key to the pictograms

The chart of the pictograms.

The reference by letter and number is used as follows:
The letter represents the 10's digit and the number is 0-9
so symbol 29 would be c9.

a1 through a9 = 01 through 09

b0 through b9 = 10 through 19

c0 through c9 = 20 through 29

d0 through d9 = 30 through 39

e0 through e5 = 40 through 45

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The context of history and its pitfalls.

Classical scholars are a conservative lot by nature. They have often been guided by their co-science archaeology. The understanding of language must fit the facts of history as such facts are understood. This is a sound argument on the surface. The seductive pitfall here is: what is a correct understanding of history as revealed by archaeology?

The quintessential trap that the scholar can fall into is one promoted by Sir Arthur Evans, the person given the greatest credit for the discovery of the long vanished Minoan civilization - 'Minoan' being a termed coined by Evans referring to the mythical King Minos of Knossos. Though insightful to the level of brilliance, Sir Arthur essentially became the heir and ruler of the modern manifestation of King Minos' empire with his Villa Ariadne and the reconstructed palace at Knossos, the reconstruction being fraught with controversy.

It is true that the science of archaeology was in its infancy in the late 19th century when a past civilization centered at Knossos on the island of Crete first came to the light of day after centuries of being buried in the dark earth. Some rash choices and indescretions would be expected, given the conditions of the time. However, the pitfall that Evans' thinking fell upon, even to his final days, was his vested interest in protecting the civilization that he had in essence discovered. In the legal world his arguments would have to be tempered by his conflict of interest: he would not and apparently could not acknowledge the possibility that the Mycenaeans could have been the masters of Knossos and the empire in its final days.

How does this reflect on language and its decipherment? Because of an investment in power, Evans could not allow the possibility that the Mycenaeans, subjects of their Minoan overlords, could rule over their masters. The power that Arthur Evans held in the world of classical scholarship long prevented many linguists from even the possibility of reading Linear B as Mycenaean rather than Minoan.

It is important here not to fall back into the same trap by assuming that the hieroglyphics of the Phaistos clay disk must be Mycenaean - I might add, a statistically improbable assumption. This is of course not to say that it is impossible that the writing on the disk (if it be writing) is a predecessor of Mycenaean Greek. Because the dating of the disk at 1700 - 1600 b.c. is a good 400 years earlier than the height of the Mycenaean rule over the mainland and certainly over the island cities of Crete, it would be unlikely that an artifact of such skilled crafting would reflect the culture of an as yet unrealized and still subject people.

Regardless of one's language attitude as to whether the disk might be read as either Indo-European (related to Mycenaean or Hittite) or as Minoan (most probably then Semitic), regardless of the choice, the question of a civilization context must be given some satisfactory answers. Linear B, both in its decipherment and its subsequent reading, reinforce the context which has generally come to be accepted: a Mycenaean speaking people subject to their Minoan overlords, gradually in the 14th and 13th centuries began to seize power, first on the mainland and then on the island of Crete itself, becoming the overlords of the Minoans. This was the high point of Mycenaean civilization which was somewhat short lived with wholesale destruction of their city fortresses around 1200 b.c., part of a larger social upheaval and destruction throughout the Aegean, Anatolia and Palestine. A crush of peoples, often referred to as the Sea People from Egyptian records and stopped by a naval victory by the Egyptians about 1190 b.c. by the fleet and army of Ramesses III.

