The Mysterious Scripts of ancient Crete

Perennial enigmas waiting for their solution

Ancient scripts abound in the world. They present an incredible challenge that excites human imagination over ancient civilizations and the mysteries they incorporate.

The Minoan Linear A script inscribed on the renowned Phaistos Disk is one such example. This script has not been deciphered yet. Let us not forget that this script gave cause to Englishman Sir Arthur Evans to come to Crete and start excavations which resulted in the uncovering of the famous palace of Knossos.

This also marks the beginning of a long journey for Cretan Archaeology.

The Linear A script instigated new research around the town of Gortys and attracted the attention of Italian researchers, among them Federico Albert.

In addition, it fired the imagination of other researchers from around the world who came to Crete to search for more ancient texts and tablets.

This resulted in numerous excavations and a wealth of findings. Since the Renaissance and up to the 19th century, expert travelers on Crete were very interested in examining the rare documents kept in the monasteries of the island.

Let us start our journey with the scripts of ancient Crete by picking up the thread from the “milkstones” that urged this Sir Arthur Evans to Crete.

Phaistos Disk

These “milkstones” are Minoan seal stones with engraved hieroglyphic signs.

According to legend these seal stones were worn by Minoan women who had just given birth as amulets in expectation of ample milk production.

These stones attracted the attention of Sir Arthur Evans who believed that they were the secret to deciphering the language of ancient Minoans.

The most renowned ancient script of Crete is Linear A as well as its evolutionary spin-off, Linear B from the Mycenaean period.

A form of written language existed in ancient Crete in the form of hieroglyphics even in the early palaces period. This form of writing is closely related to the first signs of writing discovered in Cyprus (2 millennium B.C) known as Cypriot-Minoan.

Gortyn Code

Cretan hieroglyphics appeared on Crete about 2000 B.C., approximately in the period the first Minoan palaces were erected.

The term “hieroglyphics” is credited to Sir Arthur Evans who saw Egyptian influences in the wider Mediterranean region. Cretan hieroglyphics have been found all over Crete, inscribed on soft stones (steatite), tablets or clay vessels.

Researchers and experts alike have been unable to decipher these hieroglyphics.

During the neo-palatial period a new script emerges on the island which, owing to its features, Sir Arthur Evans described as Linear A.

This script appears on the Phaistos Disk discovered by the Italian School of Archaeology in 1908.

The script on this disk has been scrutinized extensively for clues as to the kind of language it represents.

The symbols seem to have been impressed on the disk and are arranged in a spiral form. Linguists describe the Phaistos Disk as unique. Linear B evolved from Linear A with a reduction of symbols.

It represents a pure Greek form of writing of the Homeric period.

Linear B appears on clay tablets which have survived the destruction of the Minoan palaces.

Linear A ScriptLinear B Script

The first clay tablets in Linear B were discovered by Mr. Minos Kalokairinos, an ardent amateur Cretan archaeologist, and by Sir Arthur Evans who unearthed the Minoan palace at Knossos in 1900.

Linear B consists of ideograms (e.g. representations of men and women), 87 syllabic letters, numerical symbols (decimal system) and symbols of weights and measures (decimal system).

In many occasions we encounter a combination of ideograms and syllabic letters. The transcription is done in Latin (e.g. Knossos as Ko-no-so or Amnisos as A-mi-ni-so).

Linear B was deciphered not by an archaeologist but by an architect, Michael Ventris, in 1952. Other experts had tried to do the same but were unsuccessful.

To achieve his goal, Ventris relied on the frequency various symbols repeated in the texts.

It is likely that the secrets of Linear A script shall remain locked for ever.

However, this will only keep our interest unwavering and our search for truth a never ending task.

from STIGMES Magazine by Stavros Moudoufaris