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Unraveling the Phaistos Disc – Historical Enigma or Ingenious Sham?
In 1908, an Italian researcher delved into the remains of Phaistos, a bygone Minoan stronghold situated on Crete's southern shoreline. Within a subterranean temple vault, amid scorched remains, grime, and cinders, he unearthed a remarkably preserved disc with a gold tint. This find has since become one of archaeology's most talked-about enigmas: The Phaistos Disc.
This disc, often called the Phaistos or Phaestos Disc, is a broad, sienna-hued, baked clay circular plate measuring around 15 cm (5.91 inches) across and 1 cm (0.39 inches) in thickness. Each face of this disc showcases a spiral filled with odd stamped insignias that wind their way clockwise to its core. It's believed these 45 distinct insignias were formed by embedding hieroglyphic stamps into the wet, malleable clay disc.
The Discovery Site of the Phaistos Disc?
It was the archaeologist Luigi Pernier who chanced upon this disc in a sub-level chamber of the palace during his dig. It's believed that a seismic tremor or volcanic explosion may have led to the site's downfall. Distinct relics, like the Arkalochori Axe, bearing resemblances in inscriptions, speculated to be Linear A (an undecoded script of ancient Greece), have been found elsewhere in Crete.
Interkriti writes of the ancient city:
“Phaistos was one of the most important centres of Minoan civilization, and the most wealthy and powerful city in southern Crete. It was inhabited from the Neolithic period until the foundation and development of the Minoan palaces in the 15th century B.C. […] According to mythology, Phaistos was the seat of king Radamanthis, brother of king Minos. It was also the city that gave birth to the great wise man and soothsayer Epimenidis, one of the seven wise men of the ancient world.”
The disc's purpose, the meaning behind its cryptic symbols, and even its origin at Phaistos remain subjects of ongoing debate among scholars.
Cryptic Insignias on the Phaistos Disc
The disc's most intriguing feature is undoubtedly the hieroglyphic sequence spiraling on both its surfaces. These icons, or pictograms, depict varied images like a pedestrian, a tattooed face, protective headgear, a projectile, shackles, felines, raptors, and others. Both the Minoan capital Knossos' discoverer, Sir Arthur Evans, in 1900, and Luigi Pernier tried and failed to decode the disc. Since then, over 26 notable efforts have been made to break the code.
The general consensus is that the script is Linear A, unassociated with any recognized language. However, some academics propose it could relate to multiple tongues, like Hittite, Homeric Greek, Indo-European, or a Semitic dialect. An article by WMMagazin cites Petr Kovar's "convincing" translation which indicates the script might be Proto-Slavic. Yet, there's no universally accepted translation.
Decoding Efforts Surrounding the Phaistos Disc Theories about the disc's significance range from it being an age-old chant, a gaming surface, an astral record, an Atlantis manuscript, a mythical narrative, a maze's description, female initiation ceremonies, to a celestial almanac.
There's uncertainty regarding whether to read the symbols from the disc's core spiraling out or the reverse. Further, scholars can't agree on whether the transcribed symbols should be read from right to left or the opposite. Many concur that without more context or symbol samples, successful decoding might remain elusive.
Yet, the allure of the disc remains. For instance, in 2015, Dr. Gareth Owens proposed that one disc side might praise the Minoan maternal deity, while the other honors Astarte, the love deity. This wasn't a direct translation but rather an inferred vocalization, inspired by Michael Ventris's code-breaking of Linear B. Owens clarified:
“We are reading the Phaistos disc with the vocal values of Linear B and with the help of comparative linguistics, ie comparing with other relative languages from the Indo-European language family. Reading something, however, does not mean understanding. The Disc of Phaistos is written in the Minoan script that records the Minoan language. This is the best sample of ‘Cretan hieroglyphics’, always in quotes, because it is not the writing system of ancient Egypt. The name is wrong. The scripts of the Phaistos Disc is also Minoan Linear A.”
In October 2018, Georgian Journal presented an alternate theory – that the disc's content might be in Proto-Kartvelian (Proto-Georgian) – a pictographic script predating alphabets. They noted that only the Proto-Georgian language matched when Dr. Herbert Zebisch compared various languages using his software. Consequently, Gia Kvashilava theorized that the disc's content might be dedicated to the Colchian fertility deity, Nana.
Genuine Artifact or Fabrication?
While most experts believe in the disc's authenticity, a few speculate it might be a sophisticated forgery. Although Pernier's dig records were meticulous, the disc's exact origin remains unverified through scientific age determination methods. Hence, speculated dates range from 1700 BC to 1400 BC, targeting either Middle or Late Minoan periods.
Some even ponder if Pernier might have crafted the disc himself. However, the discovery of other items bearing Linear A inscriptions suggests otherwise. Crafting such a resilient fake, deceiving experts for over a hundred years, would be a colossal and daring deception.
Ultimately, until the Phaistos Disc's code is definitively unlocked and its secrets exposed, this gilded disc will persistently captivate linguists, code-breakers, and aficionados of historical conundrums.
By Liz Leafloor
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