Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Psychro inscription - how to make a real theory about a fake tablet?

Back to blogging again, I am going to present yet another post off the track - about something associated with Minoan Crete, yet not being exactly... Minoan. The inscription (or at least its material) we will discuss does not comes from the Minoan era, but from the Classic age. It was originally considered to be one of the so-called 'Eteocretan' finds - text from Crete written in Greek letters, but recording an indigenous language. The Psychro inscription, this almost-surely fake tablet shall be perfect for an "April's fool's" post.

Since I love theorycrafting - even if it is about something entirely non-scientific, like fantasy literature - I will present a fancy theory of this 'Minoan' inscription made in the 20th century. Just for fun, and just for the sake of April 1st.

So, let us assume that we have just found a small brick, incised with a few Greek words and some strange other signs. Where we did find it - it does not really matter (perhaps in our workshop...?). What we can make it out on it, are about 4-5 words in Greek letters: yet they do not give out anything meaningful (okey, we failed composing a Doric text, because our poor knowledge - the Ionic and Doric words and grammar were badly mixed up). So, what if we assume it is Eteocretan?! No one would ever call our text into question any longer. As long as scientists know nothing (or almost nothing) of the true Eteocretan language, we are safe.

At last, we can go to the three strange signs the author of the tablet used as its monogram. A truely ingenious invention, really, a true Linear D. Problem is, the unfortunate author forgot about Linear B going extinct about 1000 years earlier. But it is just a minor flaw... what if a secret sect of crypto-Minoans kept its knowledge safe, hidden from the preying eyes of the evil Greeks and Romans?

But how do these signs read? They are barely legible in Linear B !! The 'scribe' that wrought these signs was either completely analphabetic in any of the Cretan writing systems, or was incredibly resourceful, since the signs can be interpreted as being 'evolved' from Linear B. At least something we did right when making (if the Greek text was already ruined...).

Let us now theorize an evolution of these signs from Linear B. Let's say the three signs represent the first word of the Greek-like text (why just the first word? It is sooo sloppy - but we are lazy...). So if it sounds epioi - then why not work out a theory to read the signs as I-PI-WI ?

I went so far with this funny 'nonsense' to actually make this theory work! you shall see the figure below, stating that such a derivation is of course, perfectly possible. And the 1000 years of time gives us a comfortable time-gap to derive anything we wanted wherever we wanted. Isn't it comfortable, to make any theory work you wish?

Lessons we have learnt today? Boys and girls, do not jump into deciphering anything that gets in your hands and looks ancient! Much more importantly, do not accept everything from other scholars without criticism. This tiny piece of Roman brick has already fooled many renown specialists of Minoan language and culture - something truly hilarious, knowing the facts about its origins...

Friday, March 19, 2010

Flower gardens of ancient Crete

In this post, I decided to go a bit off-topic. As spring is closing on and every little bulbous plant is beginning to grow in order to bloom, one cannot help but contemplate about the origins of these petty jewels of nature. Many of them stem from the ancient Mediterrranian lands; and if we traced their origins - or at least the origin of their names - we would be surpised to see most of them originating from Minoan Crete. For anyone wishing to read more on the Aegean origins of our common garden plants, I can recommend the works of C. Diapoulis or Katzler's spice pages.

Let us see a few examples of herbaceous plants bearing Minoan names! From monocots, there is the common daffodil (Narcissus sp.) called νάρκισσος in Greek, the Madonna lily (Lilium candidum), the Greek λείριον or the white asphodel (Asphodelus albus), called ασφόδελος by ancient Greeks. Many of these flowers were also associated with mythical figures and stories. (Need I tell the story of Narkissos or the connection of the asphodel flowers to Hades?) The names of these plants (and many others) are typically 'Pre-Greek', lacking any meaningful Indo-European etymology, yet sharing some common features. This is one of the hallmarks that these names borrowed by Greek are actually of Minoan origin.

