RE Cretan “hieroglyphs”: Brewminate: a Bold Blend of News & Ideas: We’re Never Far from Where we Were: Form Follows Function: Writing and its Supports in the Aegean Bronze Age

RE Cretan “hieroglyphs”: Brewminate: a Bold Blend of News & Ideas: We're Never Far from Where we Were:
Form Follows Function: Writing and its Supports in the Aegean Bronze Age 
by Dr. Sarah Finlayson, Archaeologist/Historian
Posted March 29 2017


form follows function writing in the Aegean Bronze Age

Excerpta from the source with COMMENTS by Richard Vallance Janke inserted where necessary:

...a starting point from which to unpick the complex and changing relationships between writing and its material supports during the Aegean Bronze Age, [is] the basic hypothesis that the shape of objects which bear writing, the Bronze Age ‘office stationery’ so to speak, derives from the use to which they, object + writing, are put and the shape changes as this purpose changes. 


The shapes of incised objects (exograms) derive from the uses to which they are put. In other words, if the exograms, which, contrary to popular belief, are not hieroglyphs, change not only their form (i.e. shape) but have specific shapes tailored to the functions they perform. For this reason, among others, I cannot accept the hypothesis that they are hieroglyphs. They appear rather to be ideograms and logograms specifically designed to represent the contents of “packages” or “official documents”, sometimes apparently written on papyrus, and therefore subsequently lost due to the climate of Crete which as not conducive to the preservation of papyrus. What the exograms were which were inscribed on the lost documents for which the clay forms served as content indicators we shall never know, but chances are that the papyrus contents were written in Linear A. The incised objects, and I quote, “noduli, flat-based sealings, cones, medallions, labels, three- and four-sided bars, and tablets” specifically served as incised “subject headings” for the contents on papyrus which they represented. Since most people in the palace administration in the Minoan era in which Linear A was the standard syllabary were illiterate, the so-called Cretan “hieroglyphs”, of which there only 45 by my count, exclusive of numerics, served as ideogrammatic guideline markers for the contents of the documents which were once attached to them. Illiterate people could “read” ideograms; they could not read Linear A.  (all italics mine throughout this post)

Finlayson continues:      

The clay documents comprise crescents (all terms are defined below), noduli, flat-based sealings, cones, medallions, labels, three- and four-sided bars, and tablets (Olivier and Godart 1996: 10–11; Younger 1996–1997: 396). There are also substantial numbers of direct object sealings, which show seal impressions but no incised writing (Krzyszkowska 2005: 99).


The “substantial numbers of direct object sealings” are seal impressions without incised writing because the contents, probably written and not incised on papyrus, which they seal have been lost forever. Thus, the script in which the actual sealed documents has been lost. But what was that script? Was it more of the same? ... Cretan “hieroglyphs”? I very much doubt that, because not a single Cretan seal can be read as syllabic text in a syllabary. What script was the writing on papyrus of the sealed documents? That is the whole point, and the whole mystery. Could it have been an early version  of Linear A, a.ka. as Festive Linear A? Quite possibly.

Finlayson continues:      

Easier to understand are the gable-shaped hanging nodules (Figure 3d). These sealings are carefully shaped around a knotted string, and carry a seal impression on one face (Krzyszkowska 2005: 280). The majority are uninscribed (only 22 out of the 164 sealings from Pylos carry an inscription), but on those examples with incised text, an ideogram is usually written over the seal impression, and additional sign-groups can appear on the other faces (Palaima 2003: 174; Krzyszkowska 2005: 280). Analysis of the cache of 60 nodules from Thebes, 56 of which have inscriptions, has enabled a convincing reconstruction of their use. The gable shape of the nodules results from the way the clay is held between the fingers while impressing the seal and writing the inscription (Piteros et al. 1990: 113). This shape, together with its suspension cord, give (sic) a small, solid, virtually indestructible and very portable document (Piteros et al. 1990: 183). In this instance, form does not strictly follow function, but rather the two aspects are intertwined in a more complex way. A key part of these documents’ function is their portability, and this governs their very small size, which in turn means only the most important information is recorded, namely the seal impression, the ideogram which identifies the goods, and, rarely, a small amount of additional data, such as anthroponyms, toponyms, transactional terms (Piteros et al. 1990: 177). The formula ‘personal name (here represented by the seal impression) + object + toponym / second personal name’ is equivalent to that recorded on the ‘palm-leaf ’ tablets. Numerals are rare, because that information is supplied by the object itself. It is suggested that each nodule accompanies a single item, mostly livestock in the Theban examples, from the hinterland into the palatial centre, with the nodule acting as a primary document, recording the most crucial information about its object, the sex of the animal, for example, and also certifying or authenticating, by the seal impression, who is responsible for it (probably in the sense of ‘owing’ the item to the palace; Piteros et al. 1990: 183–184). 

