Orientation of Minoan Linear A inventories is identical to modern inventories & plays a critical role in their decipherment

Orientation of Minoan Linear A inventories is identical to modern inventories & plays a critical role in their decipherment:

The orientation of Minoan Linear A inventories is identical to modern inventories & plays a critical role in their decipherment. This fact has been entirely overlooked by all previous researchers and so-called decipherers of Minoan Linear A tablets. It must not be ignored under any circumstances. It is precisely this vertical (not horizontal) orientation of Minoan Linear A tablets that makes it easier for us to decipher some of them (not all of them by far). The Linear A tablet most susceptible to an almost complete decipherment on account of its vertical orientation is HT 31 (Haghia Triada) on vessels and pottery.  When we compare this Linear A tablet



with the most famous inventory of vessels and pottery in Mycenaean Linear B, Pylos tablet Py TA 641-1952 (Ventris), also on vessels and pottery,



we instantly see how streamlined is the orientation and layout of the former and  how clumsy (at least by our modern standards) is the orientation and layout of the latter. Why the Mycenaean Linear B scribes abandoned the far more streamlined and practical layout of the Minoan Linear A inventories is perhaps a mystery to some... but not to all, and certainly not to me. What the Linear B inventories sacrifice by way of orientation they make up for in droves in space saving economy. Additionally, the Linear B scribes had plenty of other tricks up their sleeves to obviate the clumsy orientation of their inventory tablets. The most significant of these ploys was their deployment of supersyllabograms in droves, a feature largely missing from the Minoan Linear A tablets. Six of one, half a dozen of the other. 

It is impossible to properly cross-correlate the contents of Linear B tablet Pylos Py TA 641-1952 (Ventris) by means of retrogressive extrapolation with those of Minoan Linear A tablet HT 31 (Haghia Triada) without taking their appositive orientations into account.

Finally, we need only compare the orientation of HT 31 (Haghia Triada) with a modern inventory (this one on textiles) to immediately realize the practice is one and the same, past and present:


 Very little escapes my penetrating scrutiny. I shall be discussing the profound implications of the vertical orientation of almost all Minoan Linear A inventories versus the horizontal of most Mycenaean Linear B inventories in my upcoming article, “Pylos tablet Py TA 641-1952 (Ventris), the ‘Rosetta Stone’ to Minoan Linear A tablet HT 31 (Haghia Triada) vessels and pottery”, definitively slated for publication in Vol. 12 (2016) in the prestigious international annual, Archaeology and Science ISSN 1452-7448 (release date spring 2018). To be submitted by Nov. 15, 2016.


The Linear B “pakana” or – sword – series of tablets, their translations and the implications: PART A

The Linear B “pakana” or – sword – series of tablets, their translations and the implications: PART A

It is common knowledge in the Linear B linguistic research community that there are a great many series of Linear B tablets which share marked formulaic textual characteristics. Among these we find the Linear B “pakana” or – sword – series of tablets and fragments, amounting to some 15, from KN 1540 O k 01 to KN 1556 O k 11. I have assigned my research colleague, Rita Roberts, who is at the mid-term mark of her first year of university studies into Mycenaean Linear B, the challenging task of translating all 14 or 15 of these tablets and fragments (most of them fragments), in an effort to extrapolate from her translations findings which can and do confirm and validate the hypothesis that the tablets and fragments in this series are almost all variations on a “standard”, hence formulaic, text. This is the first of several posts in which we shall be analyzing the results of Rita’s findings. Once we have posted all of our co-operative findings, Rita and I shall be co-authoring an article on the formulaic nature of the tablets and fragments in this series in particular on academia.edu, the results of which can be extrapolated to any number of series of tablets and fragments of Linear B tablets from Knossos (and some from Pylos as well), regardless of the sector of the Minoan-Mycenaean economy on which they focus, the most notable being the sheep husbandry sub-sector of the agricultural sector, for which there are almost 700 (!) extant tablets, or some 10 times more than in any other sector of the Minoan-Mycenaean economy, inclusive of this one, the military. 

In the meanwhile, we are focusing our attention on this series of tablets in particular.

