This Minoan object preceded the heralded Antikythera Mechanism by 1,400 years, and was the first analog and portable computer in history

This Minoan object preceded the heralded Antikythera Mechanism by 1,400 years, and was the first analog and portable computer in history

Researcher Minas Tsikritsis who hails from Crete -- where the Bronze Age Minoan civilization flourished from approximately 2700 BC to 1500 century BC -- maintains that the Minoan Age object discovered in 1898 in Paleokastro site, in the Sitia district of western Crete, preceded the heralded "Antikythera Mechanism" by 1,400 years, and was the first analog and "portable computer" in history.

"While searching in the Archaeological Museum of Iraklion for Minoan Age findings with astronomical images on them we came across a stone-made matrix unearthed in the region of Paleokastro, Sitia. In the past, archaeologists had expressed the view that the carved symbols on its surface are related with the Sun and the Moon," Tsikritsis said.  The Cretan researcher and university professor told ANA-MPA that after the relief image of a spoked disc on the right side of the matrix was analysed it was established that it served as a cast to build a mechanism that functioned as an analog computer to calculate solar and lunar eclipses. The mechanism was also used as sundial and as an instrument calculating the geographical latitude.  Source: Athens News Agency [April 06, 2011]

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This Minoan object preceded the heralded Antikythera Mechanism by 1,400 years, and was the first analog and portable computer in history. A stone-made matrix has carved symbols on its surface are related with the Sun and the Moon serving as a cast to build a mechanism that functioned as an analog computer to calculate solar and lunar eclipses. The mechanism was also used as sundial and as an instrument calculating the geographical latitude.

Previous paragraph by Rita Roberts


Mycenaean Linear B Units of Dry Measure, Knossos Tablet KN 406 L c 02: Click to ENLARGE

Mycenaean Linear B Units of Dry Measure, Knossos Tablet KN 406 L c 02: Click to ENLARGE

KN 416 L c 02 akareu paito spice total

The translation of this tablet from Knossos into English is relatively straightforward. The problem is that no one really knows what exactly the unit of measure designated by the Linear B symbol that looks like a T means. My best guess is that the 9 shakers of coriander (I say, shakers, because the ideogram looks like a shaker & it is most likely folks used shakers back in the good old days in Knossos, just as we do nowadays). However, the problem remains, how do 9 shakers of coriander add up to only 2 units. My best guess is that the shakers were boxed, 5 units per box. So 9 shakers would have filled one box and most of another... something along those lines.

Andras Zeke of the Minoan Language Blog gives a value of approx. 3 kilograms per unit, meaning we would end up with about 5 kg. or so for 9 shakers of coriander. They would have had to be really huge shakers! No one could have held them. So it is quite apparent that the measured value Andras Zeke has assigned to our wee little T is in fact way off the mark, if we are to believe our eyes. On the other hand, that T might very well have been divisible by 10 or even 100, given that the Mycenaean numeric system is based on units of 10, just like our own. So it is conceivable that we are dealing with some kind of metric system here. Given that the Mycenaean numeric is base 10, that would make sense. So we could be dealing with something like 50 grams and not 5 kilograms of coriander... that would make a hell of a lot of sense.  But since we were not there to see how the scribes allocated the spice jars into so-called units, we shall never really know. Still, there is no harm in speculating.

Now, as for my translation of the ideogram for a spice container (spice shaker), I have translated it specifically as a “a coriander spice shaker”, since on every single every tablet, bar none, from Knossos mentioning spice containers, it is always coriander that is spelled out. The folks at Knossos must have been crazy about coriander!  Since there are only 2 or 3 tablets which do not mention coriander outright, that leaves us with around 95 % of all tablets referring to spices which do spell it out. Linear B scribes were very fussy about having to spell out the names of spices, or for that matter, anything on Linear B tablets which could be easily represented, i.e. symbolized by an ideogram. The ideogram appears on this tablet, but the word does not. This is practically beside the point. It appears that the scribe simply did not bother writing it, for some reason or another. The practice of spelling out the name of any item on a Linear B tablet which can easily be illustrated with an ideogram is very unusual. The scribes were sticklers for saving space at all costs on what is admittedly a very small medium, rarely more than 30 cm. wide by 15 cm. deep, and more often than not, even smaller than that!  So the fact that the scribes generally did spell out coriander as the spice of choice for Minoan Knossos seems to imply that the king, queen, princes and the palace attendants prized it very highly. 