It is important to note, however, that, except at Thebes, there are considerably fewer inscribed than uninscribed nodules. Sealings of this type would therefore seem to be primarily recording instruments within transactions that do not require the use of writing (Palaima 2003: 174), although this is not incompatible with their being primary documents as described above.

So few noduli survive that it is difficult to understand how they functioned (Krzyszkowska 2005: 284). I discuss this form below as they are significantly more common in LA administration. (Italics by Richard Vallance Janke)

Roundels (Figure 2c) are clay disks with one or more seal impressions around their rim, and usually with a LA inscription on one or both faces, but with no trace of having been hung from or pressed against another object (Hallager 1996: 82). The number of seal impressions on the rim probably specifies the quantity of the commodity recorded in the inscription (livestock, agricultural produce, cloth, vessels and so on), with each impression representing one unit (Hallager 1996: 100–101, 113). Analysis of impressions and inscriptions suggests that at least two people made a roundel, one wielding the seal and another, the stylus (Hallager 1996: 112). These two factors have led to the interpretation of these documents as receipts, created and held by the central administration to record goods disbursed; the seal user would be the recipient, certifying with his or her impression the quantity of goods received (Hallager 1996: 116). Significantly, the physical limitations of these documents necessarily restrict the size of transactions, with 15 units being the largest amount attested (Palaima 1990: 92).

COMMENT on the sentence “a roundel, one wielding the seal and another, the stylus (Hallager 1996: 112). These two factors have led to the interpretation of these documents as receipts, created and held by the central administration to record goods disbursed; the seal user would be the recipient, certifying with his or her impression the quantity of goods received...”

In other words, the actual contents of the documents (apparently written with a stylus on papyrus) to which these seals were affixed may have been administrative receipts or possibly even inventories, in which case the contents of the documents were probably not written in so-called Cretan hieroglyphs, limited as these are to 45. And by 45 I mean 45 ideograms and logograms + additional numerics and nothing more than that. Given that these 45 signs never form any legible sentence or phrase, it is highly unlikely they would have been used for the writing of the contents on papyrus for which they serve as seals.

Finlayson continues:  

Noduli (Figure 2e), disk- or dome-shaped lumps of clay with a seal impression but no perforation, imprints of objects, or other visible means of fastening (“sealings that do not seal” [Weingarten 1986: 4]) are a very long-lasting document form, found from the early First Palace through to the Late Bronze Age, but they are particularly common in Second Palace Period LA administration, with around 130 examples known (Krzyszkowska 2005: 161; Weingarten 1990a: 17). Only eight have LA inscriptions or countermarks over the seal impression (Hallager 1996: 127). As they are clearly not attached to anything, noduli are independent documents, and their primary purpose seems to be to carry a seal impression, that is to authenticate or certify something. By analogy with Old Babylonian practice, Weingarten (1986: 18) suggests they are originally dockets, receipts for work done, with the seal impression being made by the overseer to authorise ‘payment’; as the form becomes more widespread in the Second Palace Period, they become more like tokens, to be exchanged for goods or services, or as laissez-passer, with the seal impression identifying the carrier as legitimate (Weingarten 1990a: 19–20).


The previous sentence, beginning with “By analogy...” and ending with “as legitimate” gives us a clearer impression the function(s) of the seals as these relate to the contents they seal. Old Babylonian tablets were incised or written in Cuneiform, which is a readable script meant for the eyes of literate scribes only. Note that the inventorial contents of the Babylonian tablets were clearly written out in Cuneiform. Although this practice is at variance with that of the Cretan seals, it still all boils down to the same thing. The actual contents of the documents to which the Cretan seals were affixed were written out in a language, possibly unknown, possibly Linear A. So in either case, the Babylonian or the Cretan, contents appear to be intended for literate scribes. 

Finlayson continues:    

Moving on to the ‘passive’ sealed documents, single-hole hanging nodules (Figure 2g) are roughly triangular clay sealings, formed around a knot at the end of a piece of string or cord (Hallager 1996: 160–161). They have a seal impression on one face, and a single incised LA sign, or very rarely another seal impression, on one of the other faces (Hallager 1996: 161). There are five sub- categories of single-hole nodule, differentiated by shape and position of seal impression or inscription (pendant, pyramid, cone, dome / gable and pear, see Figure 2g) with pendant being by far the most common (Hallager 1996: 162–163). About 13 signs or ligatures are found on these nodules, but it is very difficult to discern their meaning; the restricted range might suggest they are acting as arbitrary symbols, along the lines of ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’, rather than as syllabograms (Krzyszkowska 2005: 160). These nodules hang from something, although there is no evidence for what (Krzyszkowska 2005: 160). Hallager has proposed a use similar to that observed in contemporary Egypt, where nodules were hung from rolls of papyrus as identification labels, with their cord threaded through holes in the lower part of the scroll to enable it to be unrolled and read without breaking the cord or sealed nodule (Hallager 1996: 198–199). 