Althouth there are many more plants no longer bearing a Minoan name, we can be more-or-less certain that they were grown on ancient Crete, because of the frescoes. The paintings found on the wall of houses or the 'palatial' complexes depict a huge variety of plants: many of them still found in our gardens. Apart from lilies and daffodils we can find saffron (Crocus sativus), iris (Iris germanica) and gladiolus (Gladiolus segetum) flowers. There are wild rose-bushes (Rosa canina); myrtle (Myrtus communis) and sage (Phlomis fruticosa) shrubs; honeysucle (Loniceria etrusca) and ivy (Hedera helix) branches. Fruit-bearing trees were also depicted, like pomegrenates (Punica granatum). We also find palm-trees like the non-indigenous date palm (Phoenix dactylifera). There are also images of aquatic plants like papirus (Cyperus papyrus) and water lilies (Nymphaea alba). The frescoes even show weeds - common like today - such as nettle (Urtica pilurifera).

Perhaps the most beautiful and characteristic plant grown by ancient Cretans was the sea daffodil (Pancratium maritimum). It is depicted on a high number of frescoes as well as other objects. Faintly similar to the common daffodils but white in colour and blooming in summer, it must have had special importance to Minoans. Unfortunately sea daffodils are no longer cultivated today, but can still be encountered as a wild flower on the coast of the islands all around the Aegean Sea. The importance of this plant to Cretans is reflected by the fact that its symbol was even included in their writing system! One of the Cretan signs depict a lily-like flower: it is the Lin AB *27 (Hie *31) sign with a phonetic value 'RE' or 'LE'. On the hieroglyphic documents, this sign resembles not to the common lilies, but to Pancratium flowers, with their characteristic leaves and branched inflorescences. The Lilium flowers too, were an important symbol: another Minoan sign, Lin AB *122 (Hie *159), with the phonetic value 'RAI' or 'LAI', display a flower from the Lilium genus (despite its earlier interpretation as Crocus, It resembles more to Lilium, especially with its long stem and short bracts (barely visible on Crocus).

Other plants were not only planted for there mere beauty: Saffron or Crocus (Crocus sativus), was not only domesticated on the island of Crete, but also found application in numerous forms, most importantly as a dye and a spice. The Cretan origin of this plant is nowadays evident from genetic studies: it is a triploid and thus infertile variant of the wild-growing Crocus cartwrightianus plant native to Greece. Its Classic Greek name κρόκος, as well as its Semitic names (karkom, kurkum) likely come from the Minoan language. But we know that saffron likely bore a miriad of different names, like κνήκος (the term used for saffrons in Mycenean Greek) or others, lost to the passing of time.

We also know that the Minoans cultivated a high number of plants to use them as medicine, dyes, spices or just as food. Saffron was just one of them, with its stigmas used as a dye (not just for food colouring as today, but also for items like clothes). For example, wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) was used to ferment a strong alcoholic beverage that still keeps its name today: absinthe. Mint (Mentha sp.) on the other hand, was used for medicinal purposes. A special Cretan medicinal herb was dittany (Origanum dictamnus), that carries the name of mount Dikte and it is still grown on the island of Crete today. Poppy (Papaver somniferum) was likely domesticated in the western Mediterranean region, but was also cultivated on Minoan-era Crete, for medicinal purposes as well as its narcotic properties. Plants like caper (Capparis spinosa), celery (Apium graveolens) and garlic (Allium sativum) were used as spices. Linear B tablets also mention fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) and sage (Salvia officinalis) as MA-RA-TU-WO (classic Greek μάραθον) and PA-KO-WE (classic σφάκος). Other plants were imported from the East, together with their Semitic names: cumin (Cuminum cyminum) is featured as KU-MI-NO (κύμινον) and sesame (Sesamum indicum) as SA-SA-MA (classic σάσαμα) on Myceanean documents. Chick-pea (Cicer arietinum) was a legumine plant grown for consumption even in later times, but the Greeks still commemorated its Minoan origins by calling it ερέβινθος.

