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Phaistos Disc

Phaistos Disc
Phaistos Disc, side A (top) and side B (bottom)
MaterialClay
Created2nd millennium BC
DiscoveredJuly 3, 1908
Phaistos, Crete, Greece
Discovered byLuigi Pernier
Present locationHeraklion Archaeological Museum, Crete, Greece
Palace complex at Phaistos

The Phaistos Disc or Phaistos Disk is a disk of fired clay from the island of Crete, Greece, possibly from the middle or late Minoan Bronze Age (second millennium BC), bearing a text in an unknown script and language. Its purpose and its original place of manufacture remain disputed. It is now on display at the archaeological museum of Heraklion. The name is sometimes spelled Phaestos or Festos.

The disk was discovered in 1908 by the Italian archaeologist Luigi Pernier during the excavation of the Minoan palace of Phaistos.[1] The disk is about 15 cm (5.9 in) in diameter and is covered on each side with a spiral text, consisting of a total of 241 occurrences of 45 distinct signs, which were created by pressing individual sign stamps onto the soft clay before firing. While its unique features initially led some scholars to suspect a forgery or hoax, the disk is now generally accepted as authentic by archaeologists.

This mysterious object captured the imagination of amateur and professional palaeographers, and many attempts have been made to decipher the code behind the disc's signs.[2] While it is not clear that it is a script, most attempted decipherments assume that it is; most additionally assume a syllabary, others an alphabet or logography.

Discovery

The Linear A tablet PH-1 that was originally found by archaeologist Zakarias Iliakis next to the Phaistos Disc[3]

The Phaistos Disc was discovered in the Minoan palace-site of Phaistos, near Hagia Triada, on the south coast of Crete;[4] specifically the disc was found in the basement of room 8 in building 101 of a group of buildings to the northeast of the main palace. This grouping of four rooms also served as a formal entry into the palace complex. Italian archaeologist Luigi Pernier recovered the intact "dish" on 3 July 1908 during his excavation of the first Minoan palace.[5]

The disc was found in the main cell of an underground "temple depository". These basement cells, only accessible from above, were neatly covered with a layer of fine plaster. Their content was poor in precious artifacts, but rich in black earth and ashes, mixed with burnt bovine bones. In the northern part of the main cell, in the same black layer, a few centimetres south-east of the disc and about 50 cm (20 in) above the floor, Linear A tablet 'PH-1' was also found.

Dating

Yves Duhoux (1977) dates the disc to between 1850 B.C. and 1600 B.C. (MMIII in Minoan chronology) on the basis of Luigi Pernier's report, which says that the disc was in a Middle Minoan undisturbed context.[6] Jeppesen (1963) dates it to after 1400 (LMII–LMIII in Minoan chronology). Doubting the viability of Pernier's report, Louis Godart (1990) resigns himself to admitting that archaeologically, the disc may be dated to anywhere in Middle or Late Minoan times (MMI–LMIII, a period spanning most of the second millennium B.C.). Jan Best suggests a date in the first half of the 14th century B.C. (LMIIIA) based on his dating of tablet PH-1.[7]

Physical description

Material

The disk is made of fine-grained clay. Some authors have stated that the clay does not appear to be of local origin, perhaps not even from Crete.[8] It was intentionally and properly fired, unlike tablets and seals that were baked only accidentally.[8]

Shape and dimensions

The disk is approximately cylindrical, about 16 cm in diameter and almost 2 cm thick, with rounded edges. More precisely, the outline is slightly egg-shaped, with the diameter varying from 15.8 to 16.5 cm and the thickness from 1.6 to 2.1 cm. The disk is slightly concave on side A and convex on side B.[8]

Typographic writing

The most remarkable feature of the Phaistos disk is that the embossed signs that comprise its inscription all result from pressing separate stamps – one for each symbol – into the soft clay before firing. Thus the disk can be seen as an early example of movable-type printing.[9][10] Typesetter and linguist Herbert Brekle writes:[11]

If the disc is, as assumed, a textual representation, we are really dealing with a "printed" text, which fulfills all definitional criteria of the typographic principle. The spiral sequencing of the graphematical units, the fact that they are impressed in a clay disc (blind printing!) and not imprinted are merely possible technological variants of textual representation. The decisive factor is that the material "types" are proven to be repeatedly instantiated on the clay disc.

A medieval example of a similar blind printing technique[12] is the Prüfening dedicatory inscription.[11][13]

Popular-science author Jared Diamond describes the disc as an example of a technological innovation that did not become widespread because it was made at the wrong time in history. Diamond contrasts the process with Gutenberg's printing press.[14]

Scribed lines

Besides the stamped symbols, there are a few markings made by scoring the moist clay with a sharp stylus. On each side there is a continuous spiral line that separates successive turns of the text. The strip between successive spires of this line is divided into sections by short radial lines, so that each section contains a few whole signs. The presumed start of the text, adjacent to the edge, is also marked by such a radial stroke, with the addition of five dots punched along it with the stylus. Finally, under some of the stamped signs, there are short oblique strokes.

Signs

Sign list and counts

There are 45 distinct signs on the disk, occurring a total of 242 times — 123 on side A and 119 on side B. In addition to these, a small diagonal line was incised with a stylus (not stamped) underneath some signs, a total of 18 times. The 45 symbols were numbered by Arthur Evans from 01 to 45,[1] and this numbering has been adopted by most researchers.

The signs were added to the Unicode universal computer character (UCS) set in 2008, after a 2006 proposal by Michael Everson and John H. Jenkins.[15] In the following table, the No. column is the Evans number of each sign; the Glyph column is a modern drawing of the symbol; and the Font column uses the UCS font available in the browser. The assigned Unicode names are PHAISTOS DISC SIGN followed by the names shown under Name in the table below, taken from a 1995 book by Louis Godart.[16]

One sign occurrence on side A is too damaged to identify. According to Godart, it may be sign 03 (TATTOOED HEAD) or 20 (DOLIUM); or less probably 08 (GAUNTLET) or 44 (SMALL AXE).[16]: p.101  Theoretically, it could also be a 46th distinct sign.