Once again, the practice of Cretan using seals seems to be very similar if not identical to that of contemporary Egyptian hieroglyphic writing on papyrus, with the critical difference being that Egyptian hieroglyphs are writing, while Cretan seal ideograms are not. But the contents of the Cretan documents on papyrus were probably also written in a script, probably a syllabary, and possibly even (Festive) Linear A. But since the Cretan papyri are lost to history, we shall never know. Was there a “Cretan” script for the written documents on papyrus. It is notable that the Egyptian papyrus, once unsealed, was meant to read, again by literate scribes. Was this the Cretan practice too? Quite likely.

Finlayson continues:

The bars (Figure 1a) are usually rectangular, inscribed on all four sides, and sometimes pierced with a hole at one end (Hallager 1996: 33). That the bars could be suspended suggests they might be used as labels attached to objects for transport or storage, but the information on them seems to be much like that on the tablets, and, in fact, the unpierced examples are perhaps best understood as variants of the standard tablet format (Hallager 1996: 33). Olivier (1994–1995: 268–269) offers an intriguing alternative explanation, that the bars are not attached by cords to any object, but instead hang together on some sort of horizontal rod to enable them to be sorted and stored, or taken down when additional data are inscribed on them; he envisions the bars operating like the LB ‘palm-leaf ’ tablets, for compiling basic data. 

Returning now to LA administration, it seems that a link exists between the architectural context of deposits and their composition and function (Schoep 2002b: 25). Although few documents have been found in primary contexts, it is nevertheless possible to identify three commonly occurring groupings (Schoep 1995: 57). “Full combination deposits” always contain single-hole hanging nodules, alongside tablets and other sealings; as the single-hole nodules are postulated to hang from the highest-level records, on perishable materials, these deposits may be ‘archives’ (Schoep 1995: 61).


These (sealed) documents may have been ‘archives’, and if they are, they were probably written out (on papyrus) but not in so-called Cretan hieroglyphs.

Finlayson continues:  

This seems to be supported by their location, in central buildings (including Malia Palace, Zakros House A, and the ‘villa’ at Ayia Triada), usually on an upper floor in residential quarters, clearly separated from storage or work areas, and by their association with valuable objects (Schoep 1995: 61, table 3, 62). ‘Single type deposits’ consist of direct object sealings, tablets or noduli, and most seem to be in the location in which they functioned; the direct object sealings are found in magazines suitable for bulk storage, as at Monastiraki, while tablet or noduli deposits can also occur in smaller-scale storage rooms, for example, Houses I, Chania or FG, Gournia (Schoep 1995: 62–63). “Limited combination deposits” fall somewhere in between; deposits from the ‘villa’ at Ayia Triada and Zakros Palace contain tablets and sealed documents, in workshop or storage areas, while other deposits contain only sealings, ...

In reviewing the evidence for LA use in the Second Palace Period, one gets an impression of a widespread use of writing on several media, and for several purposes, with either the writing support being manipulated to add meaning to the text (as with the clay administrative documents) or the other way around (as might be the case with some of the non-administrative objects).


Finlayson notes that the the writing may have been manipulated to add meaning to the texts, in this case written on clay documents. She is making a clear distinction between the ideograms and logograms used on the seals themselves and the writing of the texts which they seal.

Finlayson continues:

Although examples of writing are relatively widespread in the landscape, this need not necessarily equate to widespread literacy, not least because it seems likely that writing is principally an elite activity, and furthermore, that restricted contexts of use possibly mean that ordinary, non-writing, people might well interact with only a single kind, or a small range, of documents, creating a sort of sub-category of literacy, where understanding part of a text’s meaning derives largely from the form of its support and context of use.  (all italics by the Commentator, Richard Vallance Janke).


The passage above rams home that fact that literacy was not widespread. Quite the contrary. Only the scribes were literate. On the other hand, the form of the so-called Cretan hieroglyphs were accessible to non-literates, which was everyone except the scribes. That way, non-literate administrators, merchants, distributors of commodities and end users of these could identify what the purpose of what each and every seal represented, without having to be able to read the contents of documents per se.

