Tag Archive: scribal practices

Early Minoan hieroglyphic roundels and seals may lend some insight into the later development of the Linear A syllabary:

Minoan hieroglyphic writing


As illustrated above, early Minoan hieroglyphic roundels and seals may lend some insight into the later development of the Linear A syllabary. Notice that the the hieroglyphic for an axe or labrys looks remarkably like the Linear A and Linear B syllabogram for A, while the Y shaped hieroglyphic, whatever it is supposed to represent (and no one knows what), is similar to the Linear A syllabogram for SA. So it is conceivable, however remotely, that this hieroglyphic seal may actually read asa or saa, whichever way you read it (not that we have any idea what that is supposed to mean).Then we have the hieroglyphic marked with an asterisk (*). This looks very much like a vase, amphora or flask to hold wine, water or possibly even olive oil. There is another one which looks like a fish. That should not be too surprising, given that the ideogram for fish does appear on at least one extant Linear A fragment from Phaistos, as we have witnessed in a recent previous post. Finally, on the bottom line, the seal marked (f) bears a hieroglyphic which looks like a bat, and this in turn may very well be the antecedent to the Linear A syllabogram MA. But this hieroglyphic is not that of a bat, but rather of a cat, which we can see from the beautiful seal on the top left of the illustration. This is substantiated by the some of the variations in the scribal hands for Linear A MA, which indeed look like the visage of a cat, as we see here:

Linear A scribal hands for MA = cat

So I guess it is a cat.

RESEARCH paper: Supersyllabograms in the agricultural sector of the Mycenaean economy, by Rita Roberts academia.edu:

This essay constitutes Rita Robert’s first foray into major research in ancient Mycenaean linguistics on academia.edu. Rita has composed this highly scholarly article as the major component of her mid-term examination in her second year of university, exactly half way to her degree. Keeping up this pace, she is bound to perform outstandingly in her final essay of her second year, and in her third year thesis paper, which will be considerably more demanding than this study, and about twice as long.

I strongly recommend you to download this study here:

supersyllabograms in agriculture in Linear B academia.edu

It makes for engaging reading in ancient linguistics research.

You can reach Rita’s academia.edu account here to view her other papers:

rita roberts academia.edu


Minoan Linear A scribal hands: W & Z series syllabograms: WA WI ZA ZE ZE ZU (the last)

Linear A scribal hands WA WI ZA ZE ZO ZU

Minoan Linear A scribal hands: T series syllabograms: TA TA2 (TAI) TE TI TO TU

Linear A scribal hands ta ta2 te to tu

Minoan Linear A scribal hands: S series syllabograms: SA SE SI SU

Linear A scribal hands SA SE SI SU

Minoan Linear A scribal hands: R series syllabograms: RA RA2 (RAI) RE RI RO RU

Linear A scribal hands RA R2 RE RI RO RU

Linear A scribal hands: P & Q series syllabograms:

Linear a scribal hands syllabograms rPA P3 PI PO PU PU2 QA QE

Minoan Linear A scribal hands: vowels A E I O U

Minoan Linear A scribal hands: vowels A E I O U



Digital enhancement of Linear A & B tablets: #6 Linear A tablet ARKH 2 (Arkhanes)

Linear A tablet ARKH 2 Arkhanes digitized

Linear B tablets K 04.30 and 04.33 from the Knossos “Armoury” illustrating the use of the supersyllabogram ZE

wheel ZE 04.30

K04.33, being a mere fragment, can be translated in the blink of an eye as  “one set of wheels on axle”, although we can be certain that the lost part of  this fragment dealt with chariot construction and design. What on earth else?

As far as K 04.30 is concerned, we have to wonder why the scribe set the word “newa” = “new” so far to the right of the phrase “Komoda opa”.  I believe there is tenable explanation for this. We notice that the word “newa” is closer to the ideogram for a set of wheels on axle = ideogram for wheel + ZE. So this may indicate that the scribe probably wishes to draw our attention more to the fact that this set of wheels is “new” than to the other parts of the chariot.

But that still begs the question, why? Scribes often separate single syllabograms or words from phrases to the right or left of the phase each is related to. As I have often said before, on this blog and in my published papers, no scribe or writer uses any linguistic device in any language whatsoever, unless that linguistic device plays a specific mandatory role in context, the function of which cannot be substituted by any other textual approach. This is the case here. The scribe is surely stressing that this set of wheels on axle is not just new but brand new. But again, why on earth would anyone do that, when it is apparent to the reader that the entire chariot is new? Or is it? Appearances can be deceiving. The emphasis on the newness of the set of wheels on axle leads me to believe that this chariot is to some extent constructed with spare or used parts. Consequently, we may assume that many other chariots inventoried on tablets are also partially constructed from spare or used parts. If that is the case, then the fact that the set of wheels is brand new takes precedence over the condition of the other parts in the construction of this chariot in particular makes perfect sense, at least to me.

