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The Wisconsin U.S.A. Tablet — Is it Minoan? PART A: Comparison with 4 Ancient Northern Mediterranean Scripts.

The Wisconsin U.S.A. Tablet – Is it Minoan? PART B: Cross-Linguistic Comparison with the Indus Valley Harappan Script, 2,600 BCE.

The Wisconsin U.S.A. Tablet – Is it Minoan? PART B: Cross-Linguistic Comparison with the Indus Valley Harappan Script, 2,600 BCE

Firmly keeping in mind, and if at all possible, downloading and displaying my annotated version of the Wisconsin Tablet, so that you can view it alongside my annotated illustration of the Harappan script, I urge you to carefully consider the points I raise below, with reference to them both, as well as yet again to the early Cretan script, and to Linear A, B & C, allowing for a cross-comparative symbolic linguistic analysis of a total of no less than 6 ancient scripts, of which 3 are syllabic, 2 are in ancient Greek (Linear B and C), and 4 are undeciphered, the Wisconsin Tablet, the Harappan ad early Cretan scripts and the Linear a syllabary, all of which span an enormous historical timeline of 2,200 years, from ca. 2,600 – ca 400 BCE. Before we proceed any further, let us take a good close look at the Harappan script (Click to ENLARGE):

Harappan Wisconsin Tablet and Mediterranean Scripts

which predates all of the other scripts, except for the Wisconsin Tablet, which itself apparently is not even approximately dated for a timeline, by at least 500 years (from 2,600 BCE onwards), the early Cretan script running as it does from ca 1,900 – ca. 1,600 BCE. I have resorted to invoking the Indus Valley or Harappan script for precisely this reason, that I wanted to be certain that we end up dealing with various scripts and syllabaries spanning a huge timeline of some 2,200 years, making it literally impossible to correlate the symbols or syllabograms in any of these scripts, including the Wisconsin, in any meaningful fashion, without trapping ourselves in a quagmire of irresolvable contradictions and in a blatant reductio ad absurdum. It is abundantly clear that all 6 of these scripts share at least a couple of symbols, if not several, in common, while at the same time, these very same symbols are totally undecipherable in 4 of the scripts, the Wisconsin, Harappan, early Cretan scripts, and in the Linear A syllabary, for which we know most of the values, these being either close to identical or identical to those in Linear B, at least where they overlap. And that is not always, given that Linear A has considerably more syllabograms and ideograms than Linear B. Unfortunately, this means that a large portion of Linear A is not only undecipherable, but that many of its syllabograms and ideograms are still totally impermeable to us at the present juncture.

Of course, all of this amounts to, shall we say, one hell of a mess, given that even where the some of symbols, syllabograms and ideograms in any of these 6 scripts either closely resemble one another or are identical to one another, they are either completely undecipherable and beyond our ken, or have been almost completely deciphered (with a few queer exceptions in the 2 Greek scripts, Mycenaean Linear B, ca. 1500 – 1200 BCE, and its closest historical cousin or offspring, if you will, Arcado-Cypriot, written in Linear C from ca. 1100 – ca. 400 BCE). My point is simply this, that it is very nearly impossible arrive at any reasonable correlation of any of these symbols or syllabograms in any of these 6 scripts, even when they match up perfectly, with the sole exception of Linear A & B, which after all were employed by one and the same civilization, the Minoan, without a perceptible break, from ca. 1,800 to ca. 1,200 BCE, i.e. over 600 years, and – get this! - even though though they actually overlap, undeciphered Linear A being in continual use from ca. 1,800 – ca. 1,400 BCE, and Linear B, which was the syllabary for the earliest East Greek dialect, Mycenaean Greek, from ca. 1,500 – ca. 1,200 BCE, making for a century or so when they were in bed together.

This throws yet another wrench into our linguistic equation. Since it makes perfect sense for the Minoan scribes to continue using a simpler variant of Linear A in Linear B, why on earth would the same scribes continue to resort to Linear A alongside of Linear B for a period of at least a century (1,500 – 1,400 BCE)? This might appear to be a flat contradiction in terms, but in fact, it is highly doubtful that it is, since after all, nowadays we use the Latin script for many European languages, some of which held sway over all the others for considerable periods, for instance, Italian from ca. 1200 – ca. 1550 AD, French from ca. 1500 to ca. 1700 AD (again overlapping), and English, from ca. 1500 AD to the present, once again overlapping with Italian and French. In other words, all three of these modern languages held the ascendancy in tandem with at least one other at the same time, while English has been at the top of the heap since at least the beginning of the 20th. century.  