Here are the first three translations in series Rita Roberts has submitted, with her explanatory notes following them, these followed in turn by interpretive notes of my own, where applicable. The first tablet, largely intact, offers us an all but complete snapshot, so to speak, of the actual formulaic text underpinning almost all of the tablets in this series. Click to ENLARGE:

Military Affairs 1541 0k 09 (xc) tEXT

Mrs. Robert’s translation of this tablet is, as usual, precise, technically sound and elegant.

I do, however, have a few additional comments to make on the translation of this tablet among others strikingly similar to it, here: Click to ENLARGE

Knossos tablet KN 1541 O k 09 versus KN 1542 to KN 1556
It all comes to one observation and one only. The texts of all of the tablets I have mentioned above, however fragmentary, are merely minor variations of one another, in other words, they are all formulaic. The text of any one of them is close to a mirror image of any of the others, usually with only one or two attributes and the number of tablets inventoried in each at variance. That is the single factor we need to focus on above all else, though not exclusively to the exclusion of others.

The next translation Rita Roberts makes is of Knossos fragment KN 1542 OK 18 (XC), which contains only the tail end of a Mycenaean Linear B word terminating in “woa”  and the ideogram for sword. Click to ENLARGE:

Knossos tablet KN1542 O k 18 (xc) Text

It is painfully obvious that the left-truncated word ending in “woa” is in fact and can only be, “araruwoa”, meaning “bound” (a sword bound with a hilt) and nothing else. This, the only practicable translation for this little fragment, which is only a snippet or tiny subset of the missing text the fragment represents, leads us directly to the highly plausible inference that the actual text of this fragment, were it intact as a tablet entire, would have almost certainly have read very much like this:

A skilled horn worker has bound the hilt with horn and fixed it to the sword’s blade with rivets.

Sound familiar? You may very well protest, “Aren’t you jumping to conclusions?” and you might have been right, were it not for the fact that, as we soon shall see in subsequent posts detailing the contents of several other tablets and fragments in the same series, snippets of the very same text, more or less intact, keep popping up. And among these, two tablets — the first of which we have already seen as the first figure in this post — spell out the text entire (less one or two words, if any). So it stands to reason that if, in so far as the missing text of this tiny fragment almost certainly is the same as that of the other tablets, with minor variations in wording and in the number of swords tallied, this little scrap of text is a mathematical subset of the text we have already encountered in the first of the tablets posted in this series (KN 1541 OK 09 (xc)), then other, more complete, snippets of the same text appearing on other tablets we are soon to investigate simply confirm and validate our assumption, corroborated by the cumulative evidence brought to bear by the partial or complete text of those other tablets in this series.

Finally, turning our attention to the third translation Rita Roberts has effected (Click to ENLARGE):

Military Affairs 1543 0k 17 Trans

we discover, scarcely to our surprise at this point, that the text of KN 1543 OK 17, though not as complete as that of the first tablet posted here (KN 1541 OK 09 (xc)), is practically a mirror image of the former. The formulaic nature of the text of almost all of the tablets in this series ( KN 1540 O k 01 to KN 1556 O k 11), with few exceptions, is as we say nowadays, “in your face”. This simple fact based on strict observation of the variations on the recurrent text to be found on almost all of these tablets firmly confirms the hypothesis that in fact formulaic phrasing is a prime characteristic of all of the tablets in this series, and for that matter, in any number of series of tablets in Linear B from Knossos, regardless of economic sector. It is the tablets in the sheep husbandry sector, of which there around 700 (far more than in any other sector), which confirm and concretize this conclusion over and over.

Rita has also translated Knossos tablet KN 1540 O k 01 (xc) here: 

Rita Roberts translaton of Knosssos tablet KN 1540 OK 01
which I have just reblogged below for your convenience.

It is highly advisable for you to read this post in toto, as it sheds significant light on the present discussion. It is in fact this very tablet upon which we are to draw our ultimate conclusions with reference to the translations of this entire series of tablets. In our final post in this serial discussion, we shall actually  cite the text of this previous post in its entirety, with additional glosses reflecting any further conclusions we may have drawn once all of the tablets in this series have been posted.


Rita Robert’s translation of Knossos tablet KN 1540 O k 01 (xc) “so many swords”

Rita Robert's translation of Knossos tablet KN 1540 O k 01 (xc) “so many swords”

Click to ENLARGE:

KN 1540

As is usual with Mrs. Roberts, she once again finesses another translation of the many military-related tablets in the Knossos armoury. She has chosen military affairs as her primary area of interest in her first year of university studies. She certainly has her hands full, as there are scores of tablets from Knossos focusing on this sector of the Minoan-Mycenaean economy.