There is also an abundance of woody plants, trees and bushes that are planted since Minoan times and carry Minoan names up to the present time. For example, there is the Cypress-tree (Greek κυπάρισσος) that could be a symbol of Crete. Originally the name κυπάρισσος could denote any member of the genera Cupressus and Juniper. Although cedar-trees are famed for their timber since millenia in the ancient Near East, the tree received a new name in Greece, without any clear IE or Semitic etymology: κέδρος. The famous bay laurel (Laurus nobilis) was also called in a name predating the Greek civilization: δάφυη. Though almond-trees (Prunus dulcis) stem from the Middle East, they too, carry an ancient pre-Greek name up to this day: αμυγδαλιά. The olive trees (Olea europaea) yielded one of the most important products of the Aegean region: olive-oil. Domesticated in this region, the Greeks took its name - ὲλαία - from earlier inhabitants. As olive-oil is denoted by the syllable LAI (RA3) in Linear A, there can be no doubts that - this name as well - was of Minoan origin. Quince (Cydonia oblongata) stems from ancient Mesopotamia, but it likely grew so rich on Crete, that the Greeks and Romans called it "Kydonian apple" (κυδώνιον μῆλον) - where its modern name comes from. Perhaps one of the most common sight in today's gardens are the rose bushes. The name of rose (Rosa damascena) comes from the Greek ῥόδον. This is not a Semitic name, yet it does have cognates further to the east, like Arabic الورد (al-ward, hence the female name Warda) or the Hebrew ורד (wered). We also know that roses were one of the plants depicted on the beautiful Minoan frescoes found at Thera. Putting all pieces together it is quite possible that the name rose ultimately comes from an Aegean source.

As for the terebinth tree (Pistacia terebinthus), we can be almost 100% sure that its name is of Minoan origin, because of its structure: places with -inthos/-intha and -issos/-issa endings are typically found on the western Aegean (that is, Minoan) linguistic territory. The eastern Aegean (proto-Tyrrhenian and Luwian) territories would instead preferably show (grecized) endings in -anthos/-antha or -assos/-assa. The terebinth or turpentine tree was not only used as a medicine, but also as perfume or incense. The temples and shrines of the Aegean region likely used excessive amounts of incense or scented oils made of terebinth: this is shown by the sheer amount - one ton - of resin found in the shipwreck of Uluburun, Turkey (dating to the 14th century BC).

The following table will summarise some of the more important plant-names that stem from an Aegean, most likely Cretan source:

English nameClassic GreekMinoan originalNotes
almondἀμυγδάλη*amutskal(a))with fricative?
caperκάππαρις*kapparstressed p = ph?
cedarκέδρος*kedarends in -r?
celeryσέλινον*sedinacf. Latin sedano
chick-peaερέβινθος*arawinthacf. Latin ervum
cypressκυπάρισσος*kuparitsa-σσ- = *-ts-?
daffodilνάρκισσος*narkitsa-σσ- = *-ts-?
dittanyδίκταμνος*diktamanacf. JA-SA-SA-RA-MA-NA
garlicἄγλις*akil(i)cf. Latin allium
laurelδάφνη*dakwunacf. Lin A DA-KU-NA
lilyλείριον*lairicf. Lin AB sign 'RA3'
oliveἐλαία*alaiwacf. LAI (RA3) in Lin A
roseῥόδον*oradacf. O-RA2-DI-NE
saffronκρόκος*kurukucf. Lin A KU-RU-KU
saffronκνήκος*kanakaLin B KA-NA-KO
terebinthτερέβινθος*tarawintha -β- = w or kw?
wormwoodἄψινθος*aspinthacf. M.Persian aspand