Likewise, there were eminently practical reasons for Minoan Linear A and Mycenaean Linear B to have been in use concomitantly for about 100 years or so, since after all, they used pretty much the same script, even if the former is undeciphered today, and I emphasize today. However, There can be no doubt whatsoever that the Minoan scribes were perfectly bilingual in this period of about a century, when the two scripts overlapped, and it is perfectly reasonable to assume that the Minoans and Mycenaeans clearly understood one another’s language, which they surely must have. Otherwise, why continue using Linear A alongside Linear B for at least a century? There was no question of their having to decipher the Minoan language, because there was nothing to decipher. The language was then a known one, spoken and written, all during that period. Some scribes and some literates must have not only been familiar with both languages, but perfectly bilingual in both. What a shame we have lost the Minoan language to the Lethe of history, while our dear genius Michael Ventris succeeded, against all odds, in deciphering Linear B as Greek!

But, you are probably asking yourselves, why am I bringing this point up in the first place? Well, it is pretty obvious, I think. We can clearly see that the same syllabary, common to Linear A & B, with minor variations and with a shift to greater simplicity in Linear B, can be used to write two completely unrelated languages, just as the modern Latin script is used for several Indo-European languages, English, French, Spanish, German and so forth, and even some Slavic languages to boot, while at the same time doing perfect service for the Finno-Ugaric languages, Finnish, Estonian, Latvian and Hungarian, which are not Indo-European at all.

On the other hand, as can clearly be observed in our cross-correlation of 6 scripts from Harappan on down to Arcado-Cypriot Linear C, even though a few symbols and syllabograms appear to be in common with at least some of these 6 languages, the pattern is totally haphazard, the result being a meaningless crazy-quilt. The same scenario exists for modern Indo-European languages, of which the majority use the Latin alphabet, while Greek has its own peculiar alphabet predating the Latin, and almost all of the Slavic languages use the Cyrillic (though not all). While the Latin and Cyrillic (accidentally) share some letters in common, Cyrillic has far more in common with Greek. Once again, we find ourselves up against a hodge-podge of alphabets, all of which have some, but scarcely all, letters in common, just as our 6 ancient scripts share some, but scarcely all, of the symbols and syllabograms they – and here again, I lay particular stress on this point – accidentally have in common, with the sole exception of Linear A and Linear B, which form a clear continuum.

Taken to its extreme, this observation leads us to the inevitable conclusion that, regardless or not whether or not any 2 or more languages share the same pictographs, hieroglyphics, ideograms, logograms, syllabograms or alphabets in common, whether almost totally or in more or less part, there is absolutely no guarantee whatsoever that these languages are related in any meaningful way by linguistic family or sub-class. For instance, early Mediterranean, such as early Cretan and Linear A, appear to be closely related, but may very well not be. Meanwhile Linear A, which is used for the Minoan language, remains undeciphered, and in all probability, is in no way related to Greek, including Mycenaean, written in Linear B,even though these scripts are almost identical. We find the same scenario with modern Occidental Indo-European languages versus their Finno-Ugaric counterparts, which are not Indo-European at all, and yet which share the same alphabet, just as Linear A and Linear B share the same syllabary, for all intents and purposes. 

What then does all this imply if not this? - that any and all ancient, including prehistoric, scripts must be deciphered within the ambit of their own hieroglyphics, ideograms, syllabograms or alphabet, whether or not these look (even exactly) like the hieroglyphics, ideograms, syllabograms or alphabet of any other language whatsoever. In other words, forget about the nature of the script in which any undeciphered language is written, whether hieroglyphic, ideogrammatic, syllabogrammatic or alphabetical, and concentrate solely and entirely on endeavouring to decipher it in its own right sui generis, without reference at all to any other language, dead or living. That this is surely the case is made abundantly clear by the co-existence, indeed, entente cordiale, that comfortably existed between the syllabary used for the undeciphered Minoan language written in Linear A and the linguistically completely unrelated language, Mycenaean Greek, written in Linear B, the syllabary which for all intents and purposes was the brain-child of Linear A, which the Minoan scribes clearly adapted to suit their own eminently practical purposes. After all, why re-invent the wheel, and why fix something when it isn’t even broken in the first place? It is precisely for the same reason that the Greek alphabet, which has been in continual use for at least 2,800 years (ca. 800 BCE to the present), the Latin alphabet for at least 2,750 years (from the time of the time of the founding of Rome if not before), and last, but far from least, the much younger Cyrillic alphabet, from the ninth century AD onwards, are all still going gang-busters.

This is precisely why the presence of even a few symbols which look like Linear A or Linear B syllabograms on the Wisconsin Tablet is utterly meaningless.

You could cross-correlate the symbols in God knows how many pre-historic or ancient languages, and still come up with matches or near-matches, but these would be, and in fact, are utterly meaningless, especially where one language dates from as early as 10,000 or 5,000 BCE, having symbols in common with any one or more languages from a (far) later historical period. And they all too frequently do. In a word, the whole exercise of cross-comparing identical, near identical or similar looking symbols, pictographs, hieroglyphics, ideograms, syllabograms or alphabets, whether prehistoric, ancient or modern, is entirely meaningless in determining the nature or linguistic class of any and all of these languages whatsoever.

