Sunday, September 30, 2012

Correcting some errors of mine...

Hello again, dear readers! While my tedious lab work has left me very little for pastime activities in 2012, I still managed to make some interesting discoveries in the past months. What is more, I even managed to make a minor breakthrough with the Cretan Hieroglyphs. Thus several Middle Minoan inscriptions have now become not just readable, but also meaningful. To achieve this, I had to correct the reading of several signs: even some signs whose case I previously considered "already solved". During my years of research, I observed that most scientists tend to "fall in love" with their own theories: and that is where trouble starts. After all, you should be critical with your own results, even more so than with the results of others. Only so can you ensure the quality of research you provide.

As I mentioned earlier, it is very easy to make unintended errors when attempting to decipher a fully-unknown writing system. And - without enough attention - these early assignment errors will become a true pain in the later stages of decipherment. They would definitely cause the entire attempt to derail at a certain point. My earlier work on the identification of potential 'KA' and 'QE' signs in the Cretan Hieroglyphic system is no exception to the rule. It was too late I realized that the sign I attempted to assign to Linear A 'QE' is in fact non-existent! Although endowed with an identifier by Godart and Younger (as if it were a syllabary sign), Hiero *73 seems to be nothing more than the numeral '100' on the hieroglyphic clay tablets. On the stamps, the few dubious instances of  Hiero *73 are probably identical to sign *47 (the "sieve" sign) or they are just decorative separators. This leaves my earlier theory nothing short of a fancy speculation. But let us start everything from the beginning!

Recently I have put quite some work into adding more signs to the list of "known" Hieroglyphic Minoan characters. With some luck, I was able to identify the probable counterpart of Linear A 'DI' (*07) syllabogram. Now I can state that 'DI' very likely corresponds to the Hiero *11 (the "boucranium") sign. Where do I pull this conclusion from? As we have seen before many times, a mere similarity between the shapes of Hieroglyphic and Linear A signs can be misleading - due to the very significant time gap between the Knossos Hieroglyphic and Haghia Triada Linear A archives. It is as if we attempted to assign our letter 'P' to the classical Greek 'Ρ', not paying attention to the lengthy and non-linear development (Greek letter 'Ρ' is actually rho and corresponds to our letter 'R').

What I apply now is a combined approach based on not just the graphical design of signs, but also on their tendencies to form certain lexeme units. One can note that occurrances of a given open syllable are not random in any language, but they obey certain statistics governing their appearence in a given position relative to other syllables in words. Mathematicians would call my approach "entropy minimalisation". I observed that sign Hiero *11 is very common in not just word-initial positions, but also directly before signs Hiero *56 (= 'NA') and Hiero *29 (possibly 'NI'). All these features are true to the Linear A 'DI' sign as well, probably stemming from the high frequency of the (closed) syllable written as 'DI-N'- in the Minoan language.

The reading of Hiero *11  sign as 'DI' gives words that can directly be paralleled with Linear A forms. As it is trivial for clay bars and medals, most if not all the terms mentioned are names (sometimes with titles). These are mostly hapaxes, even in Linear B. Thus the best one can prove is that the words share their stem, but not their complete form. Such examples include the term A-WA-DI in Hieroglyphics, paralleling the name WA-DI-NI in Linear A (it is unclear whether the latter is a personal or a place-name). It is also notable, that there are plenty of hieroglyphic documents containing the phrase DI-NA. This recalls an interesting word - probably a place-name - in Linear A: DI-NA-U [HT9, HT16, HT25], often abbreviated as just 'DI' on the Haghia Triada tablets [e.g. HT85]. Although the occurrance of the name DI-NA-U on a vessel at Knossos [KN Zb27] suggests potential northern Cretan affinities for this place, so far I was unable to suggest any further identification. One may also read another familiar term in Cretan Hieroglyphics: WI-DI-NI, closely resembling a personal name mentioned on the Haghia Triada tablets: WI-DI-NA [a hapax on HT 28]. Despite all my earlier fancy theries, Hiero *37 could reasonably be identified with Linear A 'WI', yielding the reading above. On one bar, we can find the same signs in a permuted order, giving the reading DI-NI-WI instead of WI-DI-NI. Could this be an early form of Linear A DI-NA-U? There are still so many open questions lingering around hieroglyphic documents!

Still, despite all the above identifications and speculations, an uncomfortable feeling remains. There were no identical phrases in both Hieroglyphics and Linear A, reading with 'DI'. So we still need a better example to ascertain this value. When browsing through the CHIC volume, I came upon a little piece of clay from Knossos (CHIC #45) with an interesting text. There are no logograms on this medallion, as common in Linear A. Nor there are any word-dividers, thus we should read both of its sides as a single phrase. The word definitely spells ?-?-TA-RE (the two last syllabary signs are certain), and now we are in the position to read its initial syllable as 'DI'. But what could the last unidentified syllable be? A value with 'K' would fit very aptly there, with the most appropriate value being 'KA'. This way, the inscription shall read as DI-KA-TA-RE !