Given the state of all the evidence at this point in time, it is difficult to contest this picture in its larger scheme. From archaeology, language study, surviving literature, and what understanding we have of Minoan and Mycenaean religion, the picture looks coherent. A seapower whose authority is centered on the island of Crete holds dominion over the surrounding islands of the Aegean and east Mediterranean seas, its influence extending to the southern mainland of the Greek peninsula. A resident people from the Caucassus, the Mycenaeans (so named after their chief citidel) speak a language which we later know from their records in Linear B. Linear B itself is an adaptation of an earlier syllabic script in use at the time of the Minoan overlords and found in their cities. The Mycenaean language deciphered from Linear B by Michael Ventris and John Chadwick is a Greek dialect with traces of the Aeolic and Arcadian dialects and apparently precedes the traditional arrival of the Dorians. The Doric dialect can be found along the west coast of the peninsula where it surrounds a mountainous and rugged interior where the Arcadian dialect lived on. Traces of this Arcadian and the oldest dialect, Aeolic of the northeast peninsula (Beotia) and the north eastern islands around Lesbos and the mainland of Anatolia near the excavation of Troy (Illios) are consistent with the Mycenaean of Linear B. What does this say in context? A tribe, traditionally the Achaeans or Danaoi, migrated as did all Greek tribes from the Caucasas region bordering the steppes of the high Asian grasslands into the Aegean mainland and the islands bordering Illios on Anatolia. Nomadic and alien to the established culture of the Minoans, these Achaeans settled at the fringes of the Minoan power. Attracted by the lure of a wealthy and highly refined civilization, the Achaeans lived in submission to their overlords, gradually becoming stronger until some trauma (possibly the enormous erruption of the volcano on Thera - now Santorini) began the eclipse of the Minoan authority. Over two centuries the transition took place first on the mainland where the citidels of Mycenae, a mountain fortress and Tiryns, a powerful seaport, began to consolidate the control of the Argive plain. This was the begining of the end for the Minoans on the mainland and only a matter of time till they were conquered in their island seat of power, Knossos.

Over time, I will add some references giving greater detail to the above description. This picture of evolving and declining culture is generally not disputed these days except in some of the details, but not so much in the overall scheme. It is a picture drawn from the results of many different disciplines over the past 150 years since the first discoveries of Niniva in Iraq, the cities of the Hittites in Turkey, the Greek fortresses of Mycenae, Tiryns, and Pylos on the Greek peninsula, Knossos and Phaistos on Crete, and by now many others. The picture largely remains consistent.

pictogram 06 (a6)

The strong argument against a Minoan origin of the disk however is symbol 06 (a6), the female figure whose flounced skirt and bare breast is of Minoan style, but even the smallest and most delicate Minoan seal rings show the female figure with a narrow 'wasp waist'. The high craftsmanship of the disk as a whole and yet the very un-Minoan presentation of the female figure, the priestess being very significant in Minoan culture, all indicate an origin other than Minoan.

One final note about the symbols in the chart above:

   if the symbols represent a language

   and if the language is semitic,

   then (with high probability) the symbol 29

    is the enclitic 'and'

Symbol 29 (c9) occurs with repetion as the first symbol of groups in sequence on Side A, as in a list. (Of course a7 has an almost analogous relationship in the next ring - not a neat process until it is genuinely figured out. One thing is clear though, there is a very tight structure underlying this array of symbols.)

d5,c0,c4,c4,c9 *
b8,b4,b6 *
a1,d3,c9 *
d3,d9,d2,d6,a6 *
a1,c7,a9,a2 *
a8,a7,d6,c9 *
b3,a8,c9 *
a7,e5,c9 *
a8,a7,d6,c9,c2 *

The difference between c9 and a7 is that a7 occurs in many positions, while c9 only is used in this context. My count for the usage of a7 on Side A is 15 times, only 4 of those being the first symbol in the prefix 'and' position (reading the word from right to left as is usual in Semitic languages). The symbol c9 is only used in this context on both A and B sides (or , as in two instances on Side A, in the second position which could still allow its use as an enclitic prefix). If the language is Indo-European and is read from left to right, c9 would be a suffix symbol as in a grammatical case ending.

A fragment of Carian script

Could the disk be Carian from the Cyclades, Rhodes or Miletus?

Possibly. More on this later.

I leave this page with a quote from the linguist Cyrus Gorden:

"In summary, the Eteocretan texts are Northwest Semitic with strong Aramaic affinities. There is every reason to accept the long-held view that Minoan is the parent language of Eteocretan. The widely distributed votive texts in Linear A are in the same Semitic language that we may safely regard as the official language of Minoan civilization." 1

1 Cyrus H. Gorden, Forgotten Scripts. Their Ongoing Discovery and Decipherment. p. 143. Dorset Press, New York, 1987.

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