Footnotes :

 

 

 

1 For the date of Pernier's find, see Arthur Evans in Scripta Minoa I, page 22.

 

 

 

 

2 For the date of the earthquake, see I. J. Gelb: "A Study of Writing", The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1963, page 155; the circumstances of the find are from W. C. Brice, Ed.: "Inscriptions in the Minoan Linear Script of Class A, edited from the Notes of Sir Arthur Evans and Sir John Myres", Oxford University Press, London, 1961, page 21 bottom, and from J. Wilson Myers, Eleanor Emlen Myers, and Gerald Cadogan, editors: "The Aerial Atlas of Ancient Crete", University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California, 1992, page 234: the Disk was found "in a layer of collapse in the northeast part [room 101]"; this room is shown on Fig. 33.3 and 33.4, pages 236 and 237.

 

 

 

 

3 R.W. Hutchinson: "Prehistoric Crete", Penguin Books, London, 1962, edition consulted 1968, page 66.

 

 

 

 

4 R.W. Hutchinson: "Prehistoric Crete", Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, England, 1968, page 69.

 

 

 

 

 

5 J.A. Sakellarakis: "Illustrated Guide to the Heraklion Museum", Ekdotike Athenon, Athens, 1983, page 30.

 

 

 

 

6 Per Ernst Döblhofer: "Voices in Stone - the decipherment of ancient writings and scripts", Granada Publishing, New York, 1973, pages 268 and 269.

 

 

 

 

7 as cited by R.W. Hutchinson in "Prehistoric Crete", Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, England, 1968, page 69.

 

 

 

 

8 As cited by Lionel Casson, Robert Claiborne, Brian Fagan, and Walter Carp: "Mysteries of the Past", American Heritage Publishing Co., New York, 1977, page 91.

 

 

 

 

9 Rudi Haas, as cited in Hans Blohm, Stafford Beer, David Suzuki: "Pebbles to Computers - The Thread", Oxford University Press, Toronto, 1986, pages 62 and 63.

 

 

 

 

10 As quoted in Joseph Alexander MacGillivray: "Minotaur: Sir Arthur Evans and the Archaeology of the Minoan Myth", Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York, 2000, page 134.

 

 

 

 

11 For a detailed deconstruction of that biased perception and its creator's tainted work, see Joseph Alexander MacGillivray's above-cited "Minotaur".

 

 

 

12 I. J. Gelb: "A Study of Writing", Revised Edition, University of Chicago Press, 1963, pages 106 middle and 156 top.

 

 

 

 

12A Apostolos N. Athanassakis: "The Homeric Hymns", The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1976, page 44

 

 

 

 

12B Quoted from Yaser S. Abu-Mostafa: "Machines that think for themselves: New techniques for teaching computers how to learn are beating the experts", Scientific American, July 2012, pages 78 to 81.

 

 

12C as cited in Jacquetta Hawkes and Sir Leonard Woolley: "Prehistory and the Beginnings of Civilization", Volume I of the UNESCO- sponsored "History of Mankind" series; Harper & Row, New York, 1963, page 653.

 

 

 

13 I. J. Gelb: "A Study of Writing", Revised Edition, University of Chicago Press, 1963, pages 10, 11, 27, and 79.

 

 

 

14 Nils R. Varney, Veterans Administration Medical Center, Iowa City: "Alexia for Ideograms: Implications for Kanji Alexia", Cortex - A Journal Devoted to the Study of the Nervous System and Behavior", Masson Italia Periodici, Milan, 1984, pages 535-542.

 

 

 

15 I. J. Gelb: "A Study of Writing", The University of Chicago Press, 1963, pages 72-74.

 

 

 

16 Michael A. Hoffman: "Egypt before the Pharaohs", Dorset Press, New York, 1990, page 293 top.

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   Solomon's Sky : The Tapestry of Heaven from the Phaistos Disk
.    

    © 2015 Peter Aleff
 
  Start reading this sample page

 

Scroll 1: Description of the riddle

 
  

 

1.1. The find and its features

The Phaistos Disk has long been one of the most puzzled-about ancient artifacts in archaeology. Its pretty little pictures invite contemplation, and many people have intuitively sensed that there must be some special meaning behind those neatly arranged, visually attractive, and oddly intriguing signs. You will see here that these people were right beyond their highest expectations, though not in the way the authors of its many proposed translations may have ever imagined. You will also experience the twists and turns of a Why-done-it investigation into the reasons for the signs on that Disk that are at least as gripping as any Who-done-it riddles.
 
