Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What do the Minoan Linear A tablets tell us about Cretan geography? - Part II

As planned, I shall continue with our discussion of known and putative toponyms in Linear A. As we have seen it before, these place-names are not just mentioned haphazardly, but are clearly grouped on the tablets, for example - by geographic proximity. So the overall situation is similar to what is seen on Linear B documents, particularly the Pylos and Knossos archives.

Unfortunately, many of the Linear A tablets are damaged, broken off, abraded or simply fragmentary. This very fact makes it difficult to read an entire tablet from its start to the end, and even more difficult, to understand the precise context of listings. Yet while individual names are difficult to restore, terms that recur repeatedly again and again are much easier to guess at. For example, it does not take heavy imagination to reconstruct the word [?-?]-TI-JO as PA-I-TI-JO (*Phaistios = 'of Phaistos') on Linear B tablet As1516.

A similar method can also be applied to certain Linear A tablets. A heavily fragmented tablet from Phaistos (PH31) dealing with flocks of animals was already partly restored by John Younger. It defintitely made his job easier that most of the names seem to be toponyms that very frequently recur on other tablets from the neighbouring Haghia Triada. In my current post, I shall attempt a similar reconstruction of entries on Haghia Triada tablet HT122.

Tablet PH 31 (reconstructed)
 Statement   Item   Quantity 
? CAPf  (nanny-goat) 2
OVISf  (sheep/ewe) 1
?-DU-RI CAPm  (billy-goat) 1
TU-JU-MA CAPf  (nanny-goat) 1
PA-TA-NE CAPm  (billy-goat) 1
CAPf  (nanny-goat) 5
TE-RI OVISm  (sheep/ram) 1
OVISf  (sheep/ewe) 1
A-MI-DA-O OVISm  (sheep/ram) 1
? SI+AU+RE (young?) 1
QA-QA-RU CAPm+KU (? goat) 1
MA-DI OVISm  (sheep/ram) 1
OVISf  (sheep/ewe) 1
OVISm  (sheep/ram) 1
KU-PA3-NU SI+AU+RE (young?) 1
PA-TA-DA OVISm  (sheep/ram) 1
KU-ROCAPm+KU  (? goat) 1
OVISm  (sheep/ram) 5
OVISf  (sheep/ewe) 3
CAPm  (billy-goat) 2
CAPf  (nanny-goat) 8

Tablet HT122 is one of those rare Linear A finds that list people instead of agricultural goods. (Such a theme is commonly seen in Linear B.) Moreover, a majority of entries on both sides of HT122 contain reference to multiple men or women. This is very difficult to explain other than assuming a list of towns under the control of the Phaistos polity, each one contributing to the personnel serving the kingdom. Sadly, the header of side A (that seems to be the starting point of this list) is largely broken off, so we cannot learn the purpose of gathering these people. Many of its entries were also obliterated when the tablet broke into pieces. Luckily, some of the names can still be restored, and we shall see very soon how.

At the beginning of row 3, two terms were rendered largely illegible. But unlike the completely missing entry in the preceding row, small traces of the lower halves of signs are still clearly visible. Therefore we can be certain that whatever signs word PA-?-? contained at positions ?, they all had a long, straight vertical line at their lower end. Signs with this property are not that common: Only 20 syllabograms: A, I, U, DA, DI, ME, MU, NA, NI, PA, PO, RE, RO, RU, SA, SE, SI, TE, TO and ZA have this property. We also know - from the context - that the missing name should have been a toponym. This restriction leaves only one possible reconstruction: the missing term is none other than PA-I-TO, the town of Phaistos!

And we are not done yet! Substitution of the term PA-I-TO - together with the numerals following it - leaves a space for only one sign to precede the ?-DI ending of the next word. This time, the context of other place-name listing tablets helps us out: One of the more commonly seen term listed alongside with PA-I-TO is the putative toponym MA-DI. That would definitely fit here as well. One can even notice that the corner of the left ear of the 'cat-head' sign MA is still visible on the neighbouring fragment - a further nice bit of confirmation for the correctness of substitution.

