THE PHAISTOS DISK
In 1903 the Phaistos Disk, one of the most puzzling objects ever discovered, was found in a building at the Minoan palace at Hagia Triada on the Greek island of Crete (Phaistos site).
The Disk, 16 centimeters in diameter (or 6 inches, approximately the size of the palm of your hand) was originally dated 17th Century BCE because of some tablets of that date found next to it.
The Disk is inscribed on both sides. "Inscribed" is perhaps not the right word: a hieroglyphic text, arranged in bands, spiraling either to or from the center, has been impressed with forty- five different wooden or metal punches into the originally soft clay.
There are 241 signs in all, arranged in groups divided by vertical lines. Among them are figures of standing or running men, women, and children, heads with feather crowns, fish, birds, insects, vessels, shields, boughs, ships, tools, parts of animals, and others.
The content of the inscription has yet to be deciphered in a satisfactory manner, despite the dedicated efforts of scholars of all nations. The text is possibly a religious hymn. That the room in which it was discovered was holy is obvious from the series of thin brick partitions forming receptacles in which sacred objects were stored.
Various languages have been suggested, some of which are rather improbable, such as Basque or Finnish. According to one scholar, the text is a list of soldiers; to another it is a hymn to the "rain lord"; another believes that here the king speaks about the construction of the palace at Phaistos.
Nothing similar has ever been found in Crete - or indeed anywhere else. This is, in fact, a real anticipation of a printed inscription, several millennia before Gutenberg.
Some scholars believe the Disk may have been made in Anatolia, while more recently on the basis of some strong evidence others consider it probably Cretan.
similar in concept to The Voynich Manuscript
The Phaistos Disk (or Phaestos Disk, Festos Disk) was discovered in the basement of room XL-101 of the Minoan palace-site of Phaistos, near Hagia Triada, on the south coast of Crete.
Italian archaeologist Luigi Pernier recovered this remarkably intact "dish", not larger than seven inches in diameter, in the evening of July 3, 1908.
The context of the basement cells, which were neatly covered with a layer of fine plaster and only accessible from above, was significantly poor in precious objects and rich in black earth, ashes and burned bovine bones. Some twenty inches above the floor, and a few inches north, linear A tablet PH-1 was also found. Luigi Pernier attributed his finding to a "Temple Depository" inside the first Minoan palace where he conducted his excavation.
The site apparently collapsed during the famous ca. 1628 BC event of the Minoan world and the Mediterranean basin at large. The Phaistos disk was impressed in fresh clay with pre-formed hyeroglyphic "seals" on both its sides, in a clockwise sequence spiralling towards the disk center. It was then very well cooked so that it is intact nowadays, some 3800 years afterwards.
There are around 241 figures in the Phaistos Disk, quite a few corrections and some ancillary but clearly stamped signs - in the likes of toponymical marks. No more than fifty-one different glyphs represent common "objects", and not ideas. These drawings include sketches of human figures, fish, birds, insects, plants, a boat, a shield, a staff, etc. As a stamped "engraving" (not a calamos-inscribed cuneiform tablet), the disk bears one of the earliest printed material known so far. This unique object is now on display at the archaeological museum of Heraklion in Crete, Greece.
A great deal of speculation developed around the disk in the better part of the 20th century. The Phaistos Disk captured the imagination of amateur archeologists. Alas, some of the more fanciful interpretations of its meaning are living classics of pseudoarchaeology.
Many attempts have been made to decipher the code behind the disk's glyphs. Historically, almost anything has been proposed, including prayers, a narrative or an adventure story, a "psalterion", a call to arms and a geometric theorem. However, the most interesting current interpretation is based on just two simple ideas:
First, the text is "written" in a proto-Ionian language, so that it should be interpreted as Greek, not as some pre-Greek or Anatolian counterpart, be it indo-european or not.
Second, all of the disk's glyphs are nothing else but acrophonic mnemonics, so that the head of a boy for instance, *kou=ros, represents the sounds [K] and [O] like in the first syllable [ko] of the English word co-operative.
It is now established (although still poorly recognized) that the interpretation of the Phaistos Disk glyphs attempted by Jean Faucounau is definitive. Indeed, statistical considerations, deep cultural knowledge, and internal evidence of the word instantiations occuring only once converge in a most difficult and most acceptable interpretation which is compelling, both occamian and esthetically pleasing.
Jean Faucounau dwelled on the exhaustive review of prior work belonging to Ms Florence Melian Stawell and sir Arthur Evans. He published several dozen articles and three books on the matter, during the last thirty years.
If Mr Faucounau is right (and his work is commanding the utmost attention), then the Phaistos Disk is certainly the earliest known inscription of an Indo-European language decoded so far. Indeed, the Phaistos Disk belongs to the 2000 BC - 1700 BC phase of the early Cycladic Bronze Age.
Immediate consequences of such an interpretation of Faucounau's discovery include displacement of the highest current chronology in the Ancient Cycladic well towards Troy I, promotion of proto-Ionians to the status of thalassocracy (preceding the Minoans), and downright re-writing of the Mediterranean history.
The sea people who carved the Phaistos Disk in clay must then have been contemporary with those mysterious navigators around Delos who gave names to constellations, settled all around the Mediterranean and florished well in advance of the Minoan thalassocracy. In conclusion, proto-Ionians must have used advanced systems of mobile printing and acrophonic writing that paralleled and possibly preceded the Egyptian and even the Sumerian inscriptions.