The table is by no means complete and the reconstructions are far from certain. The original Minoan ending was almost always supplanted by a Greek nominative case-ending. In places where the original word likely ended in a vowel, I used 'a' , as this is by far the most common in Linear A words. Since the Mycenean age, Greek has had the tendency to recolour vowels inside stems from -a- to -e-, so it appeared wise to back-colour at least some of the stems to -a-. At some places, we have evidence of methathesis or other substantial changes: words attested in other languages like Arabic, Hebrew, Persian and Latin help to reconstruct the original sounding. Some of these names actually refer to similar, but not identical plants: the Latin ervum stands for bitter vetch (Vicia ervilia) and the Middle Persian aspand probably means syrian rue (Peganum harmala). I also made a good use of the "Pre-Greek" theory of Robert Stephen Paul Beekes. There are some reconstructed words that sound very similar to phrases recorded in Linear A. Most of them are personal names (like DA-KU-NA [HT103] and KU-RU-KU [HT87]) and not wares (like O-RA2-DI-NE [HT6] = resin?). Nevertheless, as it is common - even today - to give names of flowers, especially to girls, it is not beyond reasoning that these phrases are actually related to plant names.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A marvel of Minoan finds: the double-axe of Arkalochori

It was long due to write a bit of the famous Arkalochori Axe, since we already talked about it a lot when discussing the authenticity of the Phaistos Disc. This decorative double-axe ("labrys") has become renown because of the unique (or almost unique) inscription it bears. Its signs are not from the Linear A syllabary, even if they resemble to Linear A a lot. They are clearly not Hieroglyphs either. The only other script they resemble apart from Linear A, is that of the Phaistos Disc. In truth, they are somewhat 'in-between' Linear A, the Hieroglyphs and the Phaistos syllabary.

I was not the first one to realize the high value of this artefact in our understanding of the variations of the Cretan writing systems. In fact it was Thorsten Timm, who first proposed a direct connection between the Phaistos Disc and the Linear A syllabary; using this very axe as a proof that the evolution of Cretan writing was far more complex as once we had thought. He also pinpointed that the signs of the Phaistos Disc are by no means exotic or exceptional: they are just plain variations of the well-known Linear A signs, just with some fancy design. Although I do not agree with some of the values Timm has proposed, I perfectly agree with the basis of his theory. Although I cannot link a page of his book, here is the link to his website. I think it is worth to pay a visit.

The inscription on the Axe of Aralohori is a rather short one: there are three vertical columns, filled with no more than 6 signs each. There are no word-dividers or any other auxiliary signs, but it is reasonable that the text runs from the top to the bottom. (Actually, I do not know about any writing system in the word that would have an upside-down direction of writing or reading...) The order of the columns - on the other hand - is open to debate. I lean toward the left-to right direction, since this is most natural with respect to Linear A. Remember, in Linear A, the faces of figures are not fixed to the start of lines, rather they are fixed by convention: human faces, pig-heads and eagles - for example - point to the end of script, while other animal heads like sheep or kine, point to the opposite direction. It is worth to observe that this inscription (unlike that of the Phaistos Disc) does respect traditional direction of objects - the 'cat head' (Lin AB *80 = MA) is drawn face-to-face (as in Linear A) and not in profile like on the Disc. This is how the inscribed face of the double-axe looks like:

The transliteration of the signs on the axe is again, not the simplest task. Despite their close relationship to Linear A signs, some figures are nearly unrecognizable. Keeping these problems and the doubtful readings in mind, one can give the following transcript of the axe's signs (the numbering of columns runs from left to right):

1st column: I-DA-MA-NA-RI?-*86
2nd column: I-SE?-NA-I-MA-TE
3rd column: SI?-RE-DA