This object of continued curiosity turned up over a century ago on the Mediterranean island of Crete, at the cult center of Phaistos on its southern coast. The Italian archaeologist Dr. Luigi Pernier found it there in July 1908, inside a rectangular clay compartment in a floor-level storeroom near the north-west angle of the palace
1 to which we are zooming in here:
 

The island of Crete in the Eastern Mediterranean is about equally close to three continents, a mere two or three days of sailing over the wine-dark sea to any of them when pushed by a favorable breeze. This map shows not only the size and location of Crete but also hints at the ratio between the Disk, the most mysterious and distinctive of all the artifacts found on that island which represents it here, to the amount of ink used to speculate about it which is on that scale much greater than the Mediterranean sea.
 

Some ancient sites on Crete; Phaistos is near
the middle of the south coast.
 

This Google Earth satellite image shows the Palace of Phaistos and   the ongoing erosion of the hillside that has already claimed the southeastern corner of the palace grounds.

 

A ground level view to the ruins of the Bronze Age palace and cult center at Phaistos.

Photo from Corel Photo CD on Greece, image 67092.
 

A typical view of excavations at the Phaistos Palace.

 Photo from Corel Photo CD on Greece, image 67091.
 

The two sides of the Phaistos Disk found in a store room
near the north-west corner of that Palace:

Sides "B" (above) and "A" (below) of the Phaistos Disk which is a prized exhibit at the Heraklion Museum in Crete. Click on the blue-framed images above to view them in high-resolution versions.
Pictures scanned by the author from a museum-quality cast replica
of the Disk supplied in 1995 by the Hellenic Ministry of Culture.

Someone had placed that Disk into that cubbyhole at the Old Palace about three dozen or so centuries before Pernier was born. At some time before 1600 BCE, an earthquake then buried it under debris from the collapse of an upper floor which protected it and secured its dating2. That dating is approximate, as for most archaeological artifacts found without written and dated original labels. However, the estimated time of that earthquake is well confirmed by the context of the find because the same room contained also several vases of a style that was popular during the 17th century BCE and could possibly have existed also a little earlier. In addition, a tablet inscribed with signs from the still undeciphered Linear A script had fallen to that level from an upper floor during the earthquake. This script had come into use at Phaistos no more than up to two centuries earlier, so although this tablet has no other connection with the Disk, it helps to assign the date when the Disk was buried to the same couple of centuries as the vases3.

1.2. The Disk compared with writing tablets

As described in Pernier’s notebooks, the foreman of the excavators, Zakarias Iliakis, noticed the Disk during his evening inspection of the site. Despite this documented provenance, this Disk seemed clearly out of place. It looks like nothing else from that or any other time or place. Its layout, its otherwise mostly unknown "writing" signs, and the way it appeared to have been "printed with movable stamps" made it seem an anachronism even more shocking than, say, a rediscovered old photograph of George Washington crossing the Delaware River by helicopter, standing on its front sled with his cape aflutter above the ice floes just as in the famous but now obsolete painting that shows him instead aboard a boat.

Unlike the usually unbaked clay tablets which the ancient Cretans used for jotting down their accounting records and lists of offerings to the gods, the Disk is made of intentionally baked fine clay which Pernier compared to that in the fine pottery from nearby Kamares. In further contrast to the usually rectangular writing tablets, the Disk is roughly round, with a diameter of slightly over six inches.

Moreover, the writing tablets were not ruled back then and began to be ruled with parallel lines only a couple of centuries later. The Disk has a spiral-like track of irregularly long fields incised on each side between roughly parallel borders, with 30 fields on one side and 31 on the other. These fields are all arranged between the curving borders of the track, and each field is separated from its neighbors in the sequence by radial lines incised between them.

Each of these fields contains two or more clear impressions of signs, for a total of 261 imprints on both sides. These impressions were made with stamps for 45 different pictures of people, animals, some recognizable objects, and other signs. Some of them vaguely resemble shapes known from hieroglyphs or other well known symbols from that time and Eastern Mediterranean area, or even evoke similarities with some signs from the Linear A and Linear B scripts, as one should expect since all those scripts evolved from pictures used as symbols. If these early condensed pictures of beings or things resembled their models in any easily recognizable way then they likely also resembled each other if they were meant to depict the same object.