Finlayson continues:   

Clearly, for some of the sealed document forms, the loss of whatever they were associated with means our understanding of their use cannot, without speculation, extend much beyond inferring that they hung from or were affixed to something. Generally, the taphonomy of writing in the Aegean is problematic, as we depend on it being applied to materials that are preserved archaeologically; in the case of clay documents that were not deliberately fired, this means accidental preservation in a wider burnt context (Bennet 2008: 6). There is then an inevitable risk that, in an effort to make up for the gaps in the evidence, particularly with CH and LA where we cannot read the texts, we rely too heavily on aspects like differences in form, which might be a reflection of our own ‘etic’ analyses rather than of different ancient practices (Bennet 2005: 269). “Classer, c’est interpréter” (Godart and Olivier 1979: xxiv) is a crucial principle for understanding a large and complex database at the macro scale, but runs the risk of misrepresenting, at the micro scale, differences in form that result from regional peculiarities of use, or are a function of the way different individuals form and seal or inscribe each shape, as seems likely, for example, for some of the variation amongst LA single-hole hanging nodules (Krzyszkowska 2005: 159–160). 

While these points must be borne in mind, it is nevertheless reasonable to suggest that the observable changes in document forms point to alterations in the methods of data gathering, processing and storing (Palaima 1984: 305). I would pick out two as particularly significant. The first is the bundle of changes in sealing practices between the First and Second Palace periods (i.e. between CH / limited LA use, and widespread LA use): direct object sealing is abandoned, suggesting, on the one hand, that the security of storerooms and their contents is managed differently, in a less physical way (Weingarten 1990b: 107–108), and, on the other, that direct control of commodities, by means of attaching sealings to them, is replaced by more indirect methods of controlling commodity information with hanging nodules and tablets (Knappett 2001: 86, n. 26). Furthermore, writing, with one exception, no longer appears on seals themselves, but from this point on is incised or painted rather than formed by stamping (Bennet 2008: 9–10). 

What drives these changes is difficult to evaluate, not least because we assume that changes in sealing systems are necessarily tied to changes in writing systems (and possibly language; Bennet 2005: 270).


Key phrase “we assume”. Changes in sealing systems, from simple pictographic seals to seals incised in Cretan “hieroglyphs” and eventually to Linear A & B incised directly on the seals do not at all necessarily reflect any changes in the writing systems in which the actual documents (usually on papyrus) were written. That is a false assumption. Note here that Bennet specifically states that the writing systems sealed by the seals were probably independent of the figures or exograms found on the seals, these often being so-called Cretan hieroglyphs. The written language(s) of the document contents have have changed over time, but not necessarily in tune with the seals themselves. Point well taken.  

Palaima’s suggestion that LA replaces CH because the latter script is inadequate to record increasingly complex economic activities (1990: 94) is a case in point, and this sort of utilitarian motivation underestimates the potential for writing to be used for ideological reasons. The transition from CH to LA, and from LA to LB, can arguably be seen as part of a deliberate construction of new identities, through the manipulation of knowledge resources or material culture, by elite groups (ALL italics by the Commentator), seeking to differentiate themselves from their predecessors, or exclude others from participating in political or economic life (Bennet 2008: 20; Schoep 2007: 59). Knappett’s observation that, in seeking to look through artefacts to see “the people behind them”, and their motivations or choices, there is a tendency for the objects themselves to be reduced to mere ciphers or emblems of human activity (Knappett 2008b: 122), is also pertinent here. He suggests that more attention be paid to the agency of artefacts, to the possibility that things can “take on a life of their own, entangling humans and pushing them along new, previously unrecognised paths” (Knappett 2008b: 122); while ascribing agency to objects is problematic (Morphy 2009: 6), Knappett is nevertheless right to stress the complexity of the relationship between artefacts and their users. 


Much more to follow in the upcoming posts on the uses of pictographs and so-called Cretan “hieroglyphic” seals.

How circular language in the movie, Arrival, determines the aspacial/atemporal nature of logograms throughout the ages

How circular language in the movie, Arrival, determines the aspacial/atemporal nature of logograms throughout the ages:

In the movie, Arrival (2016), which chronicles the arrival on earth of 12 mysterious ships, apparently from outer space, the following statements leap out at us:

parsing the language of the heptapods in the movie, Arrival

1. Unlike all written languages, the writing is semiseriographic. It conveys meaning. It doesn't represent sound. Perhaps they view our form of writing as a wasted opportunity.  
2. How heptapods write: ... because unlike speech,  a logogram is free of time. Like their ship, their written language has forward or backward direction. Linguists call this non-linear orthography, which raises the question, is this how they think? Imagine you wanted to write a sentence using 2 hands, starting from either side. You would have to know each word you wanted to use as well as much space it would occupy. A heptapod can write a complex sentence in 2 seconds effortlessly.