Some of the numeral values pertaining to the damaged entries can also be guessed at. We know that the sum of individual values was 31 (apart from KU-DA, that is not added to KU-RO, but instead carried over to side B and directly added to PO-TO-KU-RO). The numeral following PA-I-TO is completely missing, but we can still see two strokes following the completely obliterated name directly above it. That name itself was likely 3 syllabograms long (e.g. KU-DO-NI or RI-RU-MA), but cannot be restored just based on this property. Though we know that it contributed to the sum with 2+x persons. Now, if PA-I-TO sent y, then the equation x+y=10 must be satisfied. From the symmetric position of the two visible strokes, the numeral of the missing entry should have been even (odd numerals are mostly arranged in a way that strokes are not placed directly above each other). So - for example - if PA-I-TO gave 6 servants, then the unknown town must have given 4. Or reversed. Anyway, a numeral higher or equal to 8 is unlikely, compared with other values (it would not even fit the narrow space between PA-I-TO and MA-DI).

Further down the tablet - in line 7 - there is another name largely obliterated by abrasion and fragmentation. Only the second sign is legible. Out of the first sign, only a single, barely visible oblique stroke remains. This makes our guess at ?-DU rather difficult. Based on the shape and peculiar direction of that single stroke, a RA sign could nicely fit in there. That would yield a reading of RA-DU, that is, the town of Lato, on east-central Crete (mentioned as RA-TO in Linear B). The same name is also found on tablet HT58 , starting with QE-TI RA-DU (despite the lack of word-dividers, we can be almost certain that word QE-TI was separate, as it is on the header of tablet HT7). The only problem with this interpretation is the fact that the ancient city of Lato (next to modern Aghios Nikolaos) lies much closer to the sites of Mallia and Knossos, than to Phaistos - making its status as tributary to the latter less plausible.

Tablet HT122 (side B) - restored
 Statement   Item   Quantity 
JE-DI • *346 • VIR (people) 40?
A?-*306-KI-TA2 7
TA-NA-TI? 10?
DI 2
KU-RO 65

The other side of the same tablet is - fortunately - much more complete. There is only one entry that is partly missing in line 2. Judged from the broken TA syllabogram at its start and considering its length, the name was probably TA-NA-TI - known from quite a few Linear A tablets. The only really interesting feature of side B is the large discrepancy of numbers at individual entries (always less than 10) and the whopping 65 after KU-RO. Even if we suppose that TA-NA-TI sent at least 10 men, on the end of the first line (following JE-DI) there should have been a numeral of 40. Otherwise the names seem to be wildly varied: sometimes abbreviated into a single syllable (DI), sometimes complimented with additional information. A-RA-JU U-DE-ZA looks like a precise reference to another U-DE-ZA town, near A-RA-JU. Similar geographical references are found on other Linear A tablets (e.g HT10: KU-NI-SU • SA-MA) as well as in Linear B (e.g. KO-NO-SO • TE-PE-JA on L641). It is tempting to see it as an attempt to separate towns with identical names, as a modern example of the German towns by the name Frankfurt shows (officially referred to as Frankfurt am Main and Frankfurt an der Oder).

What have we learnt today? We have used our knowledge to successfully restore a tablet dealing with some sort of workforce assignment. This is just an illustration of what deeper understanding of Linear A tablets can give us. If we further our research into toponyms, we can definitely do even more. In the next post, we shall examine another source of evidence: libation tables and inscibed jars, to further us in our goal: to be able to draw a true map (with the names of towns in place) of Minoan Crete!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

What do the Minoan Linear A tablets tell us about Cretan geography? - Part I

Time has come to continue our discussion about place-names found in Minoan Linear A contexts. As I mentioned before, one of the gravest problems of identifying toponyms on the Minoan tablets is their meager overlap with place-names known from Mycenaean Linear B - or to be more precise - the Knossos Linear B archive. Taking a look at the lists I posted previously, and a list of Linear B localties (for example, the concise list of Hart [Mnemosyne, 1965]) it becomes apparent that there are almost no exact matches (except PA-I-TO or SE-TO-I-JA). The number of words that have a similar stem to the Mycenaean ones is slightly higher, but at best, these comprise only about 30% of the putative Linear A toponyms (and even less of the known Mycenaean town-names).

