kinds: clay tablets/sealings; stone vases; plenty of clay/stone/steel objects.

Utilize: administrative; non secular.

Deciphered? Short version: no.

Longer version: it’s regularly agreed that at the least some Linear A indicators, and reasonably plausibly the broad majority of them, could almost definitely very wisely be ‘be taught’, since they’re inclined to respect had identical sound-values to their Linear B equivalents (Linear B changed into once tailored at once from Linear A in order to jot down in Greek); but it no doubt’s easy no longer skill to call the language alive to or to treasure any of its grammatical aspects, the meanings of most words, and tons others. As an illustration, the notice AB81-02, or KU-RO if transliterated the usage of Linear B sound-values, is one in all the few words whose that intention we develop know: it seems at the tip of lists subsequent to the sum of your entire listed numerals, and so clearly intention ‘entire’. But we easy don’t in actuality know the intention to voice this notice, or what half of speech it is, and we can’t name it with any identical words in any known languages.

Essentially the most promising arrangement of inscriptions for analysing linguistic aspects is the so-called ‘libation system’ – texts discovered on stone vases dilapidated in non secular rituals (‘libation tables’), that are almost definitely dedications (so almost definitely narrate something admire “Person X gives/dedicates/affords this object/providing to Deity Y”), and all the intention in which thru which identical aspects customarily recur within the same location within the textual thunder. In precept, having a ‘system’ of this form can respect to permit us to call grammatical aspects by strategy of the limited diversifications between texts – e.g. if a particular variation in one notice looked as if it could possibly almost definitely maybe correlate with the replace of dedicators listed, we could almost definitely maybe be in a space to infer that that changed into once a verb with singular or plural marking. Sadly, there simply aren’t ample examples of these texts to connect this roughly linguistic factor – every diagnosis conducted to this point has identified a clear factor as being the title of the donor, the title of the deity, the verb of providing, and tons others., so it’s easy no longer skill to blueprint any obvious conclusions from this ‘system’.

Language: “Minoan”, aka an unknown Cretan language.

So can Linear A be (fully) deciphered? For the time being, no. At some point – we could almost definitely maybe be in a space to set up extra growth if we discover a LOT extra inscriptions, and in particular extra examples of the ‘libation system’.

Cretan Hieroglyphic

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Cretan Hieroglyphic inscription from Knossos

Date: 18th-17th centuries BCE (i.e. overlapping with Linear A, but falling out of spend earlier).

Region: central/jap Crete.

Assortment of known paperwork: c.500.

Legend kinds: sealstones; clay tablets/roundels/crescents/and tons others; vases.

Utilize: administrative; plenty of?

Deciphered? No. Assigning skill sound-values to Cretan Hieroglyphic indicators based on a comparability to Linear B is a ways extra refined/problematic than for Linear A, since a) comparatively few Cretan Hieroglyphic indicators could almost definitely very wisely be securely identified as equivalent to particular Linear B indicators, and b) Cretan Hieroglyphic is much less at once connected to Linear B than Linear A is. We’re no longer even scamper if Cretan Hieroglyphic and Linear A symbolize the same language or two plenty of languages.

Language: Unknown, stare above.

Can Cretan Hieroglyphic be deciphered?  No. Now we respect even fewer Cretan Hieroglyphic inscriptions than we develop for Linear A, and no no doubt lengthy ones; we don’t even always realize fully whether or no longer obvious indicators are half of an inscription or are providing ornament (or every). Plus, we would in actuality need Linear A to be deciphered first in order to respect this, in prefer to the extra distantly connected Linear B, as a comparability.

Archanes Script

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Archanes seal

Date: expressionless third/early 2nd millennium BCE

Region: Archanes (and in all likelihood some plenty of locations), Crete.

Assortment of known paperwork: >20 (proper quantity debated).

Legend kinds: seals manufactured from ivory/bone or stone.

Utilize: administrative? non secular?

Deciphered? No.

Language: Unknown.

Can or no longer it is deciphered? No. This writing arrangement is very poorly understood, and it’s debated whether or no longer it even constitutes a separate writing arrangement or can respect to as a replacement be viewed as an early set up of Cretan Hieroglyphic or Linear A; scholars don’t even agree on precisely how many inscriptions desires to be assigned to the ‘Archanes Script’. We would want a serious replace of new finds, a considerably better thought of what this writing arrangement includes and the intention in which it relates to Cretan Hieroglyphic and Linear A, no longer to sign a previous decipherment of 1 or every of these.

Arkalochori axe

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Arkalochori axe

Date: 17th/16th century BCE

Region: Arkalochori cave, Crete.