What intrigues me most is her marked ability to home in on the most significant details of the tablets in this particular series, as in fact she does with any tablets she translates, regardless of sector of the Minoan-Mycenaean economy. She notes for instance that:

(a) The scribe is actually tallying the “total” number of swords. That is what the formulaic phrase “so many” boils down to on all Linear B tablets which give totals, regardless of provenance (Knossos, Pylos etc.)
(b) Only the totals for the number of swords on each one of the tablets running in a straight series vary. The text does not. It is fossilized, i.e. formulaic to the extreme.
(c) As Rita herself pointed out to my during one of our chats on Skype, the phrasing on every single one of these tablets is formulaic, down to the last word (totals only varying). This finding is extremely significant where it comes to the translation of tablets in Mycenaean Greek, regardless of time frame (i.e. ca. 1450 BCE at Knossos or ca. 1300-1200 BCE at Pylos, Mycenae etc.) 
(d) Extrapolating these findings to practically all tablets in Linear B, we discover, not to our surprise, that formulaic phrasing is the established scribal practice, regardless of the sector of the Minoan-Mycenaean economy with which they are concerned and regardless of provenance (Knossos, Pylos etc.)
(e) This finding can hardly be surprising to us or anyone who stops to think about it, given that inventories, ancient and modern, are always standardized and always formulaic.

As we document each of Rita's translations of the tablets in this series, we shall soon enough realize that the formulaic standards imposed by the scribal guilds are universal, once again regardless of economic sector or provenance. This is one of the most salient key characteristics of tablets in Linear B, and I strongly suspect of the tablets in Minoan Linear A before them... which leads me to my next observation, namely, that the formulaic practice also likely underlying all such tablets in Minoan Linear A as well may be a crack, however small, in the doorway opening up to at least a partial decipherment of the Minoan language.


KEY POST! Introduction to the Complete Bibliography of 138 Citations for “The Rôle of Supersyllabograms in Mycenaean Linear B”

Introduction to the Complete Bibliography of 138 Citations for “The Rôle of Supersyllabograms in Mycenaean Linear B”, Presentation by Richard Vallance Janke at the 2015 Conference in the Pultusk Academy of the Humanities, Pultusk, Poland, June 30-July 2, 2015.

In the next 2 posts, I shall present my exhaustive bibliography of 138 items (79 citations in each of the two parts) for the talk I shall be giving on “The Rôle of Supersyllabograms in Mycenaean Linear B” at the 2015 Conference, “Thinking in Symbols” in the Pultusk Academy of the Humanities, Pultusk, Poland, June 30-July 2, 2015. It is so exhaustive that I doubt I have missed any sources of any significance to the topic at hand. Of course, the paper of the talk itself cannot be released at this time, as it is still under wraps.

Certain researchers past and present, above all Marie-Louise Nosch, have made significant contributions towards the realization of the General Theory of Supersyllabograms which I have just finalized this year, after a year of intensive research (spring 2014 – spring 2015). Previous researchers have sometimes come right up to the edge of a general theory correlating the single or multiple syllabograms they usually designate as “adjuncts” or “endograms” to the Linear B ideograms to which they are “surcharged” (i.e. attached), and which they invariably qualify. But all of these definitions are lacking in one sense or another, for the following reasons:

1. Although designated as (mere) “adjuncts” to the ideograms they invariably qualify, these associative single or multiple syllabograms (up to a maximum of 5!) are far more than that. Standing in as first-syllable abbreviations for words and even entire phrases in Mycenaean Greek, they play an absolutely critical rôle in significantly qualifying the ideograms to which they are attached, all the more so when the tablet on which they are found contains no text whatsoever, but only ideograms with these so-called “adjuncts”. But since these “adjuncts” invariably replace either Mycenaean words or (very often) entire phrases, they cannot be relegated to the status of simple adjuncts. In far too many instances, these single syllabograms encompass so much text that their inherent meaning as such turns out to be much more comprehensive and significant than that of the ideograms to which they are presumably attached. In other words, the single syllabogram(s) embodies/embody so much more than what would have otherwise been nothing but wasteful discursive text. So it appears that we should expediently and practically refer to as the ideogram as the adjunct, rather than the other way around.