So any attempt to cross-correlate symbols from one language to another, even where they leap out at us, yelling, hey, I am the “same” symbol in such and such language (for instance that of the Wisconsin Tablet) as in another (for instance, Minoan in Linear A or Mycenaean Greek in Linear B), I regret to say, sadly amounts to a hill of beans, and nothing more.    


The Wisconsin U.S.A. Tablet — Is it Minoan? PART A: Comparison with 4 Ancient Northern Mediterranean Scripts.

The Wisconsin U.S.A. Tablet — Is it Minoan? PART A: Comparison with 4 Ancient Northern Mediterranean Scripts

A Thorough Linguistic Analysis of the Wisconsin Tablet (Click to ENLARGE):

A symbols and syllabograms early Cretan Linear A Linear B Linear C

When I first saw the Wisconsin Tablet, which our friend, E.J. Heath, posted here on our blog, I stood amazed. Staring me in the face were 3 symbols, 2 of which which looked uncannily like 2 syllabograms (B, C&F) common to Linear A & B, and one of which (H) looked like the number 20, again in common with Linear A & B. Well now, that’s a real find, or so it would appear.

But my wonderment quickly faded as I began to closely, then more meticulously, examine its symbols, discovering as I did that only 1 other symbol looked anything like symbols in any early (pre-historic) Northern Mediterranean scripts, that being symbol A on the Wisconsin Tablet, which is identical to the same symbol in the early Cretan script, and closely resembles 2 similar symbols, called syllabograms, in Linear C, the latter being the vowels a & e in that script. But Linear C is a far later historical Greek script, in use continually from ca. 1100 BCE to 400 BCE, alongside the ancient Greek alphabet. And that period is more than likely to be much later than the Wisconsin Tablet. As for the rest of the symbols on the Wisconsin tablet, they bear little or no resemblance at all to the symbols in early Cretan (an undeciphered pictographic or ideographic script), or to the syllabograms in Linear A (which, though undeciphered, shares a great many of its syllabograms in common with deciphered Linear B, or at least shares some features of these), to the 200 or so syllabograms and ideograms in Linear B or yet again to any syllabograms other than the vowels a & e in deciphered Cypro-Minoan Linear C.  

All this leaves me at a complete impasse, and opens a real can of worms. Questions, which are not hypothetical, but historically pregnant, pop up left, right and centre. For instance:

1. How on earth can a tablet unearthed in the north-western U.S.A. reasonably be considered to be Minoan, when its shares symbols in common with 4 different ancient scripts, 2 of them similar to one another (Linear A &  B), but one being undeciphered and the other decidedly Greek (Mycenaean), and the other two completely dissimilar, not only to one another, but also to Linear A & B. Even granted that the 2 symbols (and only 2), and the apparent “number 20” which I can clearly see on the Wisconsin Tablet, which apparently look like their Linear A & B counterparts, are, for the sake of argument, actually those very syllabograms in Linear A & B, this raises another thorny question, how can we be even remotely sure that this is in fact the case, when all of the other symbols on the Wisconsin – I repeat – bear no resemblance with any syllabograms or ideograms in either Linear A or B (and that means 100s of them!). We have landed in a real quagmire. In short, we cannot decipher it under these conditions.  Here is a chart summarizing my findings (Click to ENLARGE):

Early Cretan Linear A B and C

Here are two Linear A tablets, which shed further light on the issue of the Wisconsin tablet sharing (or not) symbols with Linear A syllabograms (Click to ENLARGE):

Linear A numeric & ss reversed

Refer back to the Wisconsin Tablet above for 2 of the symbols highlighted with the same letters (E & H) on both it and these two Linear A tablets.  

2. On the other hand, if we take the stance that the 3 so-called “Minoan” symbols on the Wisconsin Tablet are not Linear A or B syllabograms or numerics – which is a perfectly reasonable assumption to proceed from – then what on earth are they? Are they even syllabograms or numerics? Or are they any one of the following: pictographs, such as we see in the famous Peterborough Pictographs, unearthed near Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, some time ago, or perhaps hieroglyphics, or yet again logographic, ideogrammatic, syllabogrammatic or even, as far fetched as it may seem (and it is) alphabetic? This stretches my poor imagination and my powers of reason almost beyond bearing.

3. When was the Wisconsin Tablet composed? This is an absolutely critical question, because, failing any knowledge of even the approximate date of its composition, the whole thing remains a complete mystery. There are, of course, two tried-and-tested archaeological approaches to getting closer to resolving this vital question, at least to some extent. First of all, has the Wisconsin Tablet been carbon-dated? If it has not, the mystery remains just that, and nothing more. If it has (which apparently seems not to be the case, but hopefully E.J. Heath can enlighten me on this matter), then the carbon-dating is entirely capable of determining whether or not it falls at least somewhere near or within the historical timeline of both Linear A and Linear BC together, i.e. 1,800 – 1,200 BCE. If the carbon-dating proves this to be the case, then at least our friend has a leg to stand on, however shaky. On the other hand, if the carbon-dating should prove that the Wisconsin tablet pre-dates or post-dates the Minoan/Mycenaean era (ca. 1,900 – 1,200 BCE), then it is, even in the very best scenario, highly unlikely that the Wisconsin Tablet is composed in anything like or near to Linear A or B, and the whole hypothesis falls apart like a house of cards. 

