Linguists Successfully Decipher Ancient Minoan Language “Linear A”

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

In what might surely be viewed as one of the potentially great breakthroughs in linguistics in recent years, scientists have finally deciphered the ancient Minoan Language known as “Linear A“, a previously untranslated ancient writing system used from 1800 to 1450 BCE. A new technique using, of all things, a vast collection of commerce related email of today provided a template for the discovery.

Partially due to this lack of translation, the Minoan culture remained obscured and cloaked in mystery. But linguists found much more than expected when they concurrently discovered the proximate cause of the abandonment of Linear A by the Minoans and its replacement with Linear B, the language of Mycenaean Greece.

For brevity purposes a synopsis of Linear A from its Wikipedia Article follows:

Linear A – Wikipedia

Linear A has been unearthed chiefly on Crete, but also at other sites in Greece, as well as Turkey and Israel. The extant corpus, comprising some 1,427 specimens totalling 7,362 to 7,396 signs, if scaled to standard type, would fit easily on two sheets of paper. Linear A has been written on various media, such as stone offering tables, gold and silver hairpins, and ceramics. The earliest inscriptions of Linear A come from Phaistos, in a layer dated at the end of the Middle Minoan II period: that is, no later than c. 1700 BCE. Linear A texts have been found throughout the island of Crete and also on some Aegean islands (Kythera, Kea, Thera, Melos), in mainland Greece (Ayos Stephanos), on the west coast of Asia Minor (Miletos, Troy), and in the Levant (Tel Haror).

While the best minds have until today been unable to arrive at a difinitive method of translation, linguists at the J.J.E. Institute of Advanced Greek Studies used an ancient stone tablet having epigraphy believed to be of Linear A and, using this as a template, parsed it through millions of e-mail messages in the hopes that pattern recognition software might return matches in terms deriving possibly grammar similarities or other nuances.

It seemed that modern technology and today’s Internet actually proved the better with the linguists: they discovered of all things that a very ubiquitous form of e-mail proved to be with the tablet a Rosetta Stone of such for Linear A as it was for the latter in Ancient Egyptian and Demotic. With that, the translation of nearly all of the script and ligatures previously unknown fell into place.

Now for the world to see, the first tablet to be translated from Linear A, derived from the e-mail templates collected since 1995, reads as follows:

Mr. Anakopi, Official Scribe, City of Buhan, Nubia

My Dear Sir,

My sincere hope is that the Gods find you well and that prosperity has brought you kind rewards.

My name is Anakopi and I am the official scribe for the Nubian Prince Manahotep and a trusted vassal of the great wealth of the Eleventh Dynasty situated at Buhan. We are a great empire but a terrible pall has befallen our kingdom since the great famine and locust storms which resulted in much civil unrest. I have been forced by necessity to seek a repository for the gold and silver of our treasury, to protect our Prince from plunder by such unwashed masses seeking advantage. In all of Nubia and specifically Kush, I cannot locate a single honest man to trust with such wealth–who can act as an intermediary until the crops return and Ra gives us his blessing.

I am therefore seeking a reliable person to act as a receiver of much of Nubia’s wealth, for a short time, for which I will kindly offer a percentage for your services. I propose to send by trusted caravan the sum of one hundred twenty four thousand pounds of gold, twenty five hundred silver ingots, four cubit boxes of rubies, and fourteen doe-eyed virgins, forthwith to you to be held in trust until stability has been restored to our kingdom.

I only ask that this offer be held in the strictest confidence as rumors of such a transfer could make the Gods believe my Nubian Prince to be weak and he may be deposed. If you agree to hold our wealth I am prepared to use my influence with the Prince to allocate 35% of the Gold, Silver Ingots, and Rubies to you as payment. And the Doe-eyed Virgins, well, I suppose he might look the other way as far as their repatriation goes.

But what I need to know is that my assessment of you as an honest citizen of Crete is accurate and I need to fund the caravan so that it might deliver this wealth for you to hold on our behalf. The journey is long as it is treacherous, so we must ensure safe delivery. To help defer the cost the caravan, if you could kindly send to my agent via Cyprus as many sheep, cattle, Gold Dust, Amphorae of wine, and bronze daggers as you can muster, the Nubian Empire will be forever in your debt.

My agent can be found at the last pier at Zakros. Please bring the Gold Dust, wine and cattle with you. Again, please keep this in strict confidence. Time is short. In Ra we trust. Anakopi ~+~

This lexicon proved to be profound and directly resulted in the further translation of other tablets and stones, especially those believed to be government or otherwise official memoranda.

But what clearly became evident with subsequent translations of the epigraphy was that this Rosetta Stone message for us was a blessing, but for the Linear-A writing Minoans it was a harbinger of disaster for their language.

One epigraph mentioned that port cities all along the Eastern Coast of Crete began witnessing the exodus of livestock and valuables from rural areas, much to the depletion of food reserves. Another described a great row that formed between the city-states and their citizens who demanded war be prosecuted against Egypt due to a rumored blockade by Egypt of Nubian caravans travelling along the Nile and unspecified “business interests” of sheepherders and bronzesmiths on Crete being thwarted.

Further study revealed local officials in Knossos discovered what drove the upheaval in the population was the viral nature of what was labelled “The Nubian Prince Scam”. Tens of thousands of citizens, soldiers, and some local officials themselves got caught-up in the promise of great wealth and lost their entire flocks, wine, and gold reserves. And no amount of education or oration would convince them of their own gullibility.

The so-called “Agents” mentioned earlier seemed to have been rounded up and taken to the centrums of various Minoan cities to be cast in judgment. Citizens were compelled to bring forth their “Nubian Prince” tablets which were crumpled into Ostraka, and scribes compelled to write the name of each “Agent” onto each Ostrakon and with that they were permamently ostracized from Minoan Society. But the damage had been done.

Despite the initial succcess in subverting the Nubian Prince scam, the theft continued for several years. It seemed there was no shortage of shepherds and winemakers who were suckered in to the promise of easy wealth. It seemed Minoan Society was condemned to food shortages and false profits

A last ditch effort was crafted to prevent the scam from ever taking hold again. Wise officials and freemen took the recommendation of the oracles to rid the scorge of the scam. They decided to destroy their own language in the hope that without language, or at least a reference to it, the extinction of their lexicon (known to us as Linear A) would spell doom to this Nubian Prince Scam. All inscriptions were ordered destroyed and the language replaced. “It would seem self-evident…” a prominent city-state official proclaimed, “…that we have successfully rid ourselves and the world of false-pretense and fraud. It will never haunt us again!”

And thus was closed the book on the Linear-A language, a language for twenty-five hundred years remained untranslated. Thankfully, archaeologists in Nigeria found what was revealed to be the “Rosetta Stone” Nubian Prince tablet. But there were rumours it was actually translated in 1995 by a solicitor in Abuja who might have had less than honorable intentions.

Source: The J.J.E. Institute of Advanced Greek Studies.

By Darren Smith

The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.