The sign images below are reversed left-to-right relative to their appearance on the disk, reflecting their presentation in most Western books and articles.[17]

Also, some signs occur in the disk in two or more orientations, rotated by 90 or 180 degrees. It is generally assumed that the rotation has no semantic or linguistic value, so the rotated copies are still the same symbol. Therefore, the "normal" orientation of those signs is not known, and might have been left to the scribe's discretion.[15][17]

Sign Frequency
No. Glyph Font Name A B A+B
01 01
𐇐
PEDESTRIAN 6 5 11
02 02
𐇑
PLUMED HEAD 14 5 19
03 03
𐇒
TATTOOED HEAD 2 0 2
04 04
𐇓
CAPTIVE 1 0 1
05 05
𐇔
CHILD 0 1 1
06 06
𐇕
WOMAN 2 2 4
07 07
𐇖
HELMET 3 15 18
08 08
𐇗
GAUNTLET 1 4 5
09 09
𐇘
TIARA 0 2 2
10 10
𐇙
ARROW 4 0 4
11 11
𐇚
BOW 1 0 1
12 12
𐇛
SHIELD 15 2 17
13 13
𐇜
CLUB 3 3 6
14 14
𐇝
MANACLES 1 1 2
15 15
𐇞
MATTOCK 0 1 1
16 16
𐇟
SAW 0 2 2
17 17
𐇠
LID 1 0 1
18 18
𐇡
BOOMERANG 6 6 12
19 19
𐇢
CARPENTRY PLANE 3 0 3
20 20
𐇣
DOLIUM 0 2 2
21 21
𐇤
COMB 2 0 2
22 22
𐇥
SLING 0 5 5
23 23
𐇦
COLUMN 5 6 11
24 24
𐇧
BEEHIVE 1 5 6
25 25
𐇨
SHIP 2 5 7
26 26
𐇩
HORN 5 1 6
27 27
𐇪
HIDE 10 5 15
28 28
𐇫
BULLS LEG 2 0 2
29 29
𐇬
CAT 3 8 11
30 30
𐇭
RAM 0 1 1
31 31
𐇮
EAGLE 5 0 5
32 32
𐇯
DOVE 2 1 3
33 33
𐇰
TUNNY 2 4 6
34 34
𐇱
BEE 1 2 3
35 35
𐇲
PLANE TREE 5 6 11
36 36
𐇳
VINE 0 4 4
37 37
𐇴
PAPYRUS 2 2 4
38 38
𐇵
ROSETTE 3 1 4
39 39
𐇶
LILY 1 3 4
40 40
𐇷
OX BACK 3 3 6
41 41
𐇸
FLUTE 2 0 2
42 42
𐇹
GRATER 0 1 1
43 43
𐇺
STRAINER 0 1 1
44 44
𐇻
SMALL AXE 1 0 1
45 45
𐇼
WAVY BAND 2 4 6

Nature of depicted objects

Many of the signs are depictions of concrete objects with a recognizable general nature (such as humans, birds, plants, a boat), or parts thereof (heads, hides, flowers). However, in most cases the precise nature of objects depicted is still unknown (as of 2023). The sign names assigned by scholars, in particular by Godart[16] and the Unicode consortium,[15] were rather arbitrary, often based on the slightest shape similarity.

Symbol 21 (Godart's "COMB") was once conjectured to be a palace floorplan.[18] However, this hypothesis was cast in doubt by the discovery of a vase with a nearly identical symbol incised on the bottom, believed to be a potter's mark.[19]

Ritual sea snail (triton) conch, decorated with red paint. Phaistos, 3600–3000 BC.

Symbol 20 ("DOLIUM") was assumed to be the conch of a large sea snail, such as Tonna dolium or some Eudolium species. One such conch was found at Phaistos and is believed to have been used as a musical instrument for ritual uses.

Sign distribution

The distribution of symbols is highly non-random, and quite different between the two sides. Evans's symbol 02 (PLUMED HEAD) is the most frequent one, occurring 19 times — 14 of them on side A. The next most frequent signs are 07 (HELMET), with 18 occurrences, mostly on side B; 12 (SHIELD), with 17, mostly on side A; and 27 (HIDE), with 15, of which 10 on side A.

Still, 26 of the 45 symbols occur on both sides, at least once on each. The most common signs that occur on only one side are 31 (EAGLE), on side A, and 22 (SLING), on side B; both with five occurrences each.

The following table shows how many distinct signs (Sign count) have the same number of occurrences (Frequency). The third number in each column is the product of the two numbers above, that is, the total number of occurrences (Token count) of those signs:

Frequency 19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Sign count 1 1 1 1 1 4 1 6 3 6 3 8 9 Total = 45 signs
Token count 19 18 17 15 12 44 7 36 15 24 9 16 9 Total = 241 tokens

The nine hapaxes (symbols occurring just once) are 04 (A5), 05 (B3), 11 (A13), 15 (B8), 17 (A24), 30 (B27), 42 (B9), 43 (B4), 44 (A7). Of the eight twice-occurring symbols, four (03, 21, 28, 41) occur on side A only, three (09, 16, 20) on side B only, and only one (14) occurs on both sides.

Sign correlations

The distribution of symbol pairs too is highly non-uniform. For example, of the 17 occurrences of sign 12 (SHIELD), thirteen follow immediately sign 02 (PLUMED HEAD).

Text

The following is a single image of the text "unrolled". While the order of the characters is left-to-right reversed, the signs themselves are in the original orientation.

Unrolled and left-to-right reversed image of the text.