On the other hand, most of the signs from the Disk have no counterpart in any known script. Two among those 45

Signs on the Arkalochori Axe, redrawn from Fritz Schachermeyr: "Die minoische Kultur des alten Kreta", Kohlhammer Verlag, Stuttgart,  Germany, 1964, page 247.
For a comparison of the signs on this axe with similar ones from the Linear A script and from the Phaistos Disk, see here.
 

different signs, the head profile with the hedgehog hairdo, and the Y-shaped fork on the Disk, could represent  more carefully crafted versions of the same signs that were crudely scratched on a ceremonial bronze axe from nearby Arkalochori, as shown at left.

 That axe is dated to about the same period as the Disk and was excavated by Spyridon Marinatos in 1934. It displays 15 stylized images of about ten types, and it is the only other known artifact from ancient Crete that shows a sign resembling the "ray-crowned head" from the Phaistos Disk. See the two spiky-haired heads in the top row on the axe, and the two frontal views of a similarly crowned head farther down.

Further proving the authenticity of the Disk beyond any possible doubt, the Proto-Palatian clay seal fragment HM 992, found in 1955, shows a single symbol identical to “sign 21” from the Phaistos Disk. The image of the sealing fragment below is copied from the website of the Greek Disk researcher Spiros D. Boutsikos. See http://the-phaistos-disk.webnode.com/seal-fragment-hm-992-/

 

CretanSealHM992WithMazeSign

MazeSignFrom47photo

    Sealing HM 992

  Disk sign 21

No other examples of this “double comb or rake” symbol are known from Crete or anywhere else.

These simple facts are enough to expose the unsupported and malicious calumny by an antiquities dealer, Dr. Jerome Eisenberg, the owner of the Royal-Athena Gallery in New York who had to return in 2007 eight stolen antiquities to Italy after the carabinieri’s special unit for cultural patrimony found them advertised on his website and showed him proof of their theft (http://lootingmatters.blogspot.com/2007/11/jerome-eisenberg-returns-antiquities_07.html).  

Possibly to divert attention from this this embarrassing failure to check the provenance of his merchandise, Eisenberg made a splash in 2008 by claiming in his gallery’s journal Minerva that the Phaistos Disk was a fake. He argued without any evidence that Pernier had made it himself and then pretended to find it as his fame-assuring discovery. These baseless allegations (http://archaeology.about.com/b/2008/06/27/is-the-phaistos-disk-a-hoax.htm) are a vile slander against the honor of a long dead archaeologist who can no longer defend himself. Eisenberg even falsely insinuated that the above seal had been excavated by Pernier, with a question mark after this assertion that confirms Eisenberg's attempt to besmirch Pernier as well as his shoddy scholarship for not verifying this libelous accusation. (See http://www.utexas.edu/research/pasp/publications/pdf/disk.pdf, page 9, caption to Figure 41).

However, according to a detailed rebuttal of Eisenberg’s allegations by Dr. Pavol Hnila (https://www.academia.edu/5996948/Notes_on_the_Authenticity
_of_the_Phaistos_Disk), that sealing was found in a secured context under the floor of Room 25 in the Phaistos Palace by Doro Levi in 1955, or 47 years after the discovery of the Disk. It was one of 6,586 sealings in that cache and was published by Levi in 1957/1958. (“L’archivo di cretule a Festòs.” Annuario della scuola archeologica di Atene e delle Missioni Italiane in oriente 19-20: 7-192). Hnila comments:

“Since the sealing is genuine, [Disk] sign 21 is a genuine Minoan sign. It cannot be reasonably assumed that a forger would hit the exact form of such a complex, highly arbitrary character just by chance. In order to prove the disk a forgery, it has therefore to be demonstrated that in 1908 – somewhere, somehow – a source for sign 21 was already known.”

Pernier would have needed a time machine to learn about those then still unknown signs and to include them in his “forgery” of the Disk. Or else, of course, conspiracy theorists such as Eisenberg can also have him make and plant that bronze axe and that seal for Marinatos and Levi to dig up a quarter century and half a century later. Clearly, anyone with even half a brain can figure out that Pernier followed instructions from the aliens in Roswell’s area 51, as channeled by the Templars through their Grail-phones and om-grokked in council meetings of the Illuminati who had hatched all this to score hoax points in their competition against Piltdown Man.