4. Another way of establishing the approximate timeline of the Wisconsin tablet is to submit it to as many as possible eminently qualified North American, as well as European and Mediterranean, archaeologists, and eventually to draw up a team of archaeologist to address this sticky issue head on, by which I mean in conference or in writing and online or better still, all. All this would take considerable time, conceivably close to a decade. 

It goes entirely without saying that both of these approaches to attempting to establish the approximate dating of the Wisconsin tablet are absolutely essential to the process of identifying in any way what it is, and can in no wise be omitted. I leave it to our friend E.J. Heath to get in touch with at least a few archaeologists in the field (pardon the pun!) in the U.S.A, first and foremost at the University of Wisconsin itself, to establish the credentials of the Wisconsin Tablet, as it were.

5. On yet another level, I am forcibly struck by the curious absence of any other tablet(s), especially in light of the fact that the Minoan scribes writing in both Minoan Linear A and in Mycenaean Greek in Linear B, were completely obsessed with record-keeping, inventories and statistics. While there is a dearth of Linear A tablets still in existence compared with Linear B tablets, there are still plenty enough of them. We can only assume that those Linear A tablets which have disappeared in the maelstrom of history have done so for various reasons bearing on lack of archaeological findings or evidence, which may nevertheless may be corrected, at least to some degree, by potential findings in the future. But there can be no assurance of this. So if we have a few hundred Linear A tablets at our disposal, why is there only 1 single tablet to be found in Wisconsin, when we know perfectly well that the Linear A and Linear B scribes were concerned with one thing and one thing only, keeping exhaustive records, inventories and statistics on absolutely anything and everything that affected their economy?  This surely begs the question: why has only 1 and one only so-called “Minoan” tablet been unearthed in Wisconsin? If as E.J. Heath claims, this tablet is likely to be just that, Minoan, then surely at least a few, if not a few scores of other tablets, or ideally hundreds just like it, should have been unearthed with it.  Since none have, the question is why – and it is a question that must eventually bear answering in some way or another, sooner or later.  

On the other hand, there are literally 1,000s of Linear B Tablets (close to 6,000 at last count), and we can read them! Even if the 3 so-called Linear A & B look-alikes on the Wisconsin Tablet were in fact either Linear A or Linear B, we would still be stuck in the mud, right where we are. Since Linear A is undeciphered, even if 2 of the symbols on the Wisconsin Tablet are in Linear A (which I highly doubt), they too remain undecipherable (with the possible exception of the so-called number 20. For more in this, see infra).

If on the other hand, these are Linear B symbols, i.e. the 2 syllabograms ZO (B) and NO (C& F), along with the apparent numeric = 20?, the tablet is still undecipherable, because we can make no sense of any of the other symbols on it, and in order to decipher it, we must place the apparent Linear B ZO & NO strictly in context with all of the symbols immediately preceding and following them, if indeed these other symbols are syllabograms (which I highly doubt). Remember what I said above, that the symbols on the Wisconsin tablet must all either be pictographics, hieroglyphics, ideograms or (very unlikely) syllabograms, and almost inconceivably letters, but never an admixture of any one of the above, with the possible sole exception of syllabograms and ideograms, which do in fact co-exist happily in Linear A & B. At least we can admit of that. Yet, even with this single exception at our disposal, we will have practically backed ourselves up against a solid brick wall, given that there is a substantial likelihood of the symbols on the Wisconsin Tablet being either pictographs or hieroglyphics.

6. As for that presumed number 20, even if it is a number, is it the number 20, i.. in the tens, or is it a single digit, i.e. 2?  This is no small matter. In several of the ancient and not so ancient scripts, single digit numbers are either denoted by parallel horizontal lines, in which case the tens are designated by parallel vertical lines (if at all), or vice versa, i.e. single digits are vertical parallels and 10s horizontal. The easiest way to illustrate this is by invoking the numbers 1, 2 & 3 in (ichi, ni & san) in Japanese Kanji, which are the exact reverse of the paradigms for numerics in Linear A & B. Whereas Linear A & B denote single digits with vertical parallel lines and 10s with horizontal, Japanese Kanji resorts to the horizontal for single digits, as seen here:

Kanji ichi ni san

All this still leaves us with one unanswered question, which is very much moot. Are these 2 parallel horizontal lines on the Wisconsin tablet either the number 20 or the number 2, or are they numbers at all? Pending decipherment, we can never really know.