On tablets with no text whatsoever and with 3 or more syllabograms performing this function, it is more than apparent that all of the single syllabograms functioning as the first syllable of a Mycenaean Greek word or an entire phrase replace so much discursive text that they literally cut down the amount of space used on the tablet in question by as much as two-thirds! Since the Linear B scribes at Knossos and Pylos in particular were real sticklers for saving as much space as they possibly could on what were (and are) extremely small extant tablets (rarely more than 15 cm. or 6 inches wide), they resorted to this stratagem so often (on at least 23% of the Linear B tablets at Knossos) that the practice is, if anything, of far greater importance to an accurate decipherment of those tablets on which they appear than was previously thought. It is for this reason that I have come to designate syllabograms playing this rôle as supersyllabograms, and certainly not as mere “adjuncts” or “endograms”, since that is patently what they are – supersyllabograms.

2. The designation of supersyllabograms as “endograms” is extremely misleading and quite inaccurate, since as many of these supersyllabograms precede as follow the ideograms to which they are attached. So “endograms” account for only half of supersyllabograms at best. Besides, what are we to call the supersyllabograms which precede the ideograms to which they are attached? Has anyone thought of that or even mentioned it in previous research? Not that I have ever seen, and I have read every single document (monographs, journal articles and articles in every past conference) I could lay my hands on. The reason for this lacuna is clear enough. Past researchers have focused solely on “adjuncts” or “endograms” related solely to the field of research in Mycenaean Linear B which is of primary and frequently exclusive interest to themselves. Even Marie-Louise Nosch, who has done an astonishing amount of truly remarkable research in this area, has restricted herself to the textiles sector of the Minoan-Mycenaean economy, as that is her primary field of interest. Fair enough. 

Given this scenario, it appears to me that researchers past and present have been focusing exclusively on the trees or even sometimes, as with Marie-Louise Nosch, on whole clearings in forest. But none have ever concentrated on the entire forest, at least until last year, when I myself decided to ransack every single syllabogram on some 3,000 tablets (not fragments) from Knossos, in order to hypothesize, if at all possible, a general pattern to the use of supersyllabograms with ideograms. I succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. So far, I have discovered that at least 33 of the 61 syllabograms plus one of the homophones (“rai” for saffron) frequently function as supersyllabograms. Under the circumstances, and given that so many scribes so often resorted to this strategy, I soon enough concluded that it was not only a standard convention in the compilation of some 700 tablets at Knossos, but that the supersyllabograms found on these tablets were almost invariably formulaic codes. And in ancient Greek – witness Homer alone - any practice which was both conventional and formulaic was always deliberate. No-one ever resorts to such strategies in any language, unless they have abundant reason to do so.

This is all the more true for the practices the Linear B scribes routinely ascribed to, given that they would do absolutely anything, if they possibly could, to save precious space on their tiny clay tablets. This too is another crucial factor past researchers have overlooked. Linear B scribes only recorded information which was absolutely essential to the precise compilation of what were (and are) after all statistical accounts and inventories. We can take the far-reaching consequences and implications of this conclusion even further. Have you ever seen a modern-day inventory which resorts to similar tactics to conserve precious space and to make the inventory as clear, precise and accurate as possible? Of course you have. As illustrated in the following two examples, the most efficient of modern inventories resort to the same tactics, the formulaic use of code abbreviations as substitutes for wasteful discursive text with predictable frequency – which is almost always: Click to ENLARGE each one with its relevant notes

aircraft inventory 

liquor inventory

In other words, just as abbreviations serve as default codes in modern inventories, supersyllabograms function pretty much the same way on the Linear B tablets. Supersyllabograms are in fact inventory codes for the Mycenaean Linear B words or entire phrases they replace. This revelation surely substantiates the claim I am now going to make: the Linear B scribes were far ahead of their time in the compilation of inventories and statistics. No other ancient language, including classical Greek and even Latin, came remotely close to this extremely advanced practice the Linear scribes so brilliantly and consciously contrived for their astonishing ability to create practical templates they consistently applied to inventorial management. And no-one until the Italian bankers in Renaissance was to revive the practice with equal skill. As for the standard practices of the Linear B scribal inventories, they are so remarkably alike modern 20th. & 20st. Century practices that it is uncanny.         