Unfortunately, even if that axe and that seal were not long-plotted plants, the images on them offer not much additional help for understanding those from the Disk because there are so few of them, and their lack of context offers no clue to their meaning. The symbols on the Disk itself, if they were writing, would belong to an earlier period than the dates of its context: they are primitive pictographs at a time when the much more advanced Linear A script had already been used at Phaistos perhaps up to a couple of hundred years earlier4.

One could try to explain the archaic look of those primitive pictures as sacred script in which older forms often survive, as happened in Egypt long after simplified linear characters were employed for secular purposes. However, none of the missing links in this postulated evolution have been found in Crete, and the script theory would require more unsupported assumptions than Ockham’s razor can balance on its edge.
 

1.3. Attempts to decipher the Disk as writing

That little Disk is so unique, and so puzzling, that it occupies a central glass case all by itself in the Heraklion Museum near Knossos in Crete. The guidebook there calls it one of the most valuable exhibits in the Museum and its "great enigma"5.

Indeed, that small piece of clay, not much larger than your hand with spread fingers, has caused much speculation among amateurs and scholars alike who tried to recognize its origins as Lycian, Carian, Cypriote, Libyan, Anatolian, Semitic, and more
6. It has also become probably the single most treasured target anywhere for the efforts of would-be decipherers who insist on "reading" its signs as "writing".

Some translated the Disk as a sacred hymn to the goddess Rhea, or to the Basque rain lord, or to the Zodiac sign Aquarius7. Others saw it as a legal document, a farmer's almanac and constellation list, a crossword puzzle8, or as a schedule for palace activities as well as a site plan description for the Palace of Phaistos9, and more.

One of the reasons for this confusion was and is that Sir Arthur Evans had insisted the signs on the Disk must be syllabic writing. In tune with his Victorian times, he saw it as his mission to promote the Cretan-Mycenaean culture as the cradle and earliest blossom of his beloved European civilization that in his view surpassed all others but could have benefited from more documentation of its outstanding pedigree. The discovery of such beautiful writing would have added to the glories of that ancestral culture even more than the already known but rather dismally utilitarian Linear A and B scripts that both looked as if freshly hatched chicks had run across the wet clay.

Already in 1894, before the Disk turned up and before Evans began his first dig, he argued in one of his Oxford lectures on early Greek scripts that a system of writing must have been developing in Crete and Greece because, as he asked rhetorically:

"Is it conceivable that in the essential matter of writing they were so far behind their rivals on the Southern and Eastern shores of the Mediterranean?"10

Evans continued to assert this then common preconception throughout his career, and his opinion carried much weight when he became the eminent excavator of the "Minoan" civilization. He coined its name and created much of its modern perception11, and because of his authority in all things Minoan, his verdict became the reigning opinion12. Most of those who attempted to tackle the Disk tried therefore to read those pictures as syllabic or phonetic writing, often with funny results.

During the century after the Disk's first publication, it has attracted a long and steadily growing list of proposed translations into ever more different languages and ever more scenarios, including a mathematical proof and some X-rated interpretations.

You will find below a brief annotated sampling of those decipherment attempts, but let me preface these by mentioning an old but still useful book about the first half century of Disk decipherment attempts. By describing these, it also anticipated many of the next half century's efforts which turned out as mostly more of the same.

That book is John Chadwick's  "The Decipherment of Linear B" (Cambridge University Press, 1958, pages 27 to 30). Only four of its 165 pages deal with the Phaistos Disk, but these are more pertinent to the linguistic approaches than most of the weighty and well-meant tomes that present its purported translations. Chadwick describes the basic process used in many of these labors:

"This method is a popular one among the dilettanti. Each sign is first identified as an object, however vague the resemblance; this object is then given its name in the language assumed, and the sign is solved. (...) Others advanced further by using the ‘acrophonic’ principle: this means that the sign may represent only the first part, or the first letter, of the word."

That method produced creative translations such as these excerpts from Chadwick’s quotes:

"... the lord walking on wings the breathless path, the star smiter, the foaming gulf of waters, dogfish smiter on the creeping flower; the lord, smiter of the horse-hide (or 'the surface of the rock') the dog climbing the path, the dog emptying with the foot the water-pitchers, climbing the circling path, parching the wineskin ..."