To Summarize:

Given all the issues I have raised with respect to the Wisconsin Tablet, I sincerely doubt that it is composed in Linear A or Linear B, or anything remotely like that. This leaves the tablet not only undecipherable, but for now highly resistant to any attempt at decipherment. On the other hand, its discovery is significant. Writing as such, if indeed this is writing we have here on the Wisconsin Tablet, is almost unheard of in the annals of North American aboriginal tribes. Pictographs, such as the Peterborough Pictographs, occasionally appear, and they do contribute to the continuing search for symbolic evidence of North American aboriginal settlements. What strikes me about this particular tablet is that it does not appear to be composed of simple pictographs, but of something – I cannot imagine what – more sophisticated... hieroglyphics or ideograms or... heavens no what? In this light, I greatly encourage E. J. Heath and any and all researchers or aficionados of ancient scripts to pour their efforts into attempting to figure out the nature of the symbols on this fascinating tablet, if not to decipher it outright.

In the next post, I shall raise even more issues and concerns I have with the Wisconsin tablet, or for that matter with any tablet in any undeciphered language anywhere in the ancient pre-historic world. To do so, I shall have recourse to the 417 symbols of the ancient Harappan script of the Indus Valley civilization, which considerably predates by several centuries – ca. 2,600 to ca. 2,000 BCE -all four of the scripts we have held under consideration here (early Cretan, Linear A, Linear B and the historical Greek script, Arcado-Cypriot Linear C). What we will discover with this script is bound to increase, not decrease, the shock we all to often encounter, however valiantly we struggle to decipher any undeciphered ancient pre-historic script, let alone the Wisconsin Tablet.

That said, the fact that the Wisconsin Tablet remains a baffling mystery warrants more than its fair share of attention (whatever that might be), and so I applaud E. J. Heath for posting it here on our blog, and I invite him to counter each of the issues and objections I have raised here, and more of which I shall raise again in the next post, as he feels inclined.


HAIKU in Linear B: Spices from the boughs of the terebinth… for whom, I wonder?.

HAIKU in Linear B: Spices from the boughs of the terebinth... Click to ENLARGE

Mycenaean Linear B haiku terebinth tree

This area of Wisconsin, prior to any European explorers; was known to have abundant minerals. This fact was noted by the explorer Champlain and his protégé Etienne Brule. Both explorers were versed in Native American language and listened to and conveyed the stories of the aboriginals about the mines having already been dug.  The Native Woodland Americans did not use these minerals as a common practice, in this region of Wisconsin.  Their first experience with the use of lead was when the explorers demonstrated the thunderous power of the gun. There were lead, copper and zinc mines in this area.

Also observed by the explorers were well established roads along ridges and rivers.  When the local inhabitants were asked who built the roads and what were they for, they replied; the Spanish built them.  This conversation was with E. Brule.

Were they referencing an unknown tribe as we here in the U.S. refer to Canadians or Latinos, which would be a very vague usage, rather than narrowing the locale of the citizen to Ottawa or Durango?  But my question would be, why would the locals allow another tribe to construct roads in their territory. The construction had to be quite lengthy and what mode of transportation would require the use of such roads. What beast of burden were being used?

I find quite odd that five towns along the Wisconsin river have Roman or Latin names.I’m not saying those towns were begun by the Romans, it’s just odd.

So, in my wild imagination; I suggest the Minoan culture inhabited this area of the Great Lakes, but I don’t know when.  I will persist in defining a timeline for the script on the tablet, based on the differences between evolutions of script of the Minoan, Cuneiforms, local natives and anything else I can find. Right now I’m suggesting the period the script was written prior to the 5th century BCE and after the 20th century BCE, based on symbol changes. Let me know your thoughts.

The Minoan culture were extremely skilled in metallurgy and they could have had symbols of these noble metals within their language. Perhaps they were never found, until now.

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

James R Heath


Spice from 11 boughs of a terebinth tree (Knossos Tablet KN 1530 R t 01)… rather romantic.

Spice from 11 boughs of a terebinth tree (Knossos Tablet KN 1530 R t 01)… rather romantic.

Spice from 11 boughs of a terebinth tree (Knossos Tablet KN 1530 R t 01)... rather romantic Click to ENLARGE:

KN 1530 R t 01 illegible

In my valiant, though not necessarily entirely successful, attempt to recover syllagograms and lost text from at least some of Knossos Tablet KN 1530 R t 01, a badly damaged Linear B Tablet, I have taken my cue from Andras Zeke and his splendid blog, the Minoan Language Blog, which unfortunately has been mysteriously idle ever since September 2012. For some reason unknown to me, Andras Zeke has simply disappeared from the scene, and his disappearance is a terrible loss to the research community devoted to the eventual decipherment of Linear A, in which he was making considerable headway. The Minoan Language Blog is also an excellent source for the advancement of the further decipherment of those areas of Linear B, which have to date defied decipherment. I strongly recommend this blog to anyone involved in any capacity in research into Linear A or Linear B.