3. But there is more. Why previous researchers have not drawn attention to the fact that many supersyllabograms, especially in the field of textiles, neither precede nor follow the ideograms they qualify, but are almost invariably inside them, is beyond me. Once again, no one in any language resorts to any stratagem without solid practical and even logical reason(s). Such is the case with the textile “intragrams”, as opposed to “exograms” in Linear B, the latter of which invariably qualify pretty much all ideograms in the field of agriculture. Again, this raises the critical, hardly hypothetical, question, why. And again, there are substantive and strictly functional reasons why the Linear B scribes made this critical distinction – because they knew they had to. Supersyllabograms functioning as “exograms” are always associative, while those operating as “intragrams” are invariably attributive. The Linear B scribes made this fundamental distinction between the two sub-classes of supersyllabograms for the simple reason that they, as a guild, knew perfectly well what the operative distinction was which each of these types of supersyllabograms played on the tablets on which they were inscribed. The talk I am giving at the Conference in Pultusk between June 30 and July 2 2015 will make this perfectly clear.

4. I have no objection to the designation “surcharged” for “exograms” as supersyllabograms, because they are not only literally surcharged onto the ideograms with which they are always associated, they also figuratively surcharge the meaning(s) of these ideograms, in a sense somewhat akin to super-charged gasoline or petrol which beefs up engine performance in cars - or by symbolic association, something along those lines. But I am forced to object to the designation of “intragrams” as surcharged in the textiles sector of the Minoan-Mycenaean economies, for the obvious reason that they are both literally and figuratively not surcharged at all. Again, the scribes never resorted to “intragrams”, unless they were absolutely critical to an actual attribute, whenever required in a particular case, such as the frequent designation of colour for textiles. Ask yourselves, why would any scribe in his right mind write out the full name of the default colour white for linen, when he did not have to? He simply would not. On the other hand, the Linear B scribes did make use of an attributive supersyllabogram when they knew perfectly well that it was critical to the economic class status of the cloth so designated. For instance, purple cloth, designated by the supersyllabogram PU for Mycenaean Linear B pupureyo – a royal colour par excellence – was much more refined and far more expensive than the heavier and coarser plain white linen cloth (rino) spun for the hoi polloi (the lower classes). So they had to mention that for the sake of the “wanaka” or King (of Knossos or Mycenae) to whom this distinction was all too important, given that neither he nor his Queen no any of the princes royal would ever be caught dead wearing cheap cloth.

There is much more to this than meets the eye, as I shall clearly illustrate in the book, The Decipherment of Supersyllabograms in Linear B, which is to appear sometime in 2016, if all goes well.

I would be truly remiss were I not to acknowledge the major contributions the French researcher, Marie-Louise Nosch, whom I have cited 15 times (!) in my bibliography, has made to fundamentally accurate definitions of supersyllabograms in the textile sector of the Minoan-Mycenaean economy. Although I happened upon all of her astonishingly insightful research articles only after I had deciphered 32 of the 34 supersyllabograms (the other two being beyond me, as well as her), the truly accurate and intrinsically logical conclusions she came to on her own back up my conclusions on the meanings of practically all the intragrams for textiles almost to the letter. This amazing co-incidence, if that is merely what it is, serves as solid circumstantial collateral evidence to substantiate my Theory of Supersyllabograms. Co-incidence? I rather doubt that. It is a given that researchers in any scientific field tend to strike their bearings in the same general direction in any age, including our own. Like Odysseus, we are all heading for the same shore. The most convincing conclusions which will eventually be drawn from the research we are all sharing in now are yet in the offing. But in my eyes one thing is certain. Everything we researchers in Mycenaean Linear B, as a community, are aiming for now is bound to make a ground-breaking, perhaps even profound, contribution in the near future to make the further decipherment of Linear B considerably much more accurate than any we have seen to date.

The Bibliography to follow in two parts (1-69 & 70-138) in the next two posts.

ADDENDUM: I shall be publishing this post & the next two in academia.edu very soon, prior to my presentation at the Conference in Pultusk, Poland, June 30 - July 2, 2015.