The key to all of this is the phrase a logogram is free of time. Allow me to illustrate. Logograms are also often called ideograms, and that is what I prefer to call them. Another word to describe them is icon. When we examine ancient Linear A and B ideograms and compare them with modern ones, the results are astonishing, to wit:




All of the aforementioned examples make it quite clear that ideograms, whether they be as ancient as those in Linear A and Linear B (i.e. about 3,400 years old) or modern ... or for that matter, neolithic or even earlier, all bear a striking resemblance to one another. Take for instance the Linear A ideogram for “scales” and compare it with just one modern one (among so many others), and we see immediately that they are extremely similar. Now take the Linear B ideograms for man” and “woman” and compare these with the washroom symbols for the same and once again the similarity is almost too good to be true. Then there is the Linear B ideogram for a four-spoke wheel compared with a modern one for an eight-spoke wheel. The number of spokes is not relevant to this discussion, only the fact that the ancient Linear B ideogram for “wheel” is practically identical to the modern one.

The implications for the decipherment of ideograms in any language, ancient or modern (let alone Linear A and Linear B) versus those in any modern language are staggering. We can be sure that the ancient ideograms varied little from one language to another, let alone between Minoan and Mycenaean. In fact, the syllabogram TE, which sometimes represents wheat, in Linear A and Linear B is almost identical to the same ideograms in cuneiform!

It is patently obvious that since the distinction between the ancient ideograms and their modern equivalents enumerated above is so thin, all of these ideograms (or logograms or icons) are not only time independent (atemporal) and spatially independent (aspatial), they are also language independent. This is a stunning phenomenon.

The implications for the further decipherment of Linear A are simply overwhelming.

And this is why in the movie, Arrival, the heptapods assert, “There is no time.”

Earth-shattering linguistic data from the Movie, Arrival (2016)

Earth-shattering linguistic data from the Movie, Arrival (2016)


Not too long ago, I had the distinct pleasure of watching what is undoubtedly the most intellectually challenging movie of my lifetime. The movie is unique. Nothing even remotely like it has ever before been screened. It chronicles the Arrival of 12 apparent UFOs, but they are actually much more than just that. They are, as I just said, a unique phenomenon. Or more to the point, they were, are always will be just that. What on earth can this mean? 

The ships, if that is what we want to call them, appear out of thin air, like clouds unfolding into substantial material objects ... or so it would appear. They are approximately the shape of a saucer (as in cup and saucer) but with a top on it. They hang vertically in the atmosphere. But there is no motion in them or around them. They leave no footprint. The air is undisturbed around them. There is no radioactivity. There is no activity. There are 12 ships altogether dispersed around the globe, but in no logical pattern.

A famous female linguist, Dr. Louise Banks  (played by Amy Adams), is enlisted by the U.S. military to endeavour to unravel the bizarre signals emanating from within. Every 18 hours on the mark  the ship opens up at the bottom (or is it on its right side, given that it is perpendicular?) and allows people inside. Artificial gravity and breathable air are created for the humans. A team of about 6 enter the ship and are transported up an immense long black hallway to a dark chamber with a dazzlingly bright screen. There, out of the mist, appear 2 heptapods, octopus-like creatures, but with 7 and not eight tentacles. They stand upright on their 7 tentacles and they walk on them. At first, the humans cannot communicate with them at all. But the ink-like substance the heptapods squirt onto the thick window between them and the humans always resolves itself into circles with distinct patterns, as we see in this composite:

Eventually, the humans figure out what the language means, if you can call it that, because the meanings of the circles do not relate in any way to the actions of the heptapods.  Our heroine finally discovers what their mission is, to save humankind along with themselves. They tell us... There is no time. And we are to take this literally.

circular language from the movie Arrival 2016

I extracted all of the linguistic data I could (which was almost all of it) from the film, and it runs as follows, with phrases and passages I consider of great import italicized.   