Directionality

Evans, at one point, published an assertion that the disc had been written, and should be read, from the center out; because it would have been easiest to place the inscription first and then size the disc to fit the text. There is general agreement that he was wrong, and Evans himself later changed his mind: the inscription was made, and should be read, in the clockwise sense, from the outside in toward the centre, as with the similar spiral inscription on the Lead Plaque of Magliano.[20]: 649 

"Words"

The signs are laid out on each side as a single spiral text, which is split by the inscribed radial strokes into "words". Both ends of the text on each side are also assumed to be "word" boundaries. There are 61 such "words" on the Disc, with two to seven sign occurrences each: 31 on side A and 30 on side B. These "words" are conventionally numbered A1 to A31 and B1 to B30, reading from right to left (clockwise, edge-to-center).[16]

There may be one additional radial stroke near the center of side A, over-stamped by the sign 03 (TATTOOED HEAD), between sign 10 (ARROW) and the central sign 38 (ROSETTE). However, most scholars ignore that possible stroke and count the last three symbols as a single "word" 10-03-38 (which happens to occur also at about the same position on the next-to-last turn).[16]

On both sides, there is a radial line also right before the start (outermost end) of the text, with five dots punched along it using a sharp round stylus.

Fields numbering by Louis Godart
Fields numbering by Louis Godart

"Paragraphs"

The short oblique strokes that were drawn with a stylus (not stamped) below some signs are always attached to the last sign of a "word" (assuming outside-in reading direction). Their meaning is a matter of discussion. One hypothesis, supported by Evans,[1] is that they further subdivide the text into "paragraphs".

Transcriptions

The following transcriptions of the text all assume a right-to-left (clockwise, edge-to-center) reading direction on the disk, starting at the vertical (radial) line of five dots. In these transcription, however, the order of the characters has been flipped, so that they should be read left-to-right and top-to-bottom. The oblique stroke is assumed to indicate the last word of a "paragraph". A horizontal line has been added after each "paragraph" for clarity.

For consistency with most published sources, these transcriptions assume that there is an oblique stroke at the end of word A24, even though high-resolution images show it to be just a crack.

Unicode

The following is a rendering of the Phaistos Disc inscription in Unicode characters from the Phaistos code block (code points +101D0 to +101FC). The radial strokes are denoted by the ASCII character "|" (+7C), and the oblique subscripted stroke by the comma-like PHAISTOS DISK COMBINING OBLIQUE STROKE (+101FD) after the affected symbol. The radial stroke with five dots, that indicates the presumed start of text, is denoted by the ISO Latin 1 character "¦" (+A6). The boxed question mark "⍰" (+2370) denotes the illegible sign in word A8. The appearance of the signs will depend on the font used by the browser, but normally they should all be left-to-right flipped relative to their appearance on the disk.

Side A:

¦ 𐇑𐇛𐇜𐇐𐇡𐇽
| 𐇧𐇷𐇛 | 𐇬𐇼𐇖𐇽
| 𐇬𐇬𐇱 | 𐇑𐇛𐇓𐇷𐇰 | 𐇪𐇼𐇖𐇛 | 𐇪𐇻𐇗 | 𐇑𐇛𐇕𐇡⍰ | 𐇮𐇩𐇲 | 𐇑𐇛𐇸𐇢𐇲 | 𐇐𐇸𐇷𐇖 | 𐇑𐇛𐇯𐇦𐇵𐇽
| 𐇶𐇚 | 𐇑𐇪𐇨𐇙𐇦𐇡 | 𐇫𐇐𐇽
| 𐇑𐇛𐇮𐇩𐇽
| 𐇑𐇛𐇪𐇪𐇲𐇴𐇤 | 𐇰𐇦 | 𐇑𐇛𐇮𐇩𐇽
| 𐇑𐇪𐇨𐇙𐇦𐇡 | 𐇫𐇐𐇽
| 𐇑𐇛𐇮𐇩𐇽
| 𐇑𐇛𐇪𐇝𐇯𐇡𐇪 | 𐇕𐇡𐇠𐇢𐇽
| 𐇮𐇩𐇛 | 𐇑𐇛𐇜𐇐 | 𐇦𐇢𐇲𐇽
| 𐇙𐇒𐇵 | 𐇑𐇛𐇪𐇪𐇲𐇴𐇤 | 𐇜𐇐 | 𐇙𐇒𐇵

Side B

¦ 𐇑𐇛𐇥𐇷𐇖 | 𐇪𐇼𐇖𐇲 | 𐇑𐇴𐇦𐇔𐇽
| 𐇥𐇨𐇪 | 𐇰𐇧𐇣𐇛 | 𐇟𐇦𐇡𐇺𐇽
| 𐇜𐇐𐇶𐇰 | 𐇞𐇖𐇜𐇐𐇡 | 𐇥𐇴𐇹𐇨 | 𐇖𐇧𐇷𐇲 | 𐇑𐇩𐇳𐇷 | 𐇪𐇨𐇵𐇐 | 𐇬𐇧𐇧𐇣𐇲 | 𐇟𐇝𐇡 | 𐇬𐇰𐇐 | 𐇕𐇲𐇯𐇶𐇰 | 𐇑𐇘𐇪𐇐 | 𐇬𐇳𐇖𐇗𐇽
| 𐇬𐇗𐇜 | 𐇬𐇼𐇖𐇽
| 𐇥𐇬𐇳𐇖𐇗𐇽
| 𐇪𐇱𐇦𐇨 | 𐇖𐇡𐇲 | 𐇖𐇼𐇖𐇽
| 𐇖𐇦𐇡𐇧 | 𐇥𐇬𐇳𐇖𐇗𐇽
| 𐇘𐇭𐇶𐇡𐇖 | 𐇑𐇕𐇲𐇦𐇖 | 𐇬𐇱𐇦𐇨 | 𐇼𐇖𐇽

Pictorial

The following transcription uses modern drawings of the signs, which are left-to-right reversed with respect to their appearance on the disk. The labels A1-A31 and B1-B30 are the traditional word numbers.[16]

Side A:

48 A1 021213011846
47 A2 244012 47 A3 29450746
47 A4 292934 47 A5 0212044033 47 A6 27450712 47 A7 274408 47 A8 02120618⍰ 47 A9 312635 47 A10 0212411935 47 A11 01414007 47 A12 021232233846
47 A13 3911 47 A14 022725102318 47 A15 280146
47 A16 0212312646
47 A17 02122727353721 47 A18 332347 A19 0212312646
47 A20 022725102318 47 A21 280146
47 A22 0212312646
47 A23 0212271432182747 A24 0618171946
47 A25 312612 47 A26 02121301 47 A27 23193546
47 A28 10033847 A29 02122727353721 47 A30 1301 47 A31 100338

Side B:

48 B1 0212224007 47 B2 27450735 47 B3 0237230546
47 B4 22252747 B5 3324201247 B6 1623184346
47 B7 1301393347 B8 150713011847 B9 2237422547 B10 0724403547 B11 0226364047 B12 2725380147 B13 292424203547 B14 16141847 B15 29330147 B16 0635323933 47 B17 0209270147 B18 2936070846
47 B19 29081347 B20 29450746
47 B21 222936070846
47 B22 2734232547 B23 07183547 B24 07450746
47 B25 0723182447 B26 222936070846
47 B27 093039180747 B28 020635230747 B29 2934232547 B30 450746

Numerical

The following transcription uses the Evans numbers for the signs.[7] The vertical bar characters "¦" and "|" represent the start-of-text and word-separating radial lines, respectively. The slash "/" denotes the oblique stroke under the preceding sign. The caret "^" indicates the transition from the first turn of the text (along the disk's edge) to the inner turns, and "??" is the unreadable sign.

Side A:

¦ 02 12 13 01 18/
| 24 40 12 | 29 45 07/
| 29 29 34 | 02 12 04 40 33 | 27 45 07 12 | 27 44 08 | 02 12 06 18 ?? | 31 26 35 | 02 12 41 19 35 | 01 41 40 07 | 02 12 32 23 38/
| 39 11 | ^ 02 27 25 10 23 18 | 28 01/
| 02 12 31 26/
| 02 12 27 27 35 37 21 | 33 23 | 02 12 31 26/
| 02 27 25 10 23 18 | 28 01/
| 02 12 31 26/
| 02 12 27 14 32 18 27 | 06 18 17 19/
| 31 26 12 | 02 12 13 01 | 23 19 35/
| 10 03 38 | 02 12 27 27 35 37 21 | 13 01 | 10 03 38

Side B

¦ 02 12 22 40 07 | 27 45 07 35 | 02 37 23 05/
| 22 25 27 | 33 24 20 12 | 16 23 18 43/
| 13 01 39 33 | 15 07 13 01 18 | 22 37 42 25 | 07 24 40 35 | 02 26 36 40 | 27 25 38 01 | 29 ^ 24 24 20 35 | 16 14 18 | 29 33 01 | 06 35 32 39 33 | 02 09 27 01 | 29 36 07 08/
| 29 08 13 | 29 45 07/
| 22 29 36 07 08/
| 27 34 23 25 | 07 18 35 | 07 45 07/
| 07 23 18 24 | 22 29 36 07 08/
| 09 30 39 18 07 | 02 06 35 23 07 | 29 34 23 25 | 45 07/

Corrections

The disc shows signs of corrections having been made, with some signs erased and over-printed by other signs.

Godart describes these corrections as occurring in the following words: A1 (signs 02-12-13-01), A4 (29-29-34) together with A5 (02-12-04), A8 (12), A10 (02-41-19?-35), A12 (12), A16 (12-31-26?), A17 (second 27?), A29 (second 27?), B1 (12-22), B3 (37?), B4 (22-25 imprinted over the same), B10 (07?-24?-40?), B13 (beside 29?). Question marks indicate uncertainty about that particular sign being the result of a correction.[16]: p.99–109 

The borders of word B28 were also widened to make room for sign 02.[16]: p.107 [6]: p.34–35 

Sign rotations

The two signs 27 (HIDE) in word A29 are rotated 180 degrees compared with all other occurrences of this sign: "head down" versus "head up". This rotation might be motivated by lack of space in A29.[6]: p.24 

Arie Cate observed that if signs rotations were random with uniform distribution, then the probability that they end up in only two (or three) signs is very small.[21]

Signs in adjacent windings

There are several locations on side A where two occurrences of the same sign lie near each other in adjacent turns of the spiral, such as sign 02 (PLUMED HEAD) in word A1 and in word A14. Also the two 27 signs (HIDE) signs in word A29 are upside down, with the "heads" pointing to the HIDE sign of word A23, in the adjacent turn. Arie Cate claims that the probability of these alignments being coincidental is rather small.[22]

Origin of the artifact

For the first few decades after its discovery most scholars argued strongly against the local origin of the artifact. Evans[1]: p.24  wrote that:

...when one comes to compare the figures in detail with those of the Minoan hieroglyphic signary, very great discrepancy is observable... Out of the forty-five separate signs on the Phaistos Disk, no more than ten more or less resemble Cretan hieroglyphic forms... The human figures in their outline and costume are non-Minoan... The representation of the ship also differs from all similar designs that occur either among the hieroglyphic or the linear documents of Crete.

Gustave Glotz claimed that the clay was not from Crete.[23]: p.381  Ipsen concluded that the disc was certainly from somewhere on the Aegean; however, because of its differences from Linear A or B, he, like Evans, supported a non-Cretan origin for the Disc. He observes, however, that since Linear A was a common Aegean script such an assumption will not resolve the problem of multiplicity.[24]: p.15 

Vase from Knossos with a stamped sign similar to SHIELD.