Another point: almost all of the tablets mentioning koriyadana = coriander also use the word apudosi = delivery, i.e. they tabulate the actual delivery of so many units of coriander to the palace. So this tablet can be translated any of these ways:

Achareus delivers to Phaistos 9 shakers of coriander for a total of 2 units
Achareus delivers for deposit at Phaistos 9 shakers of coriander for a total of 2 units.
or even
Achareus delivers for deposit at the palace of Phaistos 9 shakers of coriander for a total of 2 units.

These are all valid translations, since after all everyone who was anyone, meaning the scribes, the nobility and the wealthy businessmen) knew perfectly well that such precious commodities as coriander could only be consumed by the well-to-do, and that these folks all lived – you guessed it – in the palace! There was absolutely no need in the minds of the scribes, meaning, in practice, for them to write out what was obvious to everyone. This is precisely why nowadays we need to learn to read out of the tablets what the scribes were actually inventorying, rather than trying to read into them. If this sounds like a tough slog, you bet it is. But it is far better to aim at getting the actual gist of the message on the tablet (whether or not spelled out in text, or simply with logograms and ideograms) than to strip down your translation to the point where it becomes unintelligible.

This is all the more true in light of the fact that at least 800 of 3,000 tablets I meticulously consulted from the Scripta Minoa from Knossos contain very little if any text at all, and rather a lot of supersyllabograms (single syllabograms), ideograms and logograms. The reason for this is obvious: in order to save as much space as humanly possible, the Linear B accountants (scribes) never wrote out what was obvious to them all as a guild. In other words, Mycenaean Linear B, as an inventory and statistical accounting language – which is what it basically is – combines two notable features: (a) the language is highly formulaic & (b) the greater part of it is shorthand for Mycenaean Greek text inferred but rarely explicitly spelled out. If this sounds peculiar to us nowadays, we need only recall that this is exactly how modern shorthand functions. All too many Linear B translators have completely overlooked this fundamental characteristic of Mycenaean Linear B, which in large part explains its almost total uniformity over a wide geographic area, from Knossos to Phaistos and other Mycenaean sites on the island to Crete itself to Pylos on the opposite coast, all the way to Mycenae and Tiryns on the far side of the Peloponnese and even as far away as Thebes in Boeotia, which was a key Mycenaean centre and which has been continually occupied from then on right through to today. Click on the map to ENLARGE:

Thebes Boetia

All of this further implies that, while Linear B, the accounting and inventorying language for Mycenaean Greek, was homogeneous, uniform and formulaic to the teeth, the actual Mycenaean dialect may very well have not been. In fact, I sincerely doubt it was, since it is symptomatic of all ancient Greek dialects, even those which are closely related (such as the Ionic and Attic) to diverge and go their own merry way, regardless of the structure, orthography and grammatical quirks of their closest relatives. Since that was surely the case with every ancient Greek dialect with which we are familiar – and God knows it was! - then it must have also been the case with Mycenaean Greek and with its closest, kissing cousin, Arcado-Cypriot Greek, the latter written in Linear C or in the quirky Arcado-Cypriot alphabet. Even though no other ancient Greek dialects were as closely related as were Mycenaean and its kissing cousin, Arcado-Cypriot, these dialects were somewhat different. What is more, it is almost certain that there were notable variations within each of these dialects, the further afield you went. In other words, the Mycenaean Greek spoken at Knossos and Phaistos, which would have been much more influenced by its forbear, the Minoan language, was a little different from that spoken at Pylos, and doubtless even more from the Mycenaean Greek at Mycenae, Tiryns and especially Thebes.

But spoken Mycenaean Greek and the Mycenaean Linear B accounting and inventorying language are not the same beast. The latter is a homogeneous, formulaic and largely shorthand subset of the former. I shall have a great deal more to say about this extremely important distinction between the two in future.


Strabo, Geography (8:3.7) “… There is a Pylos before Pylos. And there is even another Pylos (farther down the coast)… ” Part 1: Syntactical and Lexical Analysis

Strabo, Geography (8:3.7) “... There is a Pylos before Pylos. And there is even another Pylos (farther down the coast)... ” Part 1: Syntactical and Lexical Analysis: Click to ENLARGE

Problem of Pylos how many Strabo 3

And click here to read the article on Pylos in its entirety:

Center for Hellenic Studies Harvard
Over the centuries, ever since Homer reputedly composed what we now know as the fabulous Epics, The Iliad and The Odyssey, debate has never ceased to rage over the location of the “Homeric” location of the fortress of Pylos. In fact, Homer himself (if he was indeed the author of these Epics) was himself never able to quite make up his mind where Pylos was located, although he was convinced it was located on the western coast of the Peloponnese. So he naturally hedged his bets, and gave us our choice of three possible sites for Pylos. Fair enough.