1. Language is the foundation of which the glue holds civilization together. It is the first weapon that draws people into conflict – vs. - The cornerstone of civilization is not language. It is science.
2. Kangaroo... means “I don't understand.” (Watch the movie to figure this one out!)
3. Apart from being able to see them and hear them, the heptapods leave absolutely no footprint.
4. There is no correlation between what the heptapods say and what they write.
5. Unlike all written languages, the writing is semiseriographic. It conveys meaning. It doesn't represent sound. Perhaps they view our form of writing as a wasted opportunity.  
6. How heptapods write: ... because unlike speech,  a logogram is free of time. Like their ship, their written language has forward or backward direction. Linguists call this non-linear orthography, which raises the question, is this how they think? Imagine you wanted to write a sentence using 2 hands, starting from either side. You would have to know each word you wanted to use as well as much space it would occupy. A heptapod can write a complex sentence in 2 seconds effortlessly.
7. There is no time.
8. You approach language like a mathematician.
9. When you immerse yourself in a foreign language, you can actually rewire your brain. It is the language you speak that determines how you think.
10. He (the Chinese general) is saying that they are offering us advanced technology. God, are they using a game to converse with... (us). You see the problem. If all I ever gave you was a hammer, everything is a nail. That doesn't say, “Offer weapon”, (It says, “offer tool”). We don't know whether they understand the difference. It (their language) is a weapon and a tool.  A culture is messy sometimes. It can be both (Cf. Sanskrit).
11. They  (masses 10Ks of circles) cannot be random. 
12. We (ourselves and the heptapods) make a tool and we both get something out of it. It's a compromise. Both sides are happy... like a win-win. (zero-sum game). 
13. It (their language) seems to be talking about time... everywhere... there are too many gaps; nothing's complete. Then it dawned on me. Stop focusing on the 1s and focus on the 0s. How much of this is data, and how much is negative space?... massive data... 0.08333 recurring. 0.91666667 = 1 of 12. What they're saying here is that this is (a huge paradigm). 10Ks = 1 of 12. Part of a layer adds up to a whole. It (their languages) says that each of the pieces fit together. Many become THERE IS NO TIME. It is a zero-sum-game. Everyone wins.
NOTE: there are 12 ships, and the heptapods have 7 tentacles. 7X12 = 84. 8 +4 =12. 
14. When our heroine is taken up into the ship in the capsule, these are the messages she reads: 1. Abbott (1 of the 2 heptapods) is death process. 2. Louise has a weapon. 3. Use weapon. 4. We need humanity help. Q. from our heroine, How can you know the future? 5. Louise sees future. 6. Weapon opens time.
15. (her daughter asks in her dream). Why is my name Hannah? Your name is very special. It is a palindrome. It reads the same forward and backward. (Cf. Silver Pin, Ayios Nikolaos Museum and Linear A tablet pendant, Troullous).
16. Our heroine says, * I can read it. I know what it is. It is not a weapon. It is a gift. The weapon (= gift) IS their language. They gave it all to us. * If you learn it, when your REALLY learn it, you begin to perceive the way that they do. SO you can see what’'s to come (in time). It is the same for them. It is non-linear. WAKE UP, MOMMY!

Then the heptapods disappear, dissolving into mere clouds, the same way they appeared out of nowhere in clouds, only in the opposite fashion. There is no time. They do not exist in time.

The implications of this movie for the further decipherment of Linear A and Linear B (or for any unknown language) are profound, as I shall explain in greater detail in upcoming posts.


Common Minoan Linear A ideograms and logograms

Common Minoan Linear A ideograms and logograms:

the most common Linear A ideograms and logograms

The figure above illustrates the most common Minoan Linear A ideograms and logograms. These greatly assist in the process of decipherment of Minoan words. Without their presence on Minoan Linear A tablets, there is little likelihood for the decipherment of vocabulary on them.

Quotations from The Rôle of Supersyllabograms in Mycenaean Linear B, Presentation at the Conference, Thinking Symbols, Pultusk Academy of the Humanities, Pultusk, Poland, June 30-July 2, 2015: Part A

Quotations from The Rôle of Supersyllabograms in Mycenaean Linear B, Presentation at the Conference, Thinking Symbols, Pultusk Academy of the Humanities, Pultusk, Poland, June 30-July 2, 2015: Part A

Alan Turing

Alan Turing (1923-1954), a world-famous mathematical genius and cryptologist, was head of the team at Bletchley Park in England, which deciphered what was considered at the time to be the uncrackable Enigma Code that German Intelligence used throughout the Second World War for their secret military missions and operations, eventually all to no avail. It is he who said, “Sometimes it is the people no one can imagine anything of who do the things no one can imagine.”
... let’s get straight to the point, and look at Slide A, which dramatically illustrates the universal rôle symbols play on physical signs, otherwise known as signage, in our hectic world today.

Slide omitted, to be displayed at the Conference only

Now you will notice that the international standard signage symbols we all my must rely on every day of our lives are of two kinds, (a) nominal (N), meaning symbols which replace the names of places, otherwise known as toponyms, which usually offer us static information & (b) verbal or kinetic (V), which replace actions we must take if we are to avoid unpleasant or disastrous consequences. Here on Slide A we see examples of both static and kinetic symbols or ideograms.

... we need to define in broad terms what a syllabary is, given that all of the signs on this tablet are syllabograms, so that we can interpret the Mycenaean city & settlement codes. This clears the way for a basic understanding of how syllabograms function. Like a script or signary based on ideograms, such as Egyptian hieroglyphics or Chinese ideograms, generally an earlier development than itself, a syllabary is a signary based on syllabograms, each of which consists of a single consonant + a single vowel up to a maximum of 5 vowels in a discrete series, as we see illustrated here in Slide J.