Mentions of the sacred mountain Dikte are common in Linear A sources: we have already seen versions like JA-DI-KI-TE-TE- and A-DI-KI-TE-TE- as well as JA-DI-KI-TU on the libation tablets. Linear B sources refer to the place as DI-KA-TA. What we see here is a form similar to the Linear B nominative case, but endowed with a typical Minoan suffix (*-ale) denoting origin, as commonly seen on Linear A tablets (e.g. compare A-MI-DA-U [ZA10] with JA-MI-DA-RE [HT122]). Although the reading is dubious due to the low quality characters, another medallion from Knossos (CHIC #47) may also contain a word DI-DI-KA on one of its sides. If correct, this would exactly be the same as the stem of a Linear A word written on a Zakros vessel (ZA Zb3): DI-DI-KA-SE, dealing with wine, similarly to CHIC #47.

Now we are in the situation, that we need to prove the reading of Hiero *77 as 'KA' in order to validate all these hypotheses. Fortunately, the hieroglyphic archives contain plenty of names: place names and personal names alike. Sometimes these words are written in an alternative form: the same phenomenon has been an important tool for the clarification of phonetic values in Linear B. Although at a limited extent, this approach is also useful for Hieroglyphics. I was able to come across such an intriguing pair of names in Cretan Hieroglyphic. One of the documents, a clay medallion from Knossos contains a separate word (name) on one of its sides that might read as SA?-*77-NI. On the other hand, a seal impression from Mesara (near Phaistos) features a very similar name: SA?-KI-NI.  The only difference is the middle sign: and this is actually explainable if the original name was something like *Sakni. Resolving the *-kn- cluster one way around would give SA-KA-NI (progressive spelling), the other way the result would be SA-KI-NI (regressive spelling).

Time has come to mention another notable inscription. I discovered a spectacular specimen when checking the DBAS database for Hieroglyphic sealstones containing this very character. The seal in question is CHIC #200 (found at Malia) and it is no boasting to call this fine piece of jewellery the "Royal Seal of Malia", you shall immediately see why. The stone seal is unusual in a certain sense that - although it is drilled in the middle and made to be rotated, it has only one flat side that is actually inscribed. Unexpectedly, the "start sign" (that designates the first word to be read) is also in the middle of the line. However, the crowded placement of signs (the two last signs are on top of each other) suggests an alternative arrangement: the inscription might run in a circle!

Using our corrected phonetic values, the first word of this masterwork seal would read WA-NA-KA. This is the same word that Linear B used for the title of a king (wanax in Mycenaean Greek)! Although wanax (stem: wanakt-, behaving as a heteroclite in Classical Greek with a -t- extension) is sometimes believed to be a Pre-Greek loanword, this is the first time we see it in pure Minoan context. Finally, the last sign of the line can be read together with the first one if the inscription is circular; this could be another term specifying the kingdom. This last sign has a somewhat dubious interpretation. Most scholars would read it with the value "JA" without question, but this is not the only possible reading, and might not be the correct one, either. For this instance of Hiero *38 (that could also be Hiero *39) also resembles Linear A "PA3". Plugging that into the Hieroglyphic script yields a very familiar place-name: PA3-NI, mentioned about half a dozen times at Haghia Triada [HT6, HT85, HT93, HT102], and also at other places, like the peak sanctuary at Syme [SY Za4].

Based on the co-occurrances of PA3-NI with other names, it could already be mapped to mid-central Crete (it seldom groups with western Cretan places, and never with more eastern towns like SE-TO-I-JA or KI-TA-NA). Very tentatively, I placed it to Gournia, but Malia would have been an equally good candiate. Now we see the first hint that PA3-NI could have been the ancient name for Malia, and that Malia was a separate kingdom into itself (it had a WA-NA-KA of its own). This is very well in-line with the results of archaeologic research, suggesting that Crete was politically fragmented during the Minoan era into at least four small souvereign city-states or kingdoms, with no central "Minoan" authority whatsoever.

How much do these minor discoveries add to our understanding of Cretan Hieroglyphics? I hope that these bits of information shall be crucial in the future to fully decipher the first known Aegean script. Unfortunately, we still do not have a "critical mass" of known signs. If we had them, they could hopefully start a true chain reaction, suddenly turning all the remaining signs readable  - as happened to Michael Ventris, after he plugged in a critical number of correctly-identified Linear B signs into the grids of Alice Kober. But before we reach that point: well, research must continue!