Another imaginative puzzler obtained this mixture of sacred hymn and kitchen recipe, as quoted by Chadwick:

"Supreme - deity, of the powerful throne's star,
Supreme - tenderness of the consolatory words,
Supreme - donator of the prophecies,
Supreme - of the eggs the white ..." .

*

A refreshing departure from those ho-hum hymns is posted at http://www.lexiline.com/lexiline/lexi3.htm under that site's headline "A Renaissance in Learning". We learn there that Andis Kaulins deciphered the Disk in 1980 and published his results under the title: "The Phaistos Disc: Hieroglyphic Greek with Euclidean Dimensions - The 'Lost Proof' of Parallel Lines".
According to that site, his analysis is available through the Harvard Library in the Harvard-subscribed monograph series (Harvard Library HOLLIS Number : 000165299) "Origins: Studies in the History of Mankind and its Languages"
. Kaulins  asserts there that

"The Phaistos Disc is Indo-European and syllabic in nature and written in very ancient Greek similar to archaic Baltic. Symbols on the Phaistos Disk are clear pictographic forebears for the later more simplified "stick-figure" symbols of Linear B. Some figures of Linear B can be extrapolated from the Disc. Indeed, apparent duplication of phonemes in Linear B
comes from a lack of recognition by Michael Ventris
of dipthonged syllabic variants. (...) We date some of the forerunner mathematics and symbols on this disk to earlier periods and to Tifinag pictographic comparables found e.g. also in earthworks at e.g. Lewes in
Ancient Britain. The site Phaistos on Crete was a geodetic point in antiquity and the Disc shows how pre-Pythagorean geodetics were calculated."

[Tifinagh is a series of alphabetic scripts used by some Berber people of Morocco to write their language. According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tifinagh, it "developed as Proto-Tifinagh from the Punic variant of the Phoenician alphabet and

was in use between about the 3rd century BC and the 3rd century AD".]

Kaulins gives the syllabic values of all the symbols on the Phaistos Disk as well as a geometric "Diagram of the figure mandated by the Phaistos Disc [that] was perhaps used to determine Solstices and Equinoxes and surely used for Geodetic Measure based on the Pentagon". Then he offers this summary:

"The deciphered content of the Phaistos Disc is mathematical in nature. It is a pre-Euclidean proof viz. lemma regarding the paradox of Parallel Lines, very similar in approach to that used by the great mathematician Lobachevsky, more than 3500 years later."

He posted his Greek transliteration and English reading of that proof at http://www.lexiline.com/lexiline/lexi164.htm and added

"For an interesting and in my opinion correct astronomical interpretation and practical use of the above figure go to Steve Burdic".

The link he gives leads to "The Steve Burdic Phaistos Page:
An astronomical interpretation" on the same site at http://www.lexiline.com/lexiline/lexi155.htm where Burdic explains to Kaulins that

"Since this is hard to picture in words, I will refer to your [Kaulins'] diagram. The parallel lines B, C and D refer to the summer solstice, equinox and winter solstice lines respectively." (...) "I am working on the idea that latitude can be determined by the angle of the X.
Your explanation of the meaning of the disk has really got me thinking about issues like the shape of the universe (do the parallel lines extended to "infinity" make a neat half turn and return from the opposite direction, connecting to their opposite pair like a Moebius strip). Seen from the side would it appear that the lines converge or cross when they only are
twisting. This raises all kinds of interesting questions about imaginary points, lines, planes and solids. Since they are the basis of geometry (and magic) what is the possibility of communication with words? Maybe all we
ever had was body language (where does this leave us with email?)"

Expressing that highly advanced mathematical proof and astronomical content of the Disk with body language seems akin in difficulty to conveying the macro-economic trends behind currency exchange rate fluctuations with interpretative dance choreography.

I look forward to seeing Mr. Burdic's imaginary geometric and magical body language movements on YouTube. Maybe we will find out whether those universe-circling parallel lines will at long last meet behind some nebulous galaxy where not even Moebius is looking, or whether that ancient proof leaves them no such privacy.

