The PHAESTOS DISC

and the Lithuanian Language

by Alexander Grant (Aleksandras Pridatkas) © November 1975

28 North Feus, Upper Largo, Fife KY8 6ER Scotland

(Editing and design layout by Alan Craig, Brisbane, Australia, 2015)
ALSO SEE: Translation of the LEMNOS STELE

The Discovery of the Disc

In July 1909, Dr Julio Pernier, of the Italian Archaeological Mission in Crete, discovered a circular clay tablet, both sides of which were incised with ‘hieroglyphic’ signs. At the time, he was engaged in the excavation of a chamber under some Hellenic constructions at the north-eastern extremity of the Phaestos Acropolis. In the same chamber were found a ‘Linear A’ tablet, together with pottery belonging to the beginning of the Neo-Palatial Period.1Neo-Palatial Period: 1700–1600BC. By implication, the circular clay tablet, the famous Phaestos Disc, must belong to a period no later than this, and, it could be an intrusion from earlier times. Evans 2Evans, Arthur J. (1909). Scripta Minoa (Vol. 1, p. 287). Clarendon Press, Oxford. considered 1600BC to be a minimal dating.

Description of the Discover

The Disc is about 17 cm in diameter and is made of terracotta. Each side is inscribed with hieroglyphic signs, which are arranged to spiral inwards from the periphery. The signs are not hand-drawn. Dies, probably of stone, had been pressed into the clay matrix, while it was still soft, to produce the signs. In view of the great number of seal-stones which have been found in Crete, the development of such a printing technique may have been a natural extension of the wide-spread use of seals.

When one considers the fact that a total of 45 different kinds of signs were used, it becomes obvious that whoever fashioned the Disc would not have employed such a complicated technique for the production of a solitary isolated tablet. No other similar tablets have been found, however. As a consequence, for some time, the Disc was thought to be an import from Asia Minor,3ibid (p. 278). Compares the ‘tower’ with Lycian architecture. but, with the discovery in a cave at Arkalokhori of a double-axe inscribed with similar signs, Platon,4Alexiou, S. (1969). Guide du Musée Archéologique d’Héraclion (pp. 52–53). Previous edition by N. Platon. AJexiou 5Alexiou, S. (1969). Minoan Civilization (p.127).  and others, concluded that the Disc, like the axe,6Now in the museum in Heraklion. was indigenous to Crete.

Unlike the signs, the bounding line contiguous with the general direction of the text on each side of the Disc—and the shorter lines, which divide the signs into words or phrases—appear to have been hand-drawn. The general effect is that of a series of ‘cartouches’ arranged in the form of a spiral. The significance of this particular format is not clear. Gedgaudas  7In an article concerning my work, published in Dirva (Cleveland), 12 & 14 March 1975. [This is likely to be Dirva Lithuanian Newspaper, 19807 Cherokee Avenue, Cleveland OH 44119; ed.] relates the spiral form and its clockwise orientation to the ancient Indo-European cosmogenic concepts of the ‘World-Serpent’, and the ‘Sacred Pathway of the Sun’.

The History of this Decipherment

I became interested in the Phaestos Disc in the early 1950s and, over a period of many months, I succeeded in evaluating some of the signs (described below in The Decipherment, Part 1). As I had assumed, ab initio, a connection between the hieroglyphic signs of the Disc and the cursive signs of Linear B, I abandoned my work when the Chadwick-Ventris8Chadwick, J., & Ventris, M. (1956). Documents in Mycenaean Greek. C.U.P. breakthrough in Linear B was announced. I assumed, wrongly as it turned out to be, that the Disc would be deciphered en passant, as it were.

In the summer of 1972, while in Crete, I visited the Archaeological Museum in Heraklion, where the Disc is on display. Enquiries elicited the fact that the Disc had not been deciphered. Consequently, on my return home, I began to retrace my steps from cold, my original worksheets having disappeared in the interval. At the same time, I took a long, critical look at Chadwick’s The Decipherment of Linear B.9Chadwick, J. (1970). The Decipherment of Linear B. C.U.P.