However, the consensus on this question changed in later decades, as a few other artifacts were found on Crete with significant resemblances to the disk. For instance, a vase found at Knossos (Vase 14 236) bears a stamped sign identical to the disk's 25 SHIELD sign (a circle with seven dots).[citation needed] Also, under the bottom of a bowl found in 1965 at Phaistos (bowl F 4718 from the House South of the Ramp) there is a sign in relief, believed to be a potter's mark, that is practically identical to sign 21 (COMB).[19] A very similar sign is found as an impression on a sealing from a deposit of administrative documents discovered in 1955, beneath Room 25 of the Second Palace of Phaistos (sealing CMS II.5, n. 246).[19][25][26] Female images with pendulous breasts have also been found at Malia and Phaistos.[16]: p.125 The Arkalochori Axe also bears a short inscription that uses several signs similar to those of the disk.[27]

These and other finds have made Cretan origin more popular.[19] This view was expressed by Michael Trauth in 1990,[28] Duhoux in 2000[29] and Andrew Robinson in 2008.[30]

Hoax hypothesis

The uniqueness of the script, of the spiral arrangement, and of the method of writing (individual glyph stamps) have led some scholars to raise the possibility that the Phaistos disc is a 1908 forgery or hoax.[8][31] It was pointed out that the date of manufacture has never been established by thermoluminescence dating.[32] However, the Disc is now generally accepted as authentic by archaeologists.[33] Andrew Robinson concurs that thermoluminescence dating would be highly desirable, but does not endorse the forgery arguments.[30]

The precise excavation records maintained by Luigi Pernier have always been a problem for the hoax hypothesis. That hypothesis was eventually put to rest by the discovery of the other artifacts in Crete with similar glyphs, which a 1909 hoaxer would not have known about. Also, a gold signet ring from Knossos (the Mavro Spilio ring), found in 1926, contains a Linear A inscription laid out in a spiral, similar to the Phaistos Disc.[34]

Decipherment attempts

A great deal of speculation developed around the disc during the 20th century, particularly capturing the imagination of amateur archeologists. Many attempts have been made to decipher the code behind the disc's signs, with a wide variety of theories having been suggested, including prayers, a narrative or an adventure story, a "psalterion", a call to arms, a board game, and a geometric theorem; some of these theories are considered to be pseudoarchaeology, with little realistic chance of being accurate.

Most linguistic interpretations assume a syllabary, based on the proportion of 45 symbols in a text of 241 tokens typical for that type of script; some assume a syllabary with interspersed logographic symbols, a property of every known syllabary of the Ancient Near East (Linear B as well as cuneiform and hieroglyphic writing). There are, however, also alphabetic and purely logographical interpretations.

While enthusiasts still believe the mystery can be solved, scholarly attempts at decipherment are thought to be unlikely to succeed unless more examples of the signs turn up elsewhere, as it is generally thought that there is not enough context available for meaningful analysis. Any decipherment without external confirmation, such as successful comparison to other inscriptions, is unlikely to be accepted as conclusive.

Comparison with other scripts

While the Phaistos disk writing system is, on the whole, very different from other known scripts, several scholars have argued against it being an entirely independent invention. Gunther Ipsen argued that the creator must have been influenced by other scripts, and points out the Hieroglyphic Luwian script from Anatolia as an example of an original script inspired by other writing systems (its symbol values inspired by cuneiform, its shapes by Egyptian hieroglyphs).[24]: p.11 

Several scholars have proposed that the Phaistos signs are older or alternate forms of Linear A glyphs, specifically. Others have pointed to similar resemblances with the Anatolian (Luwian) hieroglyphs, or with Egyptian hieroglyphs.[35] More remote possibilities are the Phoenician abjad or the Byblos syllabary.

Linear A

Comparison of the disk's signs with those of Linear A inscriptions go back to Evans in 1909.[1] In1959, Benjamin Schwartz asserted a genetic relationship between the Phaistos Disc script and the Cretan linear scripts.[9]: p.108  Similar claims were made also by Werner Nahm in 1975,[36] Torsten Timm in 2004,[37] and others.

Some of these proposals point to similarities between some glyphs, such as 12 (SHIELD) Phaistos glyph 12, 43 (STRAINER) Phaistos glyph 43, and 31 (EAGLE) Phaistos glyph 31 to both Linear A and Linear B characters, and conjecture that they may have the same phonetic values — respectively 'qe', 'ta', and 'ku'. Based on the Linear A character distribution patterns collected by Giulio Facchetti,[38] Torsten Timm goes as far as identifying 20 of the 45 characters with Linear A/B signs.[39]

Anatolian hieroglyphs

Parallels between the Phaistos disk script and Anatolian hieroglyphs were proposed, among others, by S. Davis in 1961[40][41][42] and Jan Best and Fred Woudhuizen in 1988[43][44] In 2004, Winfried Achterberg and others proposed an extensive mapping to Anatolian hieroglyphs, which led them to a full decipherment claim.[7] The third revised and extended edition of the authors' monograph on the subject was published in 2021.[45]

Summary table

The following table summarizes the proposed identifications of Phaistos signs with Linear A/B,[citation needed] the Arkalochori Axe glyphs,[citation needed] and Luwian hieroglyphs:

No. Sign Linear A Arkalochori Axe Luwian hieroglyphs[7]
01 01 'SARU'
02 02 04,07,10 04 'A2'
10 10 AB79 01 'ZU'
11 11 'SOL SUUS'
12 12 AB78 01 'QE' 'TURPI'
15 15 A364 01 B232
16 16 AB74 01 'ZE' ?
17 17 A322 01
18 18 AB37 01 'TI'
19 19 AB31 01 'SA' 11 11
22 22 A318 01
23 23 AB05 01 'TO' or AB06 01 'NA' 13 13
24 24 AB54 01 'WA'
25 25 AB86 01[46]
29 29 AB80 01 'MA' 08 08
30 30 AB13 01 'ME', AB85?
31 31 AB81 01 'KU'
34 34 AB39 01 'PI'
35 35 AB04 01 'TE' 09 09
36 36 AB30 01 'NI'
39 39 AB28 01 'I' 02 02 'TARHUNT'
40 40 AB26 01 'RU' or AB27 01 'RE'
43 43 AB66 01 'TA2'
45 45 AB76 01 'RA2'

List of decipherment claims

Decipherment claims can be categorized into linguistic decipherments, identifying the language of the inscription, and non-linguistic decipherments. A purely logographical reading is not linguistic in the strict sense: while it may reveal the meaning of the inscription, it will not allow for the identification of the underlying language.

