Linear A; Ancient Writing Used More Than 4,000 Years Ago Remains Undecipherable

Understanding ancient languages is one of the keys to understanding the past but Linear A has proven to be one of the unsolvable scripts of the ancient world.

Linear A is a form of a Cretan script containing hundreds of characters and has not yet been deciphered. It was used by several ancient Greek civilizations between 1850 and 1400 BC.

After the invasion of Crete by the Achaeans, it was replaced by Linear B, which was deciphered in the 1950s, and it turned out to be one of the earliest forms of the Greek language.

Linear A was never deciphered, and the codes for Linear B are not suitable for it. The reading of most of the signs is known, but the language remains incomprehensible. Most of its traces were found in Crete, however, there were written monuments in this language in mainland Greece, Israel, Turkey, and even in Bulgaria.

If the researchers first turned to Linear B, then they had quite legitimate reasons for this. This letter is attested in more numerous and much better-preserved documents than Linear A and the Cretan-Mycenaean hieroglyphs.

The first monuments of Linear A – tablets and other objects covered with inscriptions were found by Sir Arthur Evans at Knossos. True, the finds of inscriptions in Linear A were only an insignificant part, and the bulk of the finds belonged to Linear B.

The 45 different signs we know of Linear A illustrated on the Phaistos Disc. Credit: LiveInternet.ru
The 45 different signs we know of Linear A illustrated on the Phaistos Disc. Credit: LiveInternet.ru

But on the other hand, in the small palace of the city of Agia Triada, located not far from Festus in the southern part of Crete (where the richest archaeological material is still found), Italians found monuments of Linear A on tablets and clay discs. 

In 1923, the French opened a whole archive of clay tablets at Mallia, where, along with the late “hieroglyphs”, there are also the initial forms of Linear A. Many places on the island gave scientists a number of separate finds. 

This writing is of particular interest because, on the one hand, it is undoubtedly related to even more ancient Cretan hieroglyphs, on the other, it should be considered as the predecessor or sister of Linear B.

In fact, these scripts share 48 characters in common, and of these, 20 are derived from ancient drawings. Usually, the finds of Linear A date back to the time starting from 1650 BC, the heyday of this letter falls presumably in 1550, and it could have been used until about 1350 BC.

As it is now commonly believed, the basis of Linear A was the language of the pre-Greek, ancient population of Crete. This opinion is connected with the assumption that Linear B arose, at least in part, from Linear A, and it “sits” in ancient Mycenaean Greek as badly as a suit from someone else’s shoulder.

If it was possible to decipher the Cretan hieroglyphs and Linear A, then the question of the language of the mysterious and most ancient indigenous population of Crete would have been resolved.

Side A of the famous Phaistos Disc. Credit: Ancient.eu
Side A of the famous Phaistos Disc. Credit: Ancient.eu

Another find that has remained unexplained for more than 100 years has invariably attracted attention, but today it is as mysterious as it was on the first day.

The Italian archaeological expedition of 1908, led by Professor F. Halbgerr, was lucky to retrieve this unique piece – the Phaistos disc

It is made of fine clay. The disc is not round; its outline is rather irregular. The signs, in all likelihood, were imprinted with special stamp-seals, obviously, a separate stamp was made for each sign. There are 45 characters in total.

Side B of the same artifact. Credit: Ancient.eu
Side B of the same artifact. Credit: Ancient.eu

Overall, we know just about this much. Since the time of Sir Arthur Evans who defined the Linear A script, there has not been a single step forward in solving this ancient mystery.

And the disk is still waiting. Both sides of it involuntarily catch the eye, they graciously invite specialists to take part in new attempts at interpretation and call on the uninitiated, whose brain is not burdened with various initial hypotheses and considerations, to experience high pleasure, plunging into the abyss of reflections and conjectures. 

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Sources:

Cartwright, M. (2020, November 25). Phaistos Disk. Retrieved November 27, 2020, from https://www.ancient.eu/Phaistos_Disk/

Younger, J. (2000). Table of Contents. Retrieved November 27, 2020, from http://people.ku.edu/~jyounger/LinearA/

 

 

Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. My experience as a freelance writer began in 2018 but I have been part of the Curiosmos family since mid-2020. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.
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