By December of the same year, I had recovered most of the ground which I had lost in the interval, when I again had to give up my research. This period of inactivity lasted for the larger part of 1973. On 30 September, I decided to attempt a synthesis of the two disparate elements, the Ventris’ Table of Values, and the ideas which had evolved during my original research. The result was startling. After “23 years and 25 minutes” the Disc came alive.10During a seminar held in February 1975 in Santa Monica, I was asked how the long decipherment of the Disc had taken me. As an answer was expected, I replied, “Twenty-three years and 25 minutes.”

The Decipherment – Part 1

Assumptions and Criteria

  1. The inscription starts at the periphery and reads inwards, following the usual convention of hieroglyphic scripts in which faces and figures are approached frontally.
  2. The language is Indo-European.
  3. Each sign represents a syllabic phoneme.
  4. Inversion of a sign is deliberate and significant.
  5. The stroke placed on the last sign in a cartouche modifies the preceding word in some way.
  6. Each cartouche contains a significant unit (a word or a phrase).
  7. The combination ‘warrior-wheel’ appears to be a word.
  8. Signs occurring at or near the ends of ‘words’ carry full consonant-vowel values.
  9. Conversely, signs occurring only at or near the beginning of ‘words’ are possible vowels.
  10. There may be a ‘rebus’ connection between the language and the signs.
  11. If the Language is Indo-European, the consonant may be a sufficient determinative.
  12. It may be necessary to treat each consonant as a ‘set’ of morphs (morphological variants), and to distinguish between ‘high’ and ‘low’ registers.
  13. Diphthongs and semi-vowels may be common.
  14. Whatever emerges must be internally consistent, and must conform to the normal characteristics of language in sound, sense, grammar, syntax, etc.
  15. If one assumes a connection between the object depicted by a sign and its sound, some (such as the ‘water sign’) may be evaluated because of the restricted number of root words present in Indo-European languages.

Evaluation

H45 The Water Sign

At first sight, we appear to be faced with the insoluble problem of the unknown language in the unknown script. But, if we assume a) that the language is Indo-European, and b) that the meaning of the sign and its sound are connected, there are only two viable possibilities: the sound is a vowel arising from the ekutani/aqua group of words; or it derives from the vand/water group. (Words based on the root ‘Ner’ appear to be late intrusions and, presumably, can be ignored.)

Positionally, the sign may stand for a vowel. Alternatively, it may be vand/water ignoring the vowel. We can represent this small set by Ṽ. Probable values of the ‘water sign’ are À, or Ṽ. Essentially, such an approach is heuristic and organic. In Table A, I give only the briefest of explanations for each evaluation.

* Reference links from table for: H29;11Hrozny, B. (1933). Les Inscriptions Hittites Hiéroglyphiques. P. Geuthner, Paris. H02;12Graves, R. (1948). The White Goddess. Faber & Faber. Contains 3 references to ‘Q’er’. H06;13The Homeric address (e.g. to a goddess). H27;14Because the frequently recurring ‘-osos’ endings in Cretan place names, I felt reasonably certain that at least one of the duplicated signs, would have an ‘S’ value. and H31.15c.f. the goddess ‘Iahu’. The White Goddess, ibid.

It must be emphasised that the above values provide merely the framework for a working hypothesis and, at this stage, no breakthrough has been made.

PART 2

An initiating hypothesis can be completely wrong, yet it may show one the correct path to take—provided that it is tested thoroughly, and that pertinent questions are asked.

At this stage, I had tentative ‘values’ for 12 Signs.16As in the 1970 edition of the Decipherment of Linear B (ibid.). The obvious step was to compare them with the Ventris values for the corresponding Linear B Signs. I added some additional points to my list of ‘Assumptions and Criteria’:

  1. The values obtained by Ventris for Linear B are reasonably accurate.
  2. The vowels of his syllabic phonemes may have to be ignored.
  3. The consonants should be ‘set’ for, say, two places above and below the Ventris value.

The Comparison

The results were sufficiently encouraging for the reverse process to be attempted: evaluating the Disc signs by reference to the corresponding Linear B values. By this method, 25 signs were evaluated. In some cases, the final form of the ‘vowel’ was determined after identification of the language of the Disc, either from the ‘rebus’, or from the context of the passage (see Table A).