This explanation is sound.  Given that the same ploy pops up on a considerable number of tablets, and not just in the military sector of the economy, we have to ask ourselves why the scribe has resorted to this approach in each and every case where similar dispositions of syllabograms are separated from the text they appear in on tablets, regardless of economic sector.  In other words, the praxis of the separation of (a single) syllabogram (s) from the rest of the text on the same line is never effected as a recurring linguistic practice without good reason. We shall discover that this is so over and over in the discussion of supersyllabograms in Linear B, again regardless of economic sector.


The application of geometric co-ordinate analysis (GCA) to parsing scribal hands: Part A: Cuneiform


I propose to demonstrate how geometric co-ordinate analysis of cuneiform, the Edwin-Smith hieroglyphic papyrus (ca. 1600 BCE), Minoan Linear A, Mycenaean Linear B and Arcado-Cypriot Linear C can confirm, isolate and identify with great precision the X Y co-ordinates of single characters or syllabograms in their respective standard fonts, and in the multiform cursive “deviations” from their fixed font forms, or to put it in different terms, to parse the running co-ordinates of each character, syllabogram or ideogram of any scribal hand in each of these scripts. This procedure effectively encapsulates the “style” of any scribe’s hand, just as we would nowadays characterize any individual’s handwriting style. This hypothesis constitutes a breakthrough in the application of graphology a.k.a epigraphy based entirely on the scientific procedure of geometric co-ordinate analysis (GCA) of scribal hands, irrespective of the script under analysis.


cuneiform font
Any attempt to isolate, identify and characterize by manual visual means alone the scribal hand peculiar to any single scribe incising a tablet or series of tablets common to his own hand, in other words, in his own peculiar style, has historically been fraught with difficulties. I intend to bring the analysis of scribal hands in cuneiform into much sharper focus by defining them as constructs determined solely by their relative positioning on the X Y axis plane in two-dimensional Cartesian geometry. This purely scientific approach reduces the analysis of individual scribal hands in cuneiform to a single constant, which is the point of origin (0,0) in the X Y axis plane, from which the actual positions of each and every co-ordinate on the positive planes (X horizontally right, Y vertically up) and negative planes (X horizontally left, Y vertically down) are extrapolated for any character in this script, as illustrated by the following general chart of geometric co-ordinates (Click to ENLARGE):

A xy analysis
Although I haven’t the faintest grasp of ancient cuneiform, it just so happens that this lapsus scientiae has no effect or consequence whatsoever on the purely scientific procedure I propose for the precise identification of unique individual scribal hands in cuneiform, let alone in any other script, syllabary or alphabet  ancient or modern (including but not limited to, the Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Semitic & Cyrillic alphabets), irrespective of language, and even whether or not anyone utilizing said procedure understands the language or can even read the script, syllabary or alphabet under the microscope.    

This purely scientific procedure can be strictly applied, not only to the scatter-plot positioning of the various strokes comprising any letter in the cuneiform font, but also to the “deviations” of any individual scribe’s hand or indeed to a cross-comparative GCA analysis of various scribal hands. These purely mathematical deviations are strictly defined as variables of the actual position of each of the various strokes of any individual’s scribal hand, which constitutes and defines his own peculiar “style”, where style is simply a construct of GCA  analysis, and nothing more. This procedure reveals with great accuracy any subtle or significant differences among scribal hands. These differences or defining characteristics of any number of scribal hands may be applied either to:

(a)  the unique styles of any number of different scribes incising a trove of tablets all originating from the same archaeological site, hence, co-spatial and co-temporal, or
(b)  of different scribes incising tablets at different historical periods, revealing the subtle or significant phases in the evolution of the cuneiform script itself in its own historical timeline, as illustrated by these six cuneiform tablets, each one of which is characteristic of its own historical frame, from 3,100 BCE – 2,250 BCE (Click to ENLARGE),

B Sumerian Akkadian Babylonian stamping
and in addition

(c)  Geometric co-ordinate analysis is also ideally suited to identifying the precise style of a single scribe, with no cross-correlation with or reference to any other (non-)contemporaneous scribe. In other words, in this last case, we find ourselves zeroing in on the unique style of a single scribe. This technique cannot fail to scientifically identify with great precision the actual scribal hand of any scribe in particular, even in the complete absence of any other contemporaneous cuneiform tablet or stele with which to compare it, and regardless of the size of the cuneiform characters (i.e. their “font” size, so to speak), since the full set of cuneiform characters can run from relatively small characters incised on tablets to enormous ones on steles. It is of particular importance at this point to stress that the “font” or cursive scribal hand size have no effect whatsoever on the defining set of GCA co-ordinates of any character, syllabogram or ideogram in any script whatsoever. It simply is not a factor.

To summarize, my hypothesis runs as follows: the technique of geometric co-ordinate analysis (GCA) of scribal hands, in and of itself, all other considerations aside, whether cross-comparative and contemporaneous, or cross-comparative in the historical timeline within which it is set ( 3,100 BCE – 2,250 BCE) or lastly in the application of said procedure to the unambiguous identification of a single scribal hand is a strictly scientific procedure capable of great mathematical accuracy, as illustrated by the following table of geometric co-ordinate analysis applied to cuneiform alone (Click to ENLARGE):

C geometric co-ordinate analysis of early mesopotamian cuneifrom

The most striking feature of cuneiform is that it is, with few minor exceptions (these being circular), almost entirely linear even in its subsets, the parallel and the triangular, hence, susceptible to geometric co-ordinate analysis at its most fundamental and most efficient level. 