Linear B “To all the gods… ” There is much more than meets the eye in Rita Roberts’ Astute Translation

Linear B “To all the gods... ” There is much more than meets the eye in Rita Roberts’ Astute Translation: Click to ENLARGE

Rita Roberts Translation Linear B tablet to all the gods

Now that Rita has been translating tablets from Linear B into English for well over a year, she has come to learn quite a few tricks of the trade, and is well aware of the numerous pitfalls that beset translators of Mycenaean Greek, who can and all too often do fail to “read” everything that the scribes meant to convey, leaving unsaid what they all knew perfectly well they actually were saying to one another, regardless of inventorial context. This phenomenon occurs over and over on the majority of Linear B tablets, and always for the same reason: the scribes were forced to save as much valuable space as they possibly could on a very small, cramped medium, the Linear B tablet. They quickly became extremely adept at finding clever little shortcuts around the problem of cramming as much essential – versus inessential - information as they could into the little space afforded them.  

What Rita has assumed in the specific context of this text, which happens to be uncharacteristically religious for Linear B, is just this: the text does not merely read, “to all the gods oil 1”. That is a patently ridiculous, semantically stripped translation. This would be tantamount to an inventory nowadays stating something silly like, “for the car oil 1”, when we really mean,“1 refill can of type XX oil for our car.”

She is fully aware that the Linear B scribe who wrote this text was actually saying much more than that. The scribe was able to telescope or abstract the full content of his message into just 2 Linear B words + 1 ideogram + the numeral 1. So what exactly was he saying? Today, we no longer know, nor can we. But rest assured that all his fellow scribes knew exactly what he was saying, because they all followed the same “script”, consisting of the same formulaic, usually partial, phrases; the same logograms and ideograms; and the same supersyllabograms repeated over and over, from Knossos to Phaistos to Pylos to Mycenae to Thebes, you name it, anywhere where Mycenaean Greek was written down in Linear B. The Mycenaean Greek as composed in Linear B was by far the most uniform ancient Greek script, because it was an inventorial language, and nothing more, in other words, a finely telescoped subset of the Mycenaean dialect. No one has ever seen the Mycenaean dialect per se actually written out in full sentences, paragraphs and documents, because it never was. I repeat, Linear B is a small statistical inventorial subset of Mycenaean Greek. To view it any other way is tantamount to forcing it far beyond its clearly defined, restricted boundaries, and to twist it into something it was never meant to be, i.e. a dialectical script.

However, just because we can no longer really be sure nowadays what the formulaic language the Minoan/Mycenaean scribes actually conveyed in each and every specific context (agricultural, textiles, military, religious etc.), this does at all not imply that we cannot hazard various tenable reconstructions of their original intent... because in fact we can. In some cases, the underlying full context lies closely enough to the surface that only a few, possibly as many as four, truly tenable translations are likely to arise. That is the case with this tablet. Rita and I discussed at some length the putative meanings that could possibly be assigned to this text, and we could only come up with four. These are:

(a) Rita’s own translation, “To all the (our) gods an offering * of one gift of oil.”
(b) “To all the (our) gods one vessel (vial) of oil.”     
(c) “To all the (our) gods an offering * of one vessel (vial) of olive oil.”
(d) “To all the (our) gods a gift of one vessel (vial) of oil.”

OMITTED: any of these words: our, offering, gift, vessel, vial, olive oil & anyway, just who are “all the gods”! The scribes all knew. We don’t. Too bad. Tough.

The reason for the insertion of the Mycenaean Linear B word, * APUDOSIS * (offering) is transparent enough. It was frequently used on Linear B tablets in contexts just such as this, and so, if omitted, it can still be supplied. Secondly, the oil used by the Greeks was almost always olive oil, which of course had to be contained in some type of vessel. There are well over 20 Linear B ideograms for vessels. But why mention the vessel when (as I am sure any scribe would have told you) it is obvious to any idiot that you put olive oil in a vessel. Omit what it obvious to “everyone” (us scribes) & save lots of space. Great! Ergo... one thing is pretty much certain. At least one of the translations above has to be almost spot on, regardless of word order, which does not amount to much more than a hill of beans in Mycenaean Greek anyway, given that as much is left unsaid as is spelled out.

In our next post, we shall discuss in greater detail the profound implications this methodology of interpretation has on the decipherment and translation of practically all Linear B tablets right acrossthe board.