Identification of the Language

At this stage, the equipment for decipherment, and, for the subsequent identification of the language consists of:

  1. Twenty-nine values for the Linear B equivalents of the Disc signs given in Tables A & B. Of these, the 25 signs of Table A were found to be reasonably close to the values ultimately determined. The values of the 4 signs in Table B required some modification. The values of 3 signs, those of Table C, were found to be misleading.
  2. Five values ‘determined’ in the course of the first phase of the decipherment, for which, as yet, no alternatives had been found. These were: 
    • ‘inverted ox’ – E 
    • ‘flambeau’ – I or U (the ‘pointing-finger’ was ascribed the value ‘0’) 
    • ‘pregnant-woman’ – M。
    • ‘lips’ – Ḷ
    • ‘tower’ – Ś ( this was dropped very shortly). 
  1. The identification of ‘warrior wheel’ as a separate word.17See Part 1 Assumptions and Criteria, point 7. To demonstrate the method, the preliminary reading of the first 12 ‘cartouches’ is given.

 

Reference link from table: Side B–3818The Disc is very worn in this place. In place of the usual restoration (‘warrior’), I would suggest ‘gravestone’, to give the ending ‘Ka’ (see later).

With little more than one-third of each side of the Disc ‘read’, we already have several words, and two complete sentences that can be understood. These point unerringly to one particular language: Lithuanian. 

Taking the words first:

 

Now the sentences:

Some slaves died alongside the princess. Some died in fighting (each other)?

This is sufficiently encouraging for the next step to be attempted, that of relating the signs to the names in Lithuanian of the objects depicted. Most of the words that follow will be found in a modern Lithuanian dictionary. Some have passed out of usage because of San-Slav connotations—for example, skūra (skin). The Old East Prussian raumys (penis) exists as the verb iš-romyti (to castrate). Where, for example, there is a difference in vowel between the initial syllable of the Lithuanian word and the proposed value for the sign, considerations such as Linear B texts (see Paper 4) have been taken into account.

On an analogy with Sanskrit ka-danah and Linear B ke-kesana (spear: lit. ‘that which is thrust in’), I believe that the word ratas (wheel) had the original form ke-ratas, from ke-ritasi (‘that which turns’).

The value for the sign ‘tower’, although appearing in Table A, was not used in the passage above. In the context, the value ‘Ta’ is very reasonable, but I can suggest only very highly speculative explanations for this value. 

The Rebus

I suggest that the ‘stroke’ is the counterpart of the Lithuanian galunė, which is an accent rather like a little tail, and is attached to the bottom of the end vowel in the Accusative Singular and the Genitive Plural of nouns. This accent represents a vanished ‘n’ (possibly ‘No’ or ‘Nu’). Thus: vyras (nom.); vyrą (acc. sing.); vyrų (gen. pl.). The ‘n’  forms exist in Hittite.19Gabrys, P.J. (1948). Parenté des Langues Hittite et Lituanienne et la Préhistoire. Geneva University, Goerg et Cie. We are now in the position to attempt a full reading of the text. 

The Text

Translation

Notes on the text

Reference links from table for: 1;20 At the seminar in Santa Monica in February, 1975. 18;21A number of Kadmus Texts will be found in The Palace of Minos at Knossos by A.J. Evans ( MacMillan, 1935). These are mainly in Vol. 4, p. 740. 30;22Evans, E.G. (Ibid). Vol. 4, p. 724).; 36 and 45.23At the Santa Monica seminar.


Additional Bibliography (Lithuanian)

Gedgaudas, C. (1972). Mūsų Praeities Beieškant. Del Toro, Mexico. This book, In Search of our Heritage, is a history of the wanderings of the Indo-European Lithuanian peoples from the time of the destruction of Troy.

Dambriūnas, L., Klimas, A., Schmalstieg, W.R. (1980). An Introduction to Modern Lithuanian. 3rd ed., Franciscan Fathers, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11207.


Figures and Tables

FIGURES 1a & 1b – The Phaestos Disc Sides A and B


TABLE A – 25 signs showing close agreement in values with the corresponding Linear B signs.


TABLE B – The 2 signs at left carry a nasal addition to a Linear B vowel or diphthong. The 2 signs on the right exhibit an apparent Dzh/Zh … T/D morphology.


TABLE C – Three signs have radically different values


TABLE D – Four signs have not been evaluated by Ventris.


TABLE E – Nine signs whose cursive forms have not been identified. These were evaluated by textual content and the rebus.

References[+]


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