Assortment of known paperwork: 1.

Legend kinds: axe.

Utilize: non secular?

Deciphered? No.

Language: Unknown.

Can or no longer it is deciphered? No. This writing arrangement is attested on in actual fact helpful a single inscription, and admire the ‘Archanes Script’ its relationship to the plenty of Cretan writing programs is unclear.

Phaistos Disc

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Phaistos Disc

Date: 18th/17th century BCE.

Region: Phaistos, south-central Crete.

Assortment of known paperwork: 1.

Legend kind: Clay disc, with indicators stamped in a spiral on every aspect.

Utilize: Unknown.

Deciphered? No.

Language: Unknown.

Is it a false? Though the Phaistos Disc has been urged to be a forgery, similarities of some indicators to paperwork in plenty of writing programs (in particular the Arkalochori axe) discovered later than the Disc imply it is liable to be proper.

Can or no longer it is deciphered? No. The Disc is a truly unfamiliar inscription whose feature (and as a result of this truth most likely thunder) we don’t know, and even if some indicators develop endure resemblances to plenty of Cretan writing programs, its proper relationship to these (also undeciphered and poorly understood) writing programs is very unclear.


Besides Linear B, Linear A is the most attention-grabbing-understood Bronze Age Aegean writing arrangement, and even if we can to some degree “be taught” its indicators thru comparability with Linear B, we easy can’t in actuality be taught the texts within the sense of thought the language they’re written in. With out main further discoveries, we’re extremely no longer going in exclaim to develop so. The plenty of Cretan writing programs are grand extra poorly attested and understood; when all now we respect to transfer on is a handful of inscriptions or even correct a single one, whose contents we can’t even set up an skilled wager at on yarn of we don’t know what their cause changed into once, and whose closest points of comparability are themselves poorly understood and undeciphered…a decipherment is, successfully, very no longer going. Despite the truth that any individual by pure likelihood managed to wager your entire honest values for the indicators and your entire honest meanings for the words on, narrate, the Phaistos Disc, within the absence of plenty of evidence there could almost definitely maybe be literally no intention of proving this to be the resplendent discovering out.

That doesn’t mean that we can’t set up any growth at all – there’s replace no doubt attention-grabbing work being performed on these writing programs, and by combining analyses of the texts themselves, of the objects they’re written on, and of their archaeological contexts, it’s skill to set up main growth in thought them even with out being in a space/making an are trying to decipher them. To offer a non-public example, what I keep in thoughts to be the most attention-grabbing/well-known aspects of my PhD thesis are no longer the aspects the attach I talk in regards to the prospective values of the undeciphered Linear B indicators – most of which there could be again simply no longer ample evidence to safe anywhere finish to deciphering them – but the aspects the attach I preserve finish/accept the truth that these indicators aren’t decipherable and as a replacement detect what else could almost definitely very wisely be performed with them to treasure extra in regards to the Linear B writing arrangement and the ways in which it changed into once dilapidated by the folk that wrote it. Having a realistic leer of the possibilities, or lack of possibilities, of deciphering these sorts of writing programs with out main further evidence is the most attention-grabbing basis for discovering plenty of ways of bettering our thought of the inscriptions and their context.

Chosen further discovering out/references

John Chadwick, The Decipherment of Linear B (Cambridge College Press, revised 2nd edn 1992): Google Books preview

John Chadwick, Linear B and Connected Scripts (British Museum, 1987)

Anna P. Judson, ‘The decipherment: of us, job, challenges’, in Yannis Galanakis, Anastasia Christophilopoulou, and James Grime (eds.), Codebreakers and Groundbreakers (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 2017): online here

Philippa Steele and Torsten Meissner, ‘From Linear B to Linear A: the probability of the backward projection of sound values’, in Philippa Steele (ed.), Design Kinfolk Between Scripts: The Aegean Writing Programs, 93-110 (Oxbow, 2017): online here

Philippa Steele, ‘Diversified pre-alphabetic scripts of Crete and Cyprus’, in Yannis Galanakis, Anastasia Christophilopoulou, and James Grime (eds.), Codebreakers and Groundbreakers (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 2017), 47-53: on academia.edu

John Younger’s Linear A and Cretan Hieroglyphic websites

Yves Duhoux, ‘Pre-Hellenic Language(s) of Crete’, Journal of Indo-European Assessment 26 1-39 (1998)

Yves Duhoux, Thomas Palaima, and John Bennet (eds.), Complications in Decipherment (Peeters, 1989)

Robrecht Decorte, ‘The main European writing: redefining the Archanes Script’, O

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