Linguistic

Unless said otherwise, the attempts below assumed the right-to-left (clockwise, edge-to-center) reading direction, starting with side A.

Non-linguistic or logographic

  • Paolo Ballotta, 1974: interpretation as logographic writing.
  • Leon Pomerance, 1976: interpretation as astronomical document.
  • Reiner J. van Meerten, 1977: interpretation as documentation of a gift to Minos.[56]
  • Peter Aleff, 1982:interpretation as ancient gameboard.[57][58]
  • Ole Hagen, 1988: interpretation as calendar.[59]
  • Harald Haarmann, 1990: interpretation as logographic writing.
  • Bernd Schomburg, 1997: calendar interpretation, logograms.[60]
  • Patrick Berlingame, 2010: interpretation as the mythical labyrinth.
  • Hermann Wenzel, 1998: astronomical interpretation.[61]
  • Alan Butler, 1999: interpretation as calendar.
  • Friedhelm Will, 2000: interpretation as number-philosophically-document of "Atlantean" origin.
  • Axel Hausmann, 2002: document from Atlantis, dated to 4400 B.C., logographic reading.
  • Helène Whittaker, 2005: a votive miniature version of a game board similar to the Egyptian Mehen.
  • Wolfgang Reczko, 2009: eclipse table for Knossos, covering 4 Saros cycles of 18 years each.[62]

Unicode

A set of 46 symbols from the Phaistos Disc, comprising Evans's 45 signs and one combining oblique stroke, have been encoded in Unicode since April 2008 (Unicode version 5.1). They are assigned to the range 101D0–101FF in Plane 1 (the Supplementary Multilingual Plane). These characters were encoded with strong left-to-right directionality, and so in code charts and text (such as elsewhere on this page) the glyphs are mirrored from the way they appear on the disc itself.

Phaistos Disc[1][2]
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+101Dx 𐇐 𐇑 𐇒 𐇓 𐇔 𐇕 𐇖 𐇗 𐇘 𐇙 𐇚 𐇛 𐇜 𐇝 𐇞 𐇟
U+101Ex 𐇠 𐇡 𐇢 𐇣 𐇤 𐇥 𐇦 𐇧 𐇨 𐇩 𐇪 𐇫 𐇬 𐇭 𐇮 𐇯
U+101Fx 𐇰 𐇱 𐇲 𐇳 𐇴 𐇵 𐇶 𐇷 𐇸 𐇹 𐇺 𐇻 𐇼 𐇽
Notes
1.^ As of Unicode version 15.1
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

Modern use

Side A of the Phaistos Disc is used as the logo of FORTH, one of the largest research centers in Greece.