We find three instances of the 'plumed head' sign. As we have seen before, it most likely corresponds to the Linear AB *28 = 'I' sign. In this instance, we not only find them as word-initials (as seen on the Disc), but they also give out meaningful words! The part I-DA-MA-NA- is strongly reminiscent of the I-DA-MA-TE phrase found in Linear A (AR Zf 1 and 2, engraved on double-axes made from gold and silver) or the place-name I-DA-MI (SY Za 1, as part of the libation formula). Our senses tell us compellingly, that this word has something to do with the name of Mount Ida, the sacred mountain of Crete. But this can be misleading: The stem we find here is *(i)-dam (or *(i)-tam), with an 'm' on its end (and not just ida), similar to the case of JA-SA-SA-RA-ME: *(j)-asasaram-e , with an 'm' in the stem (the Luwian-based analysis jasa+sara+me appears to be incorrect). The mentioned words apparently reflect the structure *(i)-dam-ate and *(i)-dam-i, the stem being *dam (perhaps *tam or even *itam). The 'i' vowel may be either part of the stem or a separate deictic particle (if I-DA-MA-TE is the same as DA-MA-TE, on KY Za 2). As for me, I suspect that this stem is originally without i- and it means 'sanctuary'. (Compare with Etruscan tmia = 'temple' and Luwian dammaranza = '[a group of] priestesses'.)

While the shape of the 'cat head' (Lin AB 'MA'), 'twig' (Lin AB 'DA') and 'dotted column' (Lin AB 'NA') signs pose no problem of reading, some signs are trickier. The last sign of the first column is undoubtedly Lin AB *86, the 'boat' sign (of a value not yet deciphered) but rotated with 90 degrees (as on the Disc). The second sign in the last column ('RE'), on the other hand, continues the Hieroglyphic tradition in depicting not only three petals of a 'lily flower' (as Lin AB 'RE'), but also a row of leaves on its stem. Since this type of design is common in Hieroglyphics (in overwhelmingly word-terminal positions, just like Lin AB 'RE'), there can be no doubts that it displays the original shape of the 'RE' sign. As we know that the Cretan writing systems originally do not distinguish between 'r' and 'l' sounds, it is tempting to believe, this glyph indeed represents a lily flower, not only in shape, but also in sound. The Greek word for lilies, λειριον, from which the Latin word lilium (and ultimately the English word, lily) comes from, is pretty much possibly of Cretan origin. The phonetic value of the lily sign (either 're' or 'le') nicely admits an acrophonic derivation from a form *le:ri or similar.

Finally, apart from simple variations of signs: mirror images, like in the case of 'DA' or the addition of extra strokes, as in the case of 'NA', there remains a bunch of problematic signs to read. For example, there is the first sign in the rightmost column, that appears almost identical to the Hieroglyphic 'arrow' sign (not to be confused with the 'arrow-head' sign, that is likely 'TI'). The same arrow-sign is also featured on the Disc, in that case with fletching. Linear A offers a number of possible descendants, among these the sign 'SI' appears to be the best candidate (though still far from certain).

The second sign of the middle column is more problematic. There are two possible approaches to decipher it. First, it is similar to the Hieroglyphic 'wing' sign, that likely reads 'KU'. But if we look for parallels in Linear A, we might get a match with the sign 'SE': even if that 'vine' winds in a different direction, it is still fairly similar in general graphic concept to this sign on the Axe. Unfortunately, both readings are possible using Linear A parallels, so we are left fairly helpless. Out of these two, I preferred the 'SE' reading, as I expected the 'wing' sign already to be turned into the well-known 'flying eagle' (KU) by the age this axe was made. It is good to observe that the columns [NA signs] were dotted like in Linear A, not solid like in Hieroglyphics. The Phaistos Disc, also displays flying birds [KU] - the Linear A version - instead of an isolated flapping wing, like Hieroglyphics.

The fifth sign of the left column is perhaps the most mysterious one. It is not even faintly similar to most Linear A signs, and finding its Hieroglyphic parallels is equally hard. Perhaps because the sign is poorly designed, lacking important details, or perhaps it is just damaged. From the Phaistos Disc, it might correspond to the 'sitting bird' sign, with two legs (that has no clear ancestor in Hieroglyphics). Based upon this observation, I very tentatively assigned the value 'RI', but I am aware that I might not even be close to the true match. If you have any better ideas of a counterpart in Linear A or Hieroglyphics, I would love to hear it!

