Sunday, December 5, 2010

The most peculiar Minoan sign ever seen

I would like to present a short post here, on a rather petty, but nevertheless interesting topic. As I was conducting a rather fruitful discussion with Kim Raymoure about the orgins of several Linear A and B signs, I realized that the evolution of Minoan signs is rarely discussed by professional scholars, and it is something that needs to be explored in detail. To make a tiny contribution, I will share some of my not-so-recent discoveries with you, that apparently no one has proposed or published before. So here goes a small discussion about Linear A sign *301, Hiero *46 and their images.

It was several years ago, when - in an attempt to make sense of some Minoan seals - I stumbled upon a Hieroglyphic version of Lin A *301. It is an easy thing to identify (and has been known for at least a decade), because this sign is so peculiar, and characteristic to the Cretan scripts. A strange, heavily gnarled object, with a straight line piercing it on one end. CHIC (Olivier et al.) terms this sign (*46) as 'adze'. Initially, I also believed it to be some kind of a tool (hack, rake), but was unable to explain either its strangely-shaped "handle", or the thickness of its "upper part". Fortunately, the Hieroglyphic signs do give a clue about the object it depicts: In some cases, the sign also has a strange "rayed disc" under the main bulk. Although frequently ommitted, its consistent recurrence in Hieroglyphic texts show this detail clearly belongs to the sign itself, and not a ligature.

The same is true to the Lin A *301, that it sometimes comes as a variant: *606 (*301 with an open circle below). In contrary to the opinion of Godart and his colleagues, this is not a ligature (*301+*311), either - because "sign *311" does never occur alone, and the composition is exactly the same as the "Hie *46 with disc" variant. We are left to conclude that this "disc" or "circle" is in fact a commonly-ommitted detail of the original image. In most cases, it is not connected to the main bulk, but if you drew a line to connect the two, then it may suddenly become clear what the sign depicts!

To make a long story short, this is what you would get: a human figure, bending towards and grabbing a pole. From its pose, it could either be an acrobat (in a somersault) or a captive or a slave, chained to a pole, bending forward in a submissive pose. The "rayed disc" turns out to be his head! Now, this interpretation can nicely explain the thickness of the upper part as well: because this is a human torso. And the "handle" is gnarled, just because it represents legs. I shall also direct the attention of my readers to the fact that the Phaistos Disc also has a sign (Pha *04) that depicts a 'captive' or 'slave'. The only difference is, that in this instance, the man stands upright and his hands are tied behind him, and not in front. One could argue that the disc is always separated from the main bulk, so the man is "decapitated"; Yet I find the probability small, that Minoans would have depicted an image of 'gore', while none of the Old World's writing systems did anything similar (The Mayas, with their dreaded customs are naturally taken out of the equation). Although the shape of Hiero *46 does resemble the Egyptian setep (a ritual tool, used in the opening of mouth ceremony, but not in everyday life), it does not match an adze well - not even the bronze-age variants, as far as I know (please, correct me if I am mistaken).

The phonetic value of this sign is equally problematic as its image. Although it does not have any clear, direct Linear B counterpart, the sign is relatively common in Linear A. Although much of its occurrences likely come from the same words and constructions repeated over-and-over, like A-TA-I-*301-WA-JA. Interestingly, in Hieroglyphics, many of its occurrences come from a single word, either: *46-*44 (*44 being the 'trowel'-sign, with unknown value). This does little to help us decipher its reading. From careful examination of the phonetic values of following signs, one could get to the conclusion that the most probable vowel-value of Lin A *301 is u. Because the only simple Cu-sign that has not been yet identified in Lin A / Lin B is ZU (and readings like A-I-ZU would indeed make sense) this value could be suggested from one point of view. On the other hand, sign Lin A *301 is often mirrored with a vertical axis, and it only takes a mere 90 degrees clockwise rotation from such an image to get a shape identical to the Linear B JO sign (*36) - not yet identified in Linear A. Yet the latter theory would contradict the fact that Lin A *301 is very often followed by signs beginning with w- (WA or U [=*wu]), where O-series signs seem to attract pure vowels (compare A-SU-PU-WA [ARKH2] with A-SI-SU-PO-A [KH9]). This leaves the reading of Lin A *301 unexplained as of now.

Linear A *301 was also used as a stand-alone sign on the Haghia Triada tablets. It is so frequent (over 100 occurrances) that many scolars were tempted to read the sign as a logogram. But because of the given interpretation of its graphic image, I seriously doubt that Lin A *301 would have been used as a true logogram (i.e. the image of the object cited). In cases it was used for a commodity, it was very likely an abbreviation of the commodity's name, and not an actual pictorial description. Somehow, I doubt that they would have stored men in wooden boxes down the temple cellar. Or - if we stick with the original adze-theory - hundreds of the same tool, in one house...

Update: After doing some in-depth research on the cited Egyptian item, I found that it it was also called the Adze of Upuaut. It was not just a ceremonial item, but supposedly a model of a real-life one. Seems like this tool of ancient Egypt was dissimilar to the adzes of other ages and civilizations. Given the close interconnectedness of Minoan and Egyptian civilizations, it could explain the shape of both Hiero *46 and Lin A *301. If the "rayed circle" were to be interpreted as a pile of wood-chips, that could give a solution to our riddle.