Slide omitted, to be displayed at the Conference only

Mycenaean Linear B, like its immediate predecessor, Minoan Linear A, has a D series, da, de, di, do & du; an N series, na, ne, ni, no & nu, and so on. Some syllabogram series are incomplete, for instance, the W series, wa, we, wi & wo, with four syllabograms & the Z series, za, ze & zo, consisting of three in Linear B. Minoan Linear A and the two archaic Greek pre-alphabetic syllabaries, Mycenaean Linear B & Arcado-Cypriot Linear C also have syllabograms for each of the 5 vowels. We can see now that a syllabary is generally considered to be the intermediate stage between even more ancient scripts such as Egyptian hieroglyphics on the one hand, and the later Greek alphabet on the other, in so far as it contains both consonant + vowel sequences and the minimal set of 5 vowels, just as all alphabets do right on up from the various avatars of the ancient Greek alphabet to the Cyrillic for many Slavic languages, such as Russian and Ukrainian to the Latin alphabet, from which almost all modern Occidental alphabets are derived. Click to ENLARGE 

hieroglyphics linear b alphabet

Haiku: eni wanakatero… kowo suni kowaisi… prenuptial celebrations!

Haiku: eni wanakatero... kowo suni kowaisi... prenuptial celebrations! (Click to ENLARGE):


Imagine yourself joyous in the presence of the King and Queen of Knossos, 6 lush floral arrangements, some with the sacred lilies, circling the throne room, while boys and girls swirl about, dancing with one another, celebrating the marriage of the Princess, the daughter of the King and Queen, to the Prince of Lilies, such as we see in this lovely triptych of 2 frescoes and 4 of the 6 flower pots: Click to ENLARGE:

Finally, we see that in the second line of this celebratory haiku, I have used two of the new ideologograms for “flower pot”, for a total of 6 flower pots, which I take to be a floral arrangement, as for instance for a wedding, which may be what this haiku is about, at least to my mind. Others will find other interpretations for this haiku, as that is what haiku are all about. We leave it to our own imagination to see what we see in the haiku.


One Small leap for Syllabograms, One Giant Leap for Linear B: the Last Stage before Liftoff! Thomas G. Palaima’s Translation of Linear B Tablet FL 1994

One Small leap for Syllabograms, One Giant Leap for Linear B: the Last Stage before Liftoff!
Thomas G. Palaima's Translation of Linear B Tablet FL 1994: Click to ENLARGE

Linear B Heidelberg HE FL 1994 Palaima 

Until now, students, scholars and researchers in the field of Linear B, including myself of course, have assumed that syllabograms are syllabograms are syllabograms, as a rose is a rose is a rose.

Likewise, and to no one's surprise, 2 or 3 syllabograms superimposed one over the other, can express Linear B words in a very concise manner, as illustrated here: Click to ENLARGE:

These syperimposed syllabograms I chose to refer as Logograms, because to my mind, that is what they are.

Yet, to my utter astonishment, I have only recently discovered, upon minute examination of 100s of linear B fragments and a few tablets from pages 140-169 of Sir Arthur Evans' Scripta Minoa, that there is something going on with syllabograms which has evaded our notice until today. What I have discovered, and what has filled me with excitement, are the following things:

1. that single syllabograms, all alone, recur far more frequently on the hundreds of Linear B tablets from Knossos I have so far put under the microscope of my insatiable thirst for a greater understanding of Linear B; and that
2. almost all of these single syllabograms pop up, and with remarkable frequency, immediately after a Linear B ideogram (whether it has been deciphered or not) and that;
3 I have also discovered at least 4 or 5 new Linear B logograms never before even identified, which recur often enough on the hundreds of Linear B fragments I have so far examined... at least 3 times in this little trove... that I feel duty bound to bring these new ideograms to the immediate attention to Linear B scholars and researchers world-wide. Moreover, the “meaning” of one of these previously un-investigated, hence, of course, unknown and undeciphered ideograms I was able to instantly recognize the moment I fell upon it, not once or twice, but 6 times on 2 tablets and fragments! At least its “meaning” is obvious to me, although I am certain several Linear B scholars and researchers are bound to contest my interpretation of it... which I wholeheartedly welcome.  But there is more, far more.
4. Finally, and here lies the crunch of the matter, upon close examination of even the first 100 or so of the hundreds of fragments and tablets from Knossos, I discovered to my even greater astonishment, that (and I must stress this emphatically) in the case of at least 4 or 5 ideograms we already know the meaning of beyond any reasonable doubt, I found, again immediately following them, a syllabogram which popped up over and over.