Monday, March 8, 2010

A few notes on the altar-stone of Mallia

I am devoting our next post to one of the smaller yet interesting pieces of Minoan writing. The object I am talking of, was found at the ruins of the "palatial" building complex of Mallia: it is an altar-stone, with a conical depression on its top, supposedly used for burnt offerings. The most interesting feature of this crude monolith block is however, the inscription it bears: There are 15 Hieroglyphic Minoan signs arranged in a single row, tilted at 90 degrees.

The text lacks any meaningful word-separators or other auxiliary signs well-known from Hieroglyphic texts, apart from the (dubious) '16th' sign (a simple vertical line). Despite this fact - as 15 syllables are way too much for a Minoan word, we can be certain that it consists of several words whose boundaries are not indicated by any markers.

The first problem we have to solve relates to the direction of reading. As we have seen before, the Hieroglyphic Minoan texts lack a well-established, conventional reading direction. Therefore they can be read from right to left as well as left to right. To avoid ambiguities, the Minoan scribes used special indicators: the start (X) sign, and the termination (Z) sign. Yet none of these can be observed on the above text. The only auxiliary sign is the (rightmost) vertical line. It looks like as the word-separator line of Hieroglyphic texts. In spite of the fact, that it does not actually separates words within the rest of the text, we can be almost sure that a text does never end with a word-separator, so it is wise to start reading on the right. Later we shall see that this reading direction (although exactly the opposite to the one Linear A uses) is also reinforced by the reading (with words meaningful in Linear A).

The next thing we have to solve is to get an approriate transliteration of signs, into Linear A, so we can read it. This is where troubles begin. Unfortunately, during the roughly 500 years while the Minoan writing system evolved from Hieroglyphs into an abstract syllabary, the shape of signs changed a lot. What we can see that the signs on this document are actually much closer to the origins of the script, than to the simple, undecorative Linear A figures. But since the shapes already seem to diverge from the initial picture-like Hieroglyphs, scientists label this style as 'Hieroglyphic B'. It is regarded as the direct precursor of the Linear A system.

At first sight, there are only a few signs that can be equated with Linear A ones. These examples include the leftmost sign with double twigs (Lin A 'NI'), the 'window' sign next to it (Lin A 'JA') and the 'double hills' sign (Lin A 'TA'). With a careful eye and thourough examination, however, most of the signs can be assigned an approriate Linear A counterpart. For example, a simple 'elimination of the improbable' strategy leads to the identification of the 'column' sign with Linear A 'NA'. The same way, the arrow-head sign can be assigned the value 'TI' (though the related value 'SI' cannot be completely excluded). Now, if we put all these identifications together, we can give the following reading of the text:


What really interesting is, is the sequence of the last 6 signs. Here we see a natural word-initial sequence in TA-NA-SU?-TI-JA-NI (or rather, phrase-initial to be correct). The sequence TA-NA is not only common on Linear A tablets (adjoint to other phrases), but also on Hieroglyphic documents (as separate). Recalling our previous experience, we may identify it as the accusative case of the demonstrative pronoun, meaning 'this'. Finding this term is a further reinforcement, that our choice of reading direction was correct. The rest of the sequence, with the somewhat tentative SU sign, shows resemblance to the phrase TA-NA-SU-TE-(?)-KE found on a libation table (PR Za 1). That should not surprise us, given the context: this text likely also mentions offerings. While the rest of the text remains ambiguous, we may translate its last phrase as '....this(acc) offering' (if nominal) or this(acc) [we] offer (or similar, if verbal).

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The word I-PI-NA-MA: Blood or Honey?

I think this occasion is appropriate to give a bit of supplementation to one of our earlier topics. It is the 'Libation Formula' I am talking of. On these flat stone tables, we can encounter the word I-PI-NA-MA. As we seen before, a thorough analysis of the Formula suggests that this is a word specifying the offering made with the help of the vessel. It is very tempting to see it as a term referring to the fluid given as offering. But what was this fluid exactly? Was it oil? Or honey? Or rather the blood of sacrificed animals?