*

Some of the more recent entries which I collected over the last few decades fit the more traditional mold of finding invocations or hymns to gods instead of mathematical lemmas:

"The Riddle of the Phaistos Disk: the World's most difficult Crossword Puzzle" is the translated title of Dettmer Otto's book "Das Rätsel des Diskos von Phaistos: Das schwerste Kreuzworträtsel der Welt",1989, Verlag Frieling & Partner, Berlin 41, 144 pages.

Mr. Otto’s first contact with the Disk occurred when he read in his daily paper that "Science" had given up on the possibility of deciphering it. He decided this was intolerable and labored for over two years on reversing this defeat, using the well-worn acrophonic method. This enabled him to read the signs as an invocation in some "rare form of Greek". Thanks to his efforts, we now know that

"Talaio, king of the Pyliaegaeaetians, to the praise of the gods blesses the soil of the common origins of the Cretans, the survivors of the earthquake, the essence of the Pyliaegaeaetians, the Cretans before the earthquake perdition. So many Danaians sent post-prayers to Crete."

Said king also asked the earth goddess Gea in the cave of Ino to prevent earthquakes and to accept the steaming blood of his sacrifices (pages 108 and 109). This is just a partial summary of the at least grammatically coherent sections, but it conveys the general tone.

*

The next example bears witness to how fast our world is accelerating: whereas Mr. Otto had to devote two years of intensive labor to this task, a mere nine years later one of his compatriots achieved an essentially identical result in just two hours: Derk Ohlenroth: "Das Abaton des Lykäischen Zeus und der Hain der Elaia" (1997, Max Niemeyer Verlag, Tübingen, as reported in Der Spiegel, January 6, 1997).

This book has 484 pages and was priced at DM186, at that time over US$100, and I did not buy or read it. However, according to an article in the German newsweekly "Der Spiegel", Dr. Ohlenroth, a Professor of Middle High German, had a sudden inspiration that the signs were ancient Greek writing. Once he had realized this breakthrough, he figured out the meanings of the signs within two hours of his "Eureka!" moment.

According to that inspiration, the inscriptions are free verse in a "special dialect" of Greek, and they deal with two sanctuaries in mainland Greece. One side is an execration text that curses anyone who enters the cult area of Zeus. It also cruelly condemns said felon to lose his shadow. The other side is a magical invocation of the night goddess Elaia and contains such exhortations as the following which the author finds "poetically exciting".

Now, poetry is notoriously difficult to translate, so I apologize if this undoubted but subtly hidden quality in Professor Ohlenroth's German translation of the Disk does not come through fully in my English rendering :

"Light up wood that is smoothed all around;

forming a circle around the sacrificial smoke,

beat on the ground, and all of a sudden

neigh wildly like a pair of horses."

The article does not state what kind of smoke that was, nor how much of it Professor Ohlenroth had inhaled.

*

Toiling significantly longer than Professor Ohlenroth, or even than Mr. Otto, Dr. Marco Guido Corsini worked 22 years to reach the proper decipherment "towards the end of 2006 (but even earlier)" and so to produce a more recent translation of the Phaistos Disk. Add to this 15 years, until December 1984, that he spent "observing, observing and again observing the frequency of each sign, the combinations of signs, recurrent words, sentences, and so forth.

The result of these tireless efforts is posted at http://www.we-love-crete.com/phaistos.html under the title "The Apotheosis of Rhadamanthus", and you find his Italian original at http://digilander.libero.it/corsinistoria/centdiscofesto.htm.

There you learn that the inscription on the Disk was written by Philistines the author had come to the area from the Indus Valley around 2000 BCE, contrary to the more common opinion that they had arrived some seven or eight centuries later from the Aegean. Dr. Corsini says that this inscription is written in a special Philistine syllabary, some Semitic and some Greek
[Indus-Greek?], which can be read left-to-right or right-to-left, as needed.  

He discovered that the Phaistos Disk practically supplied the caption comments to the pictures on the Hagia Triada sarcophagus which served as his Rosetta Stone for his decipherment. It turns out that the Disk had been made for the burial of the Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep III, also known as Amenophis III, whom he identified with the mythical Rhadamanthos, a younger brother of the equally mythical but even more famous king Minos.

This suggests a slight anachronism since the generally accepted dating of the Disk places it between about 1600 to 1800 BCE whereas said pharaoh died around 1350 BCE. However, Dr. Corsini argues that dating of the Disk is not possible because its discoverer's excavation was not stratigraphic, and that therefore his re-dating was appropriate.