There are several instances of (some seriously) damaged Linear A tablets on the Minoan Language Blog, which Andras Zeke has valiantly attempted to restore, usually with a remarkable degree of success, as illustrated for instance by this consummate restoration of a Linear A tablet which he effected (Click to jump to the entry for this tablet in the Minoan Language Blog:


I cannot claim to have achieved anywhere near the proficiency Andras Zeke has mastered in recovering lost portions of damaged tablets, but I have made my best efforts to fill in at least some of the gaps on Knossos Tablet KN 1530 R t 01, much of which has been effaced beyond restoration.

Perhaps the single factor which lends some credence to my so-called “decipherment” is that it hangs together, that it is somehow coherent, all the retrieved parts matching up like the pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. This does not mean that my partial translation is in any sense of the word the “right” one, whatever that is supposed to mean, any more than it is any conceivable variant on the “wrong” ones. It is just the decipherment I was able to pull from the ashes, whatever its supposed merits. I invite any and all researchers/accomplished translators of Linear B to come up with their own versions of “decipherments” of this intriguing tablet, however much they may be at variance with my own.


Examples of 2 Site-specific Linear B Tablets from Knossos Dealing with Sheep, Rams & Ewes

Here are 2 of the 503 Linear B tablets dealing specifically sheep, rams and uses, from the huge cross-section of 2,500 Linear B tablets at Knossos which I closely examined for content. They serve as fine illustrations of the 138 site-specific tablets and fragments which I further isolated from the 503 overall dealing with sheep in general.

First, we have Linear B tablet KN 934 G y 201, which references sheep, rams and ewes at EKOSO, Exonos, the sheep raising locale accounting for 15 or 10.9 % of the 138 Linear B tablets I examined dealing with sheep, rams and ewes. This sets the incidence for the number of times a specific locale for sheep husbandry at second place for Exonos, behind Kytaistos, Phaistos Lykinthos, each of which accounts for 20 tablets and fragments, at 14.49 %. So we can rest assured that, apart from Knossos, which was, as we pointed out in the previous post, the default locale, Exonos still plays an important rôle in sheep raising.

Linear B tablet KN 934 G y 201 (Click to ENLARGE):

Knossos Tablet KN 934 G y 201 sheep  Exonos

Next comes Linear B tablet KN 1342 E k 321, which is even more significant, as it centres on Phaistos, one of the three first place contenders for site-specific statistics on sheep husbandry, weighing in as it does 20 times or 14.49 % of the 138 tablets on sheep which are site-specific, out of a total of 503 tablets dealing with sheep in general. This leaves 356 tablets which are apparently not site-specific, although it is positively risky to assume that they are not locale-specific to Knossos itself, a critical issue I discussed at great length in the previous post, and to which I draw your undivided attention, if you are interested in or concerned with the contents of Linear B tablets at all, regardless of provenance.

Linear B tablet KN 1342 E k 321 (Click to ENLARGE):

Knossos Tablet 1342 E k 321 sheep at RATOYO and PAITO

Note that this tablet also references RATOYO (archaic genitive masc. singular), i.e. Lato, as a sheep raising locale, which accounts for 12 or 8.7 % of 138 site-specific tablets dealing with sheep, rams and ewes. This is precisely why I have used this particular tablet to illustrate sheep raising locales, because it, like several other tablets in this sub-set, mentions 2 sites, not just 1 locale, further attesting to the prime significance of sheep husbandry at the very core of the Minoan economy.


CRITICAL POST: The Minoans counted sheep while they were wide awake… big time!.

CRITICAL POST: The Minoans counted sheep while they were wide awake... big time! 

An In-depth Statistical Analysis and Wide Cross-Section of over 2,500 tablets and fragments out of the approximately 4,000 at Knossos dealing specifically with sheep, rams and ewes.

For the past 4 months, I have been meticulously examining a huge cross-section of 2,503 Linear B tablets & fragments from the approximately 4,000 found at Knossos, representing no less than 62.57 % of that total, a sampling for which the statistical accuracy must be so high as not to exceed 0.5 % +/- margin of error (although I haven not verified this myself). Even with the total of 4,000 tablets and fragments being only a reasonably fair estimate of the total, the statistical accuracy would still be very high, since we are dealing with a total very close to 4,000. Here is the detailed table I compiled with its statistical analysis of the total number of tablets and fragments at Knossos specifically dealing with sheep, rams and ewes (503), as opposed to the total number I examined = 2,503. Click to ENLARGE:

Linear B Tablets Knossos sheep rams ewes

However, not only did I isolate all 503 of the tablets and fragments dealing with sheep, rams and ewes from my cross-section of 2,500 tablets, I also further sub-divided all 503 of these by locales or sites at which the Minoans raised sheep, these being, from most to least often mentioned on the tablets, Kytaistos, Phaistos & Lykinthos (20 times each), for a total of 60; Exonos (15 times); Davos (14); Lato & Syrimos (12), for a total of 24; Lasynthos (9); Sygrita (8); Tylissos or Tylisos (5) and Raia (2), Knossos never being even mentioned at all! What! I here you say... and me too. Come on, this begs the question. 