First of all, we must analyse the word to get closer to its meaning. The first part of I-PI-NA-MA is suspiciously similar to the particle '*iphi-' found in a number of Greek words, most importantly personal names. Apart from Iphigeneia (the famous mythological figure), we may find Iphianassa (an archaic name with wanassa = 'queen') and Iphimedeia (a goddess in Mycenean-era Pylos). We can also compare them to the name of Iphis (a heroine of Ovidius), Iphicles (a half-brother to Heracles), or the ancient Greek adjective iphios = 'strong'. The latter word has no truly convincing Indo-European etymology, so it is possible that it is an adjectival form of a borrowed Aegean word, *iph(i).

But what on earth could this *iphi word mean? Just by the high number of names derived from it, its meaning must have been something suitable for honorary titles and theonyms. On the other hand, the common Greek word ιφιος gives us a chance to check our theories in practice ('of *iphi' should give a meaning 'strong'). I have formed two theories about its meaning. In the current post, I will give sketches of both, leaving to the reader to find out which is better at his/her own discretion.

The first of these theories stems from the observation that *iphi was used to form theonyms. Iphigeneia was perhaps also a minor goddess, not just a simple personal name. So this term was associated with goddesses, and also with a type of libation (I-PI-NA-MA). Perhaps I was reading too much of the Hittite mythology, but I immediately thought about the story of goddess Hannahanna and the bees. Like in Asia Minor, there was a strong connection between certain gods and bees on the Bronze-Age Aegean isles. The symbol of bees is frequently used in Minoan art, and even a Linear A sign (*39 = PI) derives from the shape of a (sitting) bee. Honey was a sacred food offered to gods (see the Pylos tablets) likely in the form of libation. We might also take the Latin word apis = 'bee' into the equation, since the latter has no clear etymology among Indo-European stems, and is certainly similar to *iphi. So, according to this theory, the word *iphi should originally mean 'bee', and I-PI-NA-MA (*iphinama) can be interpreted as an elaborate word for 'bees' honey'. While - according to this theory - it is not the easiest to explain the source of word ιφιος (like a bee?), it gives a convenient explanation where the word for 'bee' disappeared in the classic period. In that era, the Greeks termed bees as μέλισσα = 'of honey' (this is the same as the modern Greek word for 'bee' as well as the popular female name Melissa). It is very probable that bees were regarded as sacred animals, and some taboos surrounding the uttering of sacred names can conveniently explain the disappearence of words. For example, the 'bear' is called Arctos in Greek and Ursus in Latin - preserving the ancient IE name, while substituted by terms like 'brown' (Bear in English) or 'honey-eater' (*Medw- in slavonic languages) where it was worshipped as a totemic animal.

My second - and more recent - theory uses the parallels between Etruscan and Minoan stems. In Etruscan, we find the stem *ep as a word denoting 'blood'. There is even a derivation: epana = 'offering of blood', similar to the base of I-PI-NA-MA (thanks to the online Etruscan dictionary of Glen Gordon). If so, equating *ep with *iph(i) gives a convenient way to explain the meaning of ιφιος ('blooded' -> 'strong'). While this causes a problem with interpretation of the personal names (we must assume they came from ιφιος and are not direct derivation from *iph(i)), the offering given on the tablets seem to be the blood of slaughtered animals rather than honey.

How could we decide this question once and for all? Unfortunately, I am not in that position, yet it is possible to predict the kind of fluid contained by the libation tables. Despite the unimaginably long 3500 years that has passed since they last seen use, it would still be possible to apply chemical trace-analysis methods to the tables to determine with high probability what kind of fluid did they hold. There is a well-known case of Mayan vessels, when the combined chemical analysis and linguistic methods helped to identify the Mayan word for 'Chocolate', also inscribed onto the vessels that contained it.