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Deciphering the Minoans

How Michael Ventris did it

clay tablet KN Fp 13, dated to 1450-1375 BC

The great fires that ravaged the Minoan palaces around 1450 BC had the side-effect of baking the clay tablets on which the Minoans scratched their mysterious script. Three types of writing have been found: the earliest, unfathomable ‘pictographic’ script of the Phaistos disc; Linear A, used from the 18th to the 15th centuries BC; and Linear B, current after the rise of the Mycenaeans (c. 1450 BC).

Few examples of Linear A script have been found, and nearly all were at the major temple sites in Eastern Crete. On the other hand, thousands of Linear B tablets have been uncovered, both in Crete (some 3,000 at Knossos alone) and on the Greek mainland.

Ancient scripts fired Arthur Evans’s imagination: accidental finds of Linear B writing were what propelled him to Crete in the first place. By the time he died in 1941, he could claim to have been the discoverer of Europe’s first civilization, but he never accomplished what he had set out to do: translate the Minoans.

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Sidelights and Myths

Text © Dana Facaros

Images by vintagedept, Creative Commons License, Wikipedia, Creative Commons License