The most striking example of this phenomenon is the ideogram for IQO (horse), which was followed no less than seven (7!) times by one single syllabogram, and that syllabogram is ZE, on as many fragments and tablets within 3 pages of each other on the Scripta Minoa as to practically rule out the chances that this was mere happenstance.  This discovery immediately lead me to an entire Linear B word which began with the syllabogram ZE and which, surprise, surprise, surprise!... can only be used with any sense or practical, experiential meaning in the specific context of the ideogram for horse (IQO) and horse alone, and always in the same, invariable order: ideogram for horse first, immediately and invariably followed by the syllabogram ZE. In other words, we have here, just as in the Iliad, a formulaic expression, in short, a vocabulary formula in Mycenaean Greek. It seems that Homer was merely carrying on the tradition of formulaic vocabulary, which it appears the Mycenaeans, and not he himself, “invented”. If this is true, once again, the implications for the further decipherment of considerable chunks of Linear B texts are far-reaching and profound.  

And when the light came on, it flashed on instantly. “EUREKA!” I told myself. The syllabogram ZE, in this context, and in this context alone, in the precise order specified, is not merely a syllabogram, but what I choose to call a “Supersyllabogram”, by which I mean a syllabogram which is in fact the first syllable of the complete Linear B word, which if spelled out with all of the syllabograms of which it is comprised, yields precisely the meaning I would have expected from it, in this case, none other than the word, “halter”, which I must emphatically stress, is nowhere spelled out on any Linear B fragment or tablet. But there it is, staring us right in the face. The meaning is, by simple induction, clear as the nose on my face.

The next post, which serves to illustrate this new phenomenon in the decipherment of single syllabograms, which are very liberally peppered throughout the Knossos fragments, and hitherto defied decipherment, are now wide open to rational interpretation and, indeed, to perfectly reasonable decipherment.

But there is more, far far more.

I have discovered, not just one example of such formulaic phrases on the hundreds of Linear B fragments and tablets from the Scripta Minoa I have examined to date (i.e. from pages 140-169), but several, and they all follow the precise same order: ideogram  + syllabogram(s) – 1 or more, always in the same order, and, would you believe, even 2 ideograms always following one another in the same exact order, and even, 2 ideograms in the same order followed by syllabogram(s) – 1 or more, always in the same order. This happens frequently enough to reinforce my new thesis propounding the existence of the Ideologogram, a term I have had to coin, simply because there is no other way to put it.

Allow me to express my profound gratitude and thanks to Thomas G. Palaima, whose carefully reasoned, ingenious translation of Heidelberg Tablet FL 1994, made this discovery even possible. When I first stumbled on the PDF file of his masterful translation of the tablet, and had read it through a few times, it suddenly dawned on me that, with his remarkable insight into the “meaning” of those 5 syllabograms KO, ZA, PA, PO and MU, he had suggested to me, albeit unconsciously for the most part, with only a glimmer of consciousness, that here was something new, something unheard of and, I stress once again, never before even recognized, let alone sufficiently explained, until Thomas G. Palaima “got it” in the specific context of this particular tablet. It only remained for someone to extrapolate his findings, and to cross-correlate them in principle and in practice to as many Linear B fragments and tablets as possible to confirm or discount the possibility that Linear B syllabograms could in fact be more than merely syllabograms, but in fact logograms.

I strongly urge you to read Prof. Palaima's first-rate translation of Linear B Heidelberg Tablet FE 1994.

Remember that I have only ploughed through a few hundred of the Linear B fragments and tablets in the Scripta Minoa, from pages 140-160, and that I have yet to wrestle with the remaining fragments from page 170-258, i.e. 88 pages, amounting to at least 1,000 tablets, if not indeed double that. And, with the assistance and thoroughness of my trusty sidekick, Rita Roberts, archeologist in Crete, and my Linear B star student, who is presently at Level 3 (Intermediate) of her Linear B course, I – that is to say, we - intend to just that over the coming year or so, trust me.

I have also to express my profound gratitude and love of Michael Ventris, who is my true hero, and whom Rita too profoundly admires, because without his astounding achievement in 1952 of single-handedly deciphering Linear B, none of this would even be remotely possible. I am utterly convinced that Michael Ventris' spirit is in mine, and that he is my guardian angel. I am also convinced that he is cheering me on, or to adapt from Dante Gabriel Rossetti's “The Blessed Damozel”:

The blessed Michael Ventris leaned out/From the gold bar of Heaven;... and shines his everlasting light on us all.            

Watch for the next post, because with it, I burst the dams wide open.

Oh, and I just realized it. I chose to post this on May 8, which just happens to be the 69th. anniversary of VE Day, the end of World War II in Europe. Leave it to me to think of that!

Richard Vallance