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c d e Evans, Arthur J. (1909). Scripta Minoa, the written documents of Minoan Crete, with special reference to the archives of Knossos. Oxford: Clarendon Press. OL 7128491M.
  2. ^ a b c Balistier, Thomas (2000). The Phaistos Disc – an account of its unsolved mystery. Verlag Dr Thomas Balistier. ISBN 978-3980616805.
  3. ^ Spencer McDaniel 2022, The Baffling Ancient Unsolved Mystery of the Phaistos Disk.
  4. ^ "C.Michael Hogan, Phaistos fieldnotes, The Modern Antiquarian, 2007". Archived from the original on 2016-04-16. Retrieved 2008-02-22.
  5. ^ Pernier, Luigi, "Il Disco di Phaestos con Caratteri Pittografici (Tav. IX-XIII)", Ausonia 3, pp. 255-302, 1909
  6. ^ a b c Yves Duhoux (1977): Le disque de phaestos, Leuven.
  7. ^ a b c d e Winfried Achterberg, Jan Best, Kees Enzler, Lia Rietveld, and Fred Woudhuizen (2004): The Phaistos Disc: A Luwian letter to Nestor. Volume 13 of the Publications of the Henry Frankfort Foundation.ISBN 978-90-72067-11-1
  8. ^ a b c d Eisenberg, Jerome M. (2008). "The Phaistos Disk: one hundred year old hoax?". Minerva (July/August): 9–24.
  9. ^ a b c Schwartz, Benjamin (April 1959). "The Phaistos Disk". Journal of Near Eastern Studies. 18 (2): 105–112. doi:10.1086/371517. ISSN 0022-2968. S2CID 162272726.
  10. ^ a b Schwartz, Benjamin (1959). "The Phaistos Disk II". Journal of Near Eastern Studies. 18 (3): 222–226. doi:10.1086/371536. ISSN 0022-2968. JSTOR 543423. S2CID 163120992.
  11. ^ a b Brekle, Herbert E. (1997). "Das typographische Prinzip. Versuch einer Begriffsklärung". Gutenberg-Jahrbuch (in German). Vol. 72. pp. 58–63. Archived from the original on 2011-07-16.((cite magazine)): CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  12. ^ "blind printing". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  13. ^ Herbert E. Brekle (2005): Die Prüfeninger Weiheinschrift von 1119. Eine paläographisch-typographische Untersuchung (brief summary Archived 2011-10-01 at the Wayback Machine), Scriptorium Verlag für Kultur und Wissenschaft, Regensburg, ISBN 3-937527-06-0
  14. ^ Diamond, Jared (1997). "13: Necessity's Mother: The evolution of technology". Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Society. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0-393-03891-0.
  15. ^ a b c Michael Everson and John H. Jenkins (1997): "Proposal for encoding the Phaistos Disc characters in the SMP of the UCS Archived 2022-12-05 at the Wayback Machine", ISO/IEC JTC1/SC2/WG2 Working Group Document N3066R (L2/06-095R), 2006-04-01.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i Louis Godart (1995): The Phaistos Disc: the enigma of an Aegean script. translated by Alexandra Doumas. Éditions Itanos. ISBN 960-7549-02-3
  17. ^ a b Michael Everson (2011): "Response to L2/11‐126 'Phaistos Disc Errata' Archived 2023-07-27 at the Wayback Machine" ISO Working Group Document L2/11-166, 2011-05-06.
  18. ^ Ancient-Greece.org. "Knossos Plan". Archived from the original on 2020-11-27. Retrieved 2012-10-04.
  19. ^ a b c d Giorgia Baldacci (2021): "The Phaistos Disk-An Enigmatic Artifact in its Cultural Context Archived 2023-08-25 at the Wayback Machine". The Ancient Near East (online journal), volume 9, issue 11 (November). Accessed on 2023-08-25.
  20. ^ Evans, Arthur J. (1921). The palace of Minos: a comparative account of the successive stages of the early Cretan civilization as illustrated by the discoveries at Knossos. Vol. 1. London: Macmillan and Co. Ltd. LCCN 22006622. OCLC 3536093. OL 7063760M. It might, a priori, have been supposed that the signs of the inscriptions had run outwards[...].
  21. ^ Arie ten Cate (2013): "A statistical analysis of the rotated signs of the Phaistos Disc", Pioneer Journal of Theoretical and Applied Statistics, volume 6, issue 2, pages 81-88
  22. ^ ten Cate, Arie (2011). "Patterns on an ancient artifact: a coincidence?". Statistica Neerlandica. 65 (1): 116–124. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9574.2010.00478.x. S2CID 247700947.
  23. ^ Gustave Glotz, Marryat Ross Dobie, and E. M. Riley (1925): The Aegean Civilization. Knopf.
  24. ^ a b Gunther Ipsen (1929): "Der Diskus von Phaistos: Ein Versuch zur Entzifferung". Indogermanische Forschungen, volume 47, issue 1, pages 1-40. doi:10.1515/if-1929-0102
  25. ^ Hnila, Pavol. "Notes on the Authenticity of the Phaistos Disk". Archived from the original on 2023-09-04. Retrieved 2016-02-21 – via www.academia.edu. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  26. ^ Seal of the month – 2013 Archived 2023-04-22 at the Wayback Machine Heidelberg University
  27. ^ Torsten Timm (2003): "The inscription on the Arkalochori axe Archived 2017-10-08 at the Wayback Machine". Online article, at the Kereti website. Accessed on 2023-09-02.
  28. ^ Michael Trauth (1990): "The Phaistos Disc and the Devil's Advocate: On the Aporias of an Ancient Topic of Research". Glottometrika, volume 12 Archived 2023-08-25 at the Wayback Machine (= Quantitative linguistics, volume 45), pages 151–173. Quote: "Crete as [the] source of the Disc can no longer be called into question."
  29. ^ Yves Duhoux (2000:): "How not to decipher the Phaistos Disc Archived 2016-08-19 at the Wayback Machine", American Journal of Archaeology, volume 104, issue 3, pages 597–600.
  30. ^ a b Andrew Robinson (2008): "A century of puzzling". Nature, volume 453, pages 990–991 doi:10.1038/453990a S2CID 5166897 PMID 18563139 Quote: "Most scholars today, including Duhoux, think it a plausible working hypothesis that the disc was made in Crete."
  31. ^ Eisenberg, Jerome M. (2008). "Phaistos Disk: A 100-Year-Old Hoax? Addenda, Corrigenda, and Comments" (PDF). Minerva (September/October): 15–16. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-10-19.
  32. ^ "Dalya Alberge, "Phaistos Disc declared as fake by scholar", The Times, 12 July 2008". Archived from the original on 2009-03-17.
  33. ^ Campbell-Dunn, Graham (2006). Who Were the Minoans?. AuthorHouse. p. 207. ISBN 978-1-4259-2007-4.
  34. ^ "Arachne". arachne.dainst.org. Archived from the original on 2023-09-04. Retrieved 2023-09-04.
  35. ^ A. Cuny
  36. ^ Werner Nahm (1975): "Vergleich von Zeichen des Diskos von Phaistos mit Linear A". Kadmos, volume 14, issue 2, pages 97–101 doi:10.1515/kadmos-1975-0202S2CID 201808440
  37. ^ Torsten Timm (2004): "Der Diskos von Phaistos – Anmerkungen zur Deutung und Textstruktur Archived 2018-10-05 at the Wayback Machine". Indogermanische Forschungenvolume 109, issue 2004, pages 204–231. doi:10.1515/16130405.204 S2CID 170325659
  38. ^ Facchetti, Giulio M. "Statistical data and morphematic elements in Linear A". Kadmos. 38 (2. (1999)).
  39. ^ a b Torsten, Timm (2008) [2005]. Der Diskos von Phaistos - Fremdeinfluss oder kretisches Erbe? (in German) (2nd ed.). Books on Demand. ISBN 978-3833424519.
  40. ^ S. Davis (1961): The Phaistos disk and the Eteocretan Inscriptions from Psychro and Praisos. Witwatersrand University Press.
  41. ^ B. E. Newton (1962): "S. Davis: The Phaistos Disc and the Eteocretan Inscriptions (Book Review)". Acta Classica, volume 5, page 75.
  42. ^ S. Davis, (1964): "Cretan Hieroglyphs: The end of a Quest?" Greece & Rome, volume 11, issue 2, pages 106-127. doi:10.1017/S0017383500014121
  43. ^ Jan G. P. Best, Fred C. Woudhuizen (1988): Ancient Scripts from Crete and Cyprus. Volume 9 of the publications of the Henri Frankfort Foundation. 131 pages. ISBN 9789004084315
  44. ^ Jan G. P. Best, Fred C. Woudhuizen (1989): Lost Languages from the Mediterranean. Volume 10 of the publications of the Henri Frankfort Foundation. 179 pages. ISBN 9789004089341
  45. ^ Winfried Achterberg, Jan Best, Kees Enzler, Lia Rietveld, Fred Woudhuizen 2021, The Phaistos Disc: A Luwian Letter to Nestor. Third revised and extended edition: 2021. Amsterdam. academia.edu
  46. ^ "Ancient Greece". Archived from the original on 2008-10-08. Retrieved 2006-08-03.
  47. ^ Hempl, George (January 1911). "The Solving of an Ancient Riddle: Ionic Greek before Homer". Harper's Monthly Magazine. Vol. 122, no. 728. pp. 187–198 – via Internet Archive.
  48. ^ Stawell, F. Melian (1911). "An Interpretation of the Phaistos Disk". The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs. 19 (97): 23–38. ISSN 0951-0788. JSTOR 858643.
  49. ^ Jean Faucounau (1975): "Le déchiffrement du Disque de Phaistos est-il possible par des méthodes statistiques ?" Revue des Études Anciennes, volume 77, issues 1-4, pages 9-19. doi:10.3406/rea.1975.3981
  50. ^ Jean Faucounau (1999): Le déchiffrement du Disque de Phaistos. Paris.
  51. ^ Jean Faucounau (2001): Les Proto-Ioniens : histoire d'un peuple oublié. Paris.
  52. ^ Steven R. Fischer (1988): Evidence for Hellenic Dialect in the Phaistos Disk. ISBN 3-261-03703-2
  53. ^ Derk Ohlenroth (1996): Das Abaton des lykäischen Zeus und der Hain der Elaia: Zum Diskos von Phaistos und zur frühen griechischen Schriftkultur. ISBN 3-484-80008-9
  54. ^ Adam Martin (2000): Der Diskos von Phaistos – Ein zweisprachiges Dokument geschrieben in einer frühgriechischen Alphabetschrift ISBN 3-9807169-1-0.
  55. ^ "daidalika/07_chapter_85-99" (PDF). [permanent dead link]
  56. ^ van Meerten, Rainer J (1977). "Decipherment of the Phaistos Disc with help of a Probability Method". SMIL Journal of Linguistic Calculus. 1977 (1): 29–104.
  57. ^ Peter Aleff (1982): interpretation as ancient gameboard Archived 2021-01-26 at the Wayback Machine
  58. ^ "The Phaistos Disc: Roll 'em". Archived from the original on 2017-04-18. Retrieved 2006-05-05.
  59. ^ Ole Hagen (1988): interpretation as calendar
  60. ^ Bernd Schomburg (1997): calendar interpretation, logograms Archived 2017-11-20 at the Wayback Machine
  61. ^ Hermann Wenzel(1998): astronomical interpretation Archived 2021-02-24 at the Wayback Machine
  62. ^ Reczko, Wolfgang (1 December 2009). "Analyzing and dating the structure of the Phaistos Disk". Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences. 1 (4): 241–245. Bibcode:2009ArAnS...1..241R. doi:10.1007/s12520-009-0015-2. ISSN 1866-9565. S2CID 129823808.