Never mind that the earthquake which had buried the Disk had also buried vases and a nearby tablet from about the 17th century BCE, as discussed above. One can always postulate that someone could have slipped the Disk later underneath all that rubble. Let me further add in Dr. Corsini's defense that mythical figures such as Rhadamanthos are typically timeless and thus free of such pesky dating constraints.

He posted an English abstract of his reasoning and his translation with the acrophonic method at http://digilander.libero.it/corsinistoria/genesi%20della%20decifrazione.htm. Here is the beginning of his side A:

"Most high Lady of the illustrious palace, Most high (A)usonia, Lady of the blessed and patroness of the palace of the capital city, Phaistos. Megare, the daughter of Creon, puts there to You, the daughter of Creon, in the chapel of the palace of the illustrious, the daughter of Creon, Megare, puts there to You the disk. ..."

This short sample will have to convey the general drift of this translation since Dr. Corsini offers his availability to lecture and hold conferences on the Phaistos Disk himself. He insists that "none of the so-called 'experts' is authorized to speak or write my work" and threatens to sue over "any breach of this categorical prohibition". Although he did allow me in writing to mention and discuss his decipherment here I don't want to abuse his generosity by stealing any more of his thunder or taking the suspense out of his proposed lectures about this breakthrough.

*

The decipherment in the next entry leaves no doubt about what drove its author: Dr. Kjell Aartun: "Die Minoische Schrift -- Sprache und Texte, Band I, Der Diskos von Phaistos, die beschriftete Bronzeaxt, die Inschrift der Tarragona-Tafel" (1992, Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden, 414 pages, DM125).

Like a hilarious hoax, this book exposes some gullible experts as emperors with no clothes, although that was most probably not Dr. Aartun’s intention. He is a theologian and linguist and member of the Norwegian Academy of Science in Oslo since 1986, and also a member of the Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft.

Dr. Aartun received a government scholarship from the government of Norway in 1983 plus HM The King's Medal of Merit in Gold for his scientific work in 2001. He directed the Swedish Theological Institute in Jerusalem in 1974 and taught Semitic Languages from 1976 until 1978 at Lund University in Sweden which is one of northern Europe's most prestigious universities.

This multi-credentialed Doctor of Philosophy and Theology produced a mightily impressive and learned-looking opus on Minoan writing that begins with seven pages of abbreviations he will use in the text and concludes its foreword with thanks to a number of foundations and other academies for their help, also to several professors whose valued suggestions he said had improved his work.

Dr. Aartun’s book offers indices for words in 19 different ancient languages, including some of which my dictionaries are unaware, and bibliographies for quotes in twelve. The publisher is a highly reputable firm with an exclusively scholarly catalogue, and the printing was supported by the Norwegian Research Council for Science and the Humanities as well as by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.

These blue-ribbon institutions and experts seem here to have been lulled by the fancy apparatus and the tediously arcane exposition which imitates the technical jargon of some highly specialized archaeo-linguists for that area and era. This jargon is an acquired taste, limited to a small self-selected group of gourmet connoisseurs, and its consistent use in Dr. Aartun’s book may explain why apparently neither the publisher nor any of the sponsors ever bothered to read his translation of the Disk which they printed or endorsed.

This lack of attention on their part allowed Dr. Aartun to slip in a spoofy-looking cuckoo egg. He introduces himself as having worked for more than 40 years on linguistic and cultural problems of the ancient Near East, particularly its fertility texts and iconography. He got interested in the Disk when touristing friends sent him its picture on a postcard from Crete and challenged him to decipher it. This and a similar incident shortly thereafter motivated him to solve the puzzle.

Dr. Aartun studied the Disk on and off for six years, using as his motto a quote from a Latin-titled book about "Sex in the ancient world" that concludes in his Introduction with this guiding insight: "The key to understanding the ancient world and its culture is its eroticism!" [All the exclamation points in this and further quotes from Dr. Aartun are his, not mine.]

Despite Dr. Aartun’s presumed age after those 40 years of arduous fertility studies, his version of this eroticism reads like some hormonally overboiling adolescent’s lurid fantasy of a fertility ritual mating, graphically rendered as a steamy sex scene in the throbbing-flesh images of twentieth-century pulp porn. To make it sound pseudo-ancient, he stilted the language a bit, but the vocabulary remains as transparent as the veils of the fertility priestesses in his mental reconstructions, if these wore anything at all.