How can we reconcile this obvious problem? Well, there are three possible explanations, and later we shall see that all three does play a definite role in explaining the discrepancies between Linear A and B. First of all, the languages of the two scripts are clearly different: the Linear A tablets record a not-yet-well-understood extinct Aegean language termed Minoan, while the language of Linear B materials is an archaic version of Greek. Here comes the next difference: Between the last Linear A tablets, and the earliest Linear B tablets at Knossos, there is a time gap of at least 150 years! There is ample evidence of wars, bloodshed and towns being completely destroyed during this 'undocumented' period, that led to the establishment of the Mycenaean kingdom of Crete, with the capital of Knossos. Thus the settlement structure might not have been the same around 1300 BC as several hundred years before. There is also a third problem, namely that most of the known Linear A tablets (roughly half of the corpus) were found at Haghia Triada - that is, at the Phaistos polity, while the overwhelming majority of Linear B tablets come from Knossos. The tendency of the Cretan Linear B tablets to prominently feature places close to Knossos was already noted by researchers in the 1960s. But Haghia Triada is next to Phaistos and nowhere near Knossos, hence we would expect those places to be featured, that were important for Phaistos, not those in the vicinity of Knossos.

Still, with all these possible explanations, a lingering sense of discomfort remains: Was the identification of these Linear A terms as place-names correct? Or these were just some randomly selected words from obscure lists? How can we ascertain our identifications, if we cannot find these names on the Linear B tablets?

The proof that the previously listed terms in fact very nicely correspond to Cretan localties comes from an unexpected source. We shall take a closer look at the Haghia Triada tablet no. 13 (see figure). In fact this is the most commonly shown tablet in books, because of its nice shape, clarity and readibility. Now we shall read - and interpret - it, word by word. The first sign-group of the header: KA-U-DE-TA is the most obscure term of the tablet. It could either be a name of a month (as common in Linear B headers referring to collection of taxes), or some broader geographic term (more on this later). It is followed by the logogram of wine. The text term, TE is an (abbreviated) transaction term, quite common on Linear A tablets. It probably translates as give(s), pay(s) or payment. Thereafter come six names (with numbers), all pertaining to places.

There is only a single name that can be immediately identified with an extant town. On the fourth entry of the tablet, KU-DO-NI is the same as modern Khania, classic Kydonia (Lin. B KU-DO-NI-JA). The immediately preceding third entry, TE-KI recalls the name of another Cretan town from the classic era: Tegea - which once stood on Western Crete, in the vicinity of modern Kissamos. These two locations do not even fall far from each other.

The second entry is a bit more elusive: TE-TU resembles the name of the classical Tityros peninsula, modern Cape Rodopou. Not far from Khania, the place is completely uninhabited today. But from ancient authors, we know that a town once stood there. It was commonly referred to as Diktynnaion - being a principal site of worship to goddess Britomartis. The very first entry: RE-ZA looks like a Minoan rendering of the name of ancient Lissos, whose ruins are found near modern Sougia, a bit southwards from the other three locations. Up to date, no Minoan towns were identified in that area, but in the light of this identification, it might be a site worthwhile to examine.

The sixth entry refers to I-DU-NE-SI, with all likelyhood, a minute entity: Its contributions in wine are negligible, and the name never recurs on any other tablet. Hence we may never learn where it lies. Unlike this hapax, the name in the fifth entry: DA-SI-*118 is found on many other tablets at Haghia Triada. Although the name does not obviously resemble any modern town or geographical entity on Crete, it closely corresponds to a Linear B toponym: DA-*83-JA. The Linear B sign *83 looks almost the same as Linear A *118, hinting at their identity. Since the distribution of vowels in the surrounding syllables strongly suggests that it was an I-series sign, I tentatively assigned *118 / *83 the value ZI. Keep in mind that the Z-series probably represented affricates (*ts, thus ME-ZA-NA near Pylos = *Metsana, later Messene); this phonetic value could very nicely explain the discordance of the Linear A and Linear B forms (*Dasitsi*Dastsi*Datsiya). Unfortunately, DA-ZI-JA only rarely co-occurs with other place-names in Linear B texts (the only example is F670, where RU-KI-TO and O-NA-JO are also mentioned). This does not enable us to localize it: it could have been anywhere in the area from Rethymno to Arkalochori. The only thing we know is that it was a settlement of reasonably large size and importance.

The close proximity of the places identifiable on HT13 (see map) is astonishing. All the semi-regular phonetic and grammatic correspondences (i.e. *e vowels frequently changed over to *i, Minoan words ending in *-e / *-i receiving *-ya endings in Greek, -ZA endings corresponding to the famous Pre-Greek -ssos ones, etc.) also hint at the correctness of reading. This is simply too good to be true! Are indedeed all the previously collected terms places? And can they really be identified on today's greatly changed Cretan landscape? This is a highly exciting topic, and I look forward to continue our exploration in my next post.