Further reading

General

  • Bennett, Emmett L. (1996) — Aegean Scripts, (in The World's Writing Systems, Peter T. Daniels and William Bright (Eds.) Oxford: University Press. ISBN 0-19-507993-0
  • Chadwick, John. The Decipherment of Linear B, Cambridge University Press, 1958.
  • Faure, P. "Tourne disque", l'énigme du disque de Phaistos, Notre Histoire n°213, October 2003 (PDF 0.7 Mb[permanent dead link]).
  • Gaur, Albertine. 1984 — A History of Writing — Charles Scribner's Sons.
  • Kober, Alice. The Minoan Scripts: Facts and Theory, American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 52, No. 1 (1948), pp. 82–103.
  • Sornig, Karl (2006). "The ultimate assessment". Grazer Linguistische Studien (65): 151–155.
  • International Phaistos Disk Conference 2008, sponsored by Minerva Magazine. abstracts

Attempted decipherments

  • Aartun, Kjell, 'Der Diskos von Phaistos; Die beschriftete Bronzeaxt; Die Inschrift der Taragona-tafel' in Die minoische Schrift : Sprache und Texte vol. 1, Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz (1992) ISBN 3-447-03273-1
  • Ephron, Henry D, (1962), "Tharso and Iaon: The Phaistos Disk, Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, Vol. 66. (1962), pp. 1–91. JSTOR URL
  • Gordon, F. G. 1931. Through Basque to Minoan: transliterations and translations of the Minoan tablets. London: Oxford University Press.
  • Hausmann, Axel, Der Diskus von Phaistos. Ein Dokument aus Atlantis, BoD GmbH (2002), ISBN 3-8311-4548-2.
  • [1] Thomas G. Palaima, Emmet L. Bennet, Jr., Michael G.F. Ventris, Alice E. Kober, "Cryptanalysis, Decipherment and the Phaistos Disc.", in M.-L. Nosch and H. Landenius-Enegren eds., Aegean Scripts, (Incunabula Graeca 105, Rome: 2017) vol. 2, pp. 771–788
  • Polygiannakis, Ο Δισκος της Φαιστού Μιλάει Ελληνικά (The Phaistos disk speaks in Greek), Georgiadis, Athens (2000).
  • Pomerance, Leon, The Phaistos Disk: An Interpretation of Astronomical Symbols, Paul Astroms forlag, Goteborg (1976). reviewed by D. H. Kelley in The Journal of Archeoastronomy (Vol II, number 3, Summer 1979)
  • Whittaker, Helène (2005). "Social and Symbolic Aspects of Minoan writing". European Journal of Archaeology. 8 (1): 29–41. doi:10.1177/1461957105058207. S2CID 162881074.
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