It is only when a script, syllabary or alphabet in the two-dimensional plane introduces considerably more complex geometric variables such as the point (as the constant 0,0 = the point of origin on an X Y axis or alternatively a variable point elsewhere on the X Y axis), the circle and the oblong that the process becomes significantly more complex. The most common two-dimensional non-linear constructs which apply to scripts beyond the simple linear (such as found in cuneiform) are illustrated in this chart of alternate geometric forms (Click to ENLARGE):

D alternate geometric forms
These shapes exclude all subsets of the linear (such as the triangle, parallel, pentagon, hexagon, octagon, ancient swastika etc.) and circular (circular sector, semi-circle, arbelos, superellipse, taijitu = symbol of the Tao, etc.), which are demonstrably variations of the linear and the circular.
These we must leave to the geometric co-ordinate analysis of Minoan Linear A, Mycenaean Linear B and Arcado-Cypriot Linear C, all of which share these additional more complex geometric constructs in common. When we are forced to apply this technique to more complex geometric forms, the procedure appears to be significantly more difficult to apply. Or does it? The answer to that question lies embedded in the question itself. The question is neither closed nor open, but simply rhetorical. It contains its own answer.

It is in fact the hi-tech approach which decisively and instantaneously resolves any and all difficulties in every last case of geometric co-ordinate analysis of any script, syllabary or indeed any alphabet, ancient or modern. It is neatly summed up by the phrase, “computer-based analysis”, which effectively and entirely dispenses with the necessity of having to manually parse scribal hands or handwriting by visual means or analysis at all. Prior to the advent of the Internet and modern supercomputers, geometric co-ordinate analysis of any phenomenon, let alone scribal hands, or so-to-speak  handwriting post AD (anno domini), would have been a tedious mathematical process hugely consuming of time and human resources, which is why it was never applied at that time. But nowadays, this procedure can be finessed by any supercomputer plotting CGA co-ordinates down to the very last pixel at lightning speed. The end result is that any of an innumerable number of unique scribal hand(s) or of handwriting styles can be isolated and identified beyond a reasonable doubt, and in the blink of an eye. Much more on this in Part B, The application of geometric co-ordinate analysis to Minoan Linear A, Mycenaean Linear B and Arcado-Cypriot Linear C. However strange as it may seem prima facie, I leave to the very last the application of this unimpeachable procedure to the analysis and the precise isolation of the unique style of the single scribal hand responsible for the Edwin-Smith papyrus, as that case in particular yields the most astonishing outcome of all.

© by Richard Vallance Janke 2015 (All Rights Reserved = Tous droits réservés)

Linear B Ideograms: Level 5.0 (Advanced) Ideograms formed by Combinations of Syllabograms (Click to ENLARGE):

Mycenaean Linear B Ideoggrams formed by combinatioins of syllabograms
It is obvious from this table illustrating 3 of the most common ideograms found on extant Linear B tablets, i.e. cheese, honey & ointment, that the Minoan/Mycenaean scribes were at great pains to save as much precious space on those little (often tiny) baked clay tablets they used, as they very frequently resorted to replacing whole words, specifically the most common Mycenaean vocabulary, with ideograms. Ideograms were formed in 2 distinct ways. The easiest way, which the scribes resorted to almost all of the time, was simply to use a pictorial representation of the word(s) which they wished to “write”, as illustrated in this example (Click to ENLARGE):

examples of simple Linear B ideograms

The second method, which was considerably more complex, and also very clever, was to combine 2, and sometimes even 3, syllabograms, by simply piling them on top of one another, but always in a specific order and in a universal standard geometric pattern. This is just another example of the geometric economy of Linear B, which I have referenced previously in our Blog.  The only thing I myself can't quite figure out is this, why would the scribes have used simple ideograms for the vast majority of the common words they were intended to replace, but then turn to (seemingly) complicating matters by piling syllabograms on top of one another?  I just don't know. But they did, and that's the end of it.

On a final note, once we have come to the end of Level 5, Advanced, in our Linear B lessons, we shall have completed the course, and will have under our belts the Linear B syllabary and ideograms in their entirety. This is a wonderful accomplishment for any student willing to take the lengthy time and sustained effort to learn Mycenaean Linear B, a language which cannot be mastered, so to speak, “with a snap of the fingers”.  To tell the truth, it has already taken me 3 years to get to the point where I am myself in my attempts to “master” Linear B and the complex Mycenaean Greek grammar underlying it, and I still have a long way to go. But perseverance always pays off in the long run. I also have 3 students learning Linear B, of whom 1 in particular is now at the threshold of Linear B Level 3 (Intermediate), and who has already mastered the entire basic syllabary.


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