Hypothesis A: Why not Knossos?... or more to the point, probably Knossos

Why? Why not Knossos? It is patently ridiculous to assume that no sheep were raised at Knossos, since Knossos was a city of a population reputedly exceeding 50,000, an enormous city for the ancient world (aside from Rome, of course). None of the other locales listed in our table come remotely close to Knossos in size or economic power and significance, not even Phaistos. The Minoans had to have raised sheep at Knossos, of that there can be no doubt. But how many of the overall 503 tablets mentioning sheep, rams and ewes can be said to deal with Knossos?  Although we could ideally postulate a total of 365 times, the remainder of the 503 tablets, this is a highly problematic question, since there is simply no way of knowing whether or not the scribes were referring to Knossos and Knossos alone whenever they omitted to name the locale for sheep husbandry. It seems quite conceivable, even reasonable, to assume that the majority of the remaining 365 tablets and fragments, or at least most of them, do deal specifically with Knossos, but there is really no real way of our ever knowing.

However, there is one tell-tale statistic which may serve as a real clue to the incidence of sheep raising at Knossos, and that is the figure for the number of times Tylissos is mentioned, i.e. only 5 times, even though Tylissos was an important Minoan site. The point I am making here is simply this: Tylissos was right next door to Knossos, practically an outskirt of the city. So if Tylissos is mentioned less often than every other sheep raising locale, with the sole exception of Raya (3 times), then were were the sheep being raised near or at Knossos?  The answer seems transparent enough. At Knossos itself, or at least in the countryside surrounding Knossos, which would almost (but not quite) include Tylissos. So this is my hypothesis, namely, that in all probability most of the remaining 365 tablets and fragments do deal with Knossos, since as I have already said, it is patently impossible that Knossos was not the major sheep raising locale in the Minoan agri-economy.

Hypothesis B: Why not Knossos?... or more to the point, probably Knossos

There is another angle from which we may approach my assumption. Let’s say I am talking about my own garden (today, in the twenty-first century). Now since my own garden is right here in the city I live in, what is the point of saying “my garden in Ottawa” to other folks from Ottawa, since they already know that? The only time it would be necessary to refer to “my garden in Ottawa” would be when I was showing my garden at the cottage to my friends, and I wished to distinguish it from my other garden in Ottawa. Likewise, if I am referring to my mother’s garden, which happens to be in Toronto, while speaking to friends in Ottawa, I have to say “my mother’s garden in Toronto”, unless they all already know that. You see my point.

By analogy, if scribes, all of whom lived in Knossos, were referring to sheep husbandry at Knossos, why would they bother mentioning the city as such, since they would have been sharing this information with their fellow scribes and literate administrators in Knossos itself. On the other hand, if they had to refer to sheep raising absolutely anywhere else, even at Tylissos, which was not quite at Knossos, they would have had to mention the site by name; otherwise, their fellow scribes and co-literates would have had no idea where the sheep were being raised, which defeats the whole point of inventorying or compiling such statistics in the first place. Remember that the Minoan scribes writing in Linear B (not Linear A) were space-saving freaks, to say the least, since the tablets were usually very small. So by not mentioning Knossos as a sheep raising locale, since they lived there after all, they saved precious space on their tablets... yet another reason why Knossos was in fact never mentioned. Anyway, people are lazy by nature, and would rather not do any work they can avoid. So either they would have mentioned Knossos all the time, however many times it would have been the default locale for sheep raising (because, in fact, Knossos was the default location for sheep husbandry) on those remaining 365 tablets, or they would not have mentioned it all. We know of course they did not. All of this is speculation, of course, but it is rational speculation, I dare say.

Hypothesis C: Why not Knossos?... or more to the point, probably Knossos

And, believe it or not, there is yet another way to approach this hypothesis, and this approach is in fact purely statistical. Whenever we are confronted with a tablet or fragment from any of the other sheep raising locales specifically inventoried in the table above, when we examine the tablet for the total number of sheep raised at any one of these locales, we discover (and this is very significant) that nowhere are more than a few hundred sheep, rams or ewes mentioned on these site-specific tablets and fragments. The reason for this is probably that there was not enough available land at these sites to raise more than a few hundred sheep at a time.

On the other hand — and I must lay particular emphasis on this point — on several of the remaining 365 tablets or fragments, 1,000s or even 10s of 1,000s of sheep are tallied. Now where on earth except at Knossos would there be enough room to accommodate so many blasted sheep? I think I have made my point.