However, when the Linear B tablets from Pylos and elsewhere were finally deciphered after 1952 by Michael Ventris and his esteemed colleague, Prof. John Chadwick, et al., it was discovered that Pylos was in fact a Mycenaean fortress city, much like its metropolis (“mother city” or capital, if you like), Mycenae. The site of the excavated Mycenaean fortress of Pylos is shown on the map above as being co-incidental with the location of the modern Greek city of Pylos (furthest south on the map above). So instead of squabbling over the “true” location of ancient Mycenaean Pylos, as so many ancient Greek, Renaissance and even modern authors have done over the millennia, I shall leave that debate for greater lights than I am, and simply accept on faith that the Mycenaean fortress of Pylos is located where most archaeologists today claim it is, at modern Pylos. On the other hand, since I am no archaeologist, and Rita Roberts, my esteemed colleague here on our blog, is one, I expect that she can shed some light on this matter, which is quite beyond my expertise.

What then is the purpose of this post if not to establish “once and for all” the true location of Mycenaean Pylos?  Quite clearly, that it is not my intent at all. What I intend to demonstrate here, through lexical and syntactical observations based on actual texts from ancient Greek authors, runs as follows:

[1] That Pylos or as it is called in Mycenaean Linear B, Puro, was an actual Mycenaean settlement, regardless of where anyone believes it was really located, at any of the three assignable sites on the map above, or elsewhere. Since my discussion is not in any way intended to be archeological in nature, I leave the issue of its actual location to the archaeologists, as I have already stated. The problem of the location of Pylos is not our problem here. In fact, it is a not a problem at all, just a red herring. I shall address the question its putative location in the next post, but I warn you not to expect much of the conclusion(s) I reach, being the incurable doubting Thomas I am. To read the Wikipedia article on Pylos, its history, ancient and modern, and the excavations there, click on this photo of the Bay of Pylos:

Bay of Pylos Sfaktiria
[2] I will begin with lexical definitions of Mycenaean Linear B Puro, otherwise known as Pylos, presumed site of the Palace of Nestor, in ancient Greek, and all words in Liddell & Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon (1986), to eliminate any ambiguity over the actual meaning of the word Pylos itself & then
[3] proceed with syntactical considerations, both of which will make it abundantly clear just what Pylos is supposed to mean, or more to be point, to be. 

[2]Lexical Considerations:

Unfortunately, there are those whose knowledge of Greek, ancient or modern, is so deficient that they believe that Pylos means or somehow must mean, “gate”. But nothing could be further from the truth. The ancient Greek words for “gate” as found in Liddell & Scott, are illustrated here:

Lexicon Pylos Liddell & Scott 1986
However, when anyone who is a serious Greek linguist is asked to provide scholia on the possible interpretations of the name of (the town of) Pylos, he or she is bound to raise several very sound objections to such a simplistic interpretation (of the town’s name), as I myself have done here: Click to ENLARGE

There is a Pylos before Pylos Strabo Georgraphy 8 3 7
One glance at this table of 5 possible definitions for the word Pylos, and we can see right away that we are up against several possible interpretations. Literalists will of course insist that Pylos must mean “gate” and absolutely nothing else, since it appears as such twice in this chart. However, to do so is to cut too thin a razor line, for in ancient Greek, most words (vocabulary) are, if anything, open to multiple interpretations, at any of the concrete, semi-concrete and abstract levels, or all of them. All definitions for Pylos are either concrete or semi-concrete, given that a town or district name falls more readily into the second category. What makes matters worse is that the name Pylos itself is either masculine OR feminine, but – and here is the crunch – masculine only in Mycenaean Greek, which obviates against its meaning merely a “gate”.  Matters are further complicated by the fact that the other entry in the masculine [5] = gateway, is more abstract than [1] or [3]. Whenever ancient Greek flounders around between different genders (here, masculine and feminine), and different endings for one gender, in this case, for [3] & [5], we can be sure that the word itself is equally open to multiple interpretations. Pylos is a prime candidate for this scenario.

[3] Syntactical Considerations:

Sadly, for the literalist, things become far messier when we turn to consider the implications for the “meaning” of Pylos (and Pylos alone, not the other variants on the word) taken strictly in syntactical or, if you will, grammatical context. Resorting to the good old technique of reductio ad adsurdum, if we insist on defining Pylos as “gate”,  here is what we end up with, taking a few examples onlhy from my discussion above:

[1] There is a gate before a gate.  And there is even another gate.