I can see some of you object (some perhaps even loudly), how could any place, even Knossos, have enough room in the surrounding countryside to accommodate almost as many or even more sheep than the general population of the city, without stripping the top soil bare, causing irreparable environmental damage and making one stinky countryside? It is hard to counter such an objection, which is entirely rational on any count. Still, we do not know whether the Minoans practised land rotation. However, given that their civilization was so advanced and sophisticated, with their basic grasp and sound implementation of the principles of hydrology to city plumbing never again to be matched until the end of the 19th. century of our era (!), it begs the question whether or not they were familiar with, and indeed practised land rotation for sheep grazing. I for one would be willing to bet at least 50/50 that they did... a practice which would have effectively preserved available grazing land, and made Knossos a perfectly suitable place to raise sheep, and scads of them.

But there is still more. Of the 2,503 tablets and fragments from Knossos I examined, those dealing specifically with sheep, rams and ewes account for fully 20.12 % of every last tablet, regardless of the area of interest in the Minoan society, economy, social structure, religious affairs etc. any and all of the remaining tablets deal with. This is a huge sub-set of all the tablets, and in fact, when you examine a cross-section of as many as 2,503 tablets of approximately 4,000, as I have done, you will discover, perhaps to your astonishment, perhaps not, that no other single area of interest or topic, if you like, in Minoan society comes anywhere even close to the number of times sheep, rams and ewes are specifically and almost always solely addressed on such tablets or fragments, i.e. 503 times. This speaks to the one area that literally grabs centre stage in the Minoan socio-economic and trade structure. It all boils down to one thing: the Minoan economy by-and-large revolved around sheep raising and husbandry, and the products which derived from it, such as wool, which also accounts for a fairly significant proportion of the remaining 3,500 tablets (though far from the numbers for sheep per se). Although there can be no denying that other areas of interest, such as raising pigs and other livestock, various crafts such as gem cutting, jewelry etc., religious issues, military matters, household affairs and so on, played a significant role in the Minoan economy and in their society, there can be no denying that sheep raising and husbandry was the keystone of their economy. There is simply no way of getting around this conclusion, given the fact that the cold, bare statistics practically shout this at us.  Of course, many of you will object, statistics aren’t everything, or even all that reliable as an indicator of anything, for that matter. And of course, you would be right... except for one big thorn in our side, namely, the fact that statistics for the number of fragments and tablets dealing specifically with sheep, rams and ewes is so huge (20.12 %) that it could very well make the objections of our doubting Thomases almost irrelevant. I have not yet formally compiled statistics for the incidence of tablets and fragments dealing with any other aspect of Minoan life whatsoever, but I can assure that, even on examining all of these tablets quite closely, no other area of interest whatsoever comes even remotely close to the overwhelming figure of 503 tablets or fragments specifically focusing on sheep, rams and ewes (20.12 %), accounting for fully 1/5 of all 2,503 tablets and fragments I examined.

The next post will provide us with two examples of the 138/503 site-specific Linear B tablets dealing with sheep, rams and ewes.

Wisconsin stone tablet unearthed.

Wisconsin stone tablet unearthed..

Wisconsin stone tablet unearthed.

Can anyone interpret this tablet?

I have other artifacts from this small site.tablet

Photo of the Labrys or double Axe Fresco at Mycenae I took in May 2012 & description of the same by Sir Athur Evans in Scripta Minoa:

Click to ENLARGE:

pottery and shield of the Labrys or Double Axe, Museum Mycenae May 3 2012

The Labrys or Double Axe was common to both Mycenae and Knossos, and indeed there is a large room of the Double Axes which I saw when I was there in May 2012.  

Click to ENLARGE:

description of Labrys or double axe from Scripta Minoa Sir Arthur Evans

The text of this entry in Scripta Minoa is really fascinating. This statement in particular caught my eye.

The diameter of this huge labrys (double axe) is 7 MC (1.20 m.). the 7 and especially 7-1, have been used in the geometry of many ancient monuments (see, for example, the geometry of the Parthenon and Stonehenge.)    


2 impressive photos of the entrance to the famous Treasury of Atreus at Mycenae I took in May 2012.

2 impressive photos of the entrance to the famous Treasury of Atreus at Mycenae I took in May 2012:

Click to ENLARGE:

Treasury of Atreus b

Click to ENLARGE:

Treasury of Atreus a


2 photos of goddesses & pottery in the museum at Mycenae I took in May 2012:

Click to ENLARGE:

These are of the Mycenaean Earth goddess, possibly also called Pipituna, and possibly equivalent to Erinu = Erinys mentioned in Knossos fragment KN 390J f 21, ERINU, the Avenging Deity:

Mycenaean Earth Goddesses Mycenae Museum May 3 2012

Click to ENLARGE:

Mycenaean pottery pitchers and bowls, Mycenae Museum May 3 2012

Mycenaean pottery, pitchers and bowls

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