What is wrong with this?  Plenty. Had Strabo meant to say that, he would have written this: esti pylos pro pyloio pro pyloio. But he did not. He states that there is a Pylos before Pylos. And then, in an entirely new sentence, which emphatically and dramatically cuts it clearly off his first two allusions to Pylos, he mentions the third. That second sentence sports no fewer than three (3!) emphatic Greek particles, ge, men & kai, to make it completely transparent to anyone with a sound knowledge of ancient Greek that he means to put as great a distance as he possibly can between the first two allusions to Pylos and the third. And here I am referring to distance defined spatially in geographical terms. Strabo was neither an architect nor a builder. He was a geographer.

The difference between the actual meaning in ancient Greek of his two sentences and the literal sentence, esti pylos pro pyloio pro pyloio = There is a gate in front of a gate in front of a gate is as plain as the light of day. No ancient Greek author of any true merit would ever make the unconscionable mistake of justapositioning the simply concrete, in this case, the position of two gates, one immediately in front of the other, with the abstract, where, in this instance, Strabo is unequivocally referring to geographic, topological distances, and great distances, at that. In fact, I would venture to say that no Greek author in his right mind, ancient or modern, would ever employ a phrase as clumsy as esti Pylos pro Pyloio pro Pyloio, since Greek is a language which instinctively eschews awkward syntactical constructions, lending even greater preference to the periodic style than even Latin.

But there is even more here than first meets the eye. Strabo, who is after all writing around the time of Christ, some 800 years after Homer and over 1,200 years after the fall of Mycenae, does somethingextremely peculiar. He uses the archaic Mycenaean + Homeric genitive for Pylos no less than 3 times in a row, and he does so not only consciously but without compunction. In his own day and age, no Greek writer in his right mind would ever even dream of using the archaic genitive. But Strabo does, and he hammers it home. The reason is obvious: he is specifically and unequivocally referring to the Mycenaean settlement of Pylos, even though he like all latter-day ancients had no idea whatsoever of where Mycenae had once been located. Though he really made a valiant effort to at least pinpoint the potential location(s) of Pylos and failed, he did try. And that alone speaks volumes to his professionalism as an ancient historian and geographer. The fact that he knew Pylos definitely existed implies that he also knew Mycenae did too. Mycenae was not merely a legend to the ancient Greeks. Homer mentions both Mycenae and Pylos several times in both the Iliad and the Odyssey. No ancient Greek author of real merit after Homer was going to question the judgement of the great bard on such matters, since they all knew perfectly well he was much much closer in time to the Trojan War than they could ever possibly hope to be. And so they trusted him implicitly. Before the twentieth century, most historians believed that the Trojan War was a myth. Heinrich Schliemann shattered that myth in one fell swoop in the 1870s. So if the Trojan War is not a myth - and we now know it definitely is not - then by the same token neither are the Mycenaeans themselves mythical figures, nor are Mycenae and Pylos mythical cities. Both were as real as Sparta, Corinth and Athens were much later on. Both have been completely excavated. Strabo, by using the archaic genitive three times in a row, rams this point home point blank.

One final point we cannot overlook: the masculine definition above for Pylos as a gate never allowed for the use of the archaic genitive, for the simple reason that this word was never an archaic Greek word. So once again, the evidence mitigates heavily against interpreting the archaic genitive Pyloio as a gate.
[3] OK, so here, if we take Pylos as meaning “gate”, then Strabo would appear to be saying: drove their swift horses from Bouprasion to the gate. Why on earth would anyone have to make use of horses, let alone, swift horses, to drive from Bouprasion to (presumably) its own gate? Ok, ok, some other gate. But which other gate? A professional geographer the likes of Strabo would never tell us someone drove swift horses from one place (settlement) to another (settlement), without mentioning the name of the second one. At any rate, coupling a toponym with a concrete noun like “gate” once again violates every precept of elegance in Greek prose, which the ancients prized above all else. The interpretation is thus absurd, not necessarily to our minds today, but most definitely to the mind of an ancient Greek author of the stature of Strabo.

[4] “... and those who inhabited the gate...” Must be termites, I guess.

[5] “... the last city of the sandy gate...” This is so uproariously funny as to require no further comment, unless of course, you like to build your fortifications and their gates out of sand.

[7] & the most side-splitting of them all, “... ambitious rivalry toward a gate in their country...”, which the dative of interest demands. Need I say more? If anyone wishes to challenge me to do so, I can and I will. The textual evidence against Pylos as meaning “gate” in the context of the Iliad or Strabo or any other ancient Greek mentioning Pylos as a toponym is overwhelming. It is in fact decisive. Case closed.