His rendering of the inscription on the Disk comprises 42 lines, all similar in tone to this ten-line sample from side B which I translate here as faithfully as I can from the German in his book:

"Be deeply penetrating, o lustful!

Move yourself deeply into it,
fish, into your mouth!

My versatile one longs strongly,

the valiant one is hot for me.

With me, o you who drips, blow!

O you who are gripped by burning passion,

o lustful, my sizzling desire is here!

The valiant one is hot for me.

Irrigate that which is enclosed!

The valiant one is hot.

O you who are filled with searing passion,

(into the soft underground) penetrate!"

This hieroglyphic heavy-breathing continues to build up for another nine lines with much talk about irrigation, watering, and wetting.

Said lines also refer to a consummation with "my little virgin" which involves a plow. That plow got addressed on Side A as "o you who shove and thrust" and was there repeatedly described as pulled or driven by a team of two. The final climax occurs at the center of side B:

"then, my roaring stream,
escape from your prison!"

I almost expected to find an Appendix LXIX with Dr. Aartun’s offer to give away the movie rights to this decipherment for free if he gets to play the leading role.

Later, I found out that Dr. Aartun is an equal-opportunity translator. He discovered the same type of pseudo-lusty language and sex-driven scenarios also on some apparently just as raunchy rune stones described as ancient that were found in both Norway and far inland North America. These include the rather controversial Kensington rune stone from Minnesota which the not always history-reporting History Channel is said to have ascribed to the Knights Templar and connected with the search for the Holy Grail.

But the multi-talented Dr. Aartun's plot goes much further. He reads those Kensington signs as about half Etruscan writing and half runes, all in a Semitic language, plus on the lower part of the stone some very faint engravings of Minoan hieroglyphs, Minoan Linear A, Trojan writing, and more Etruscan. And he did not even take special credit for his sensational discovery that Etruscan sailors had crossed the Atlantic long before their almost-neighbor Columbus from nearby Genoa would do so.

Moreover, he discovered in all these signs yet another example of his specialized X-rated poetry, as in this brief excerpt translated into English from Dr. Aartun's German by his fellow Norwegian  Steinar Skailand in the lower third of the latter's page  http://www.vikingrune.com/2009/05/top-ten-viking-hoaxes/

"It is moving forward the “Part”, (o) masculine Organ;
(o) “Passionate Excited”, “what attaches itself”, moves forward unsteadily. “What is attached”, moves forward, o “eager Desired”; the “slow Floating”, o “Sister/Lover”, is moving toward the Aim."

Most of this Kensington text, as well as Dr. Aartun's translations of the other rune stones, is seamlessly interchangeable with his verses from the Phaistos Disk. He apparently found in this ancient sexting his own personal version of the Holy Grail.

 *

As exceptionally ardent as Dr. Aartun may be, he is not alone with his specialized type of imagination. His enthusiastic fertility rituals were recently matched in explicitness but given a kinky slant towards bondage by the revelation that the author of the inscription on the Disk was a captive Slavic princess who was forced to become the Phaistos palace whore, "a young slave, as a toy serving delight to mighty ones".

Said princess lived under constant threat for her life and "awaits humiliation enslavement full" from the "punishing bastards there" who "pulled my hair to make me obey commands from the palace. They tortured me and let me lay in prison then." 

According to an article by Jiri Matejka at http://www.wmmagazin.cz/view.php?cisloclanku=2011010004 about this "first persuasive translation" of the Phaistos Disk, Ing. Petr Kovar deciphered it on January 19, 2011, after ten days of study based on his assumption that the language on the Disk was Slavic. Here is the gist of his reasoning:

"Phaistos Disc bears a Proto-Slavic language. The inscription, thousand years old, can be understood by the “Slavs” only. (...) Language of the inscription, being 3600 years old, is so close to ours that we would be soon able, on an elementary level, using simple words, to speak with the author. Any Slav is able to read the disc himself, after a short period of training.  (...)  it is needed to use dictionaries that keep the oldest words. Czech-Serbian-Croatian dictionary from 1910, Russian and partly Polish dictionaries were used by Mr. Kovar.  (...) Most important premise of the success is understanding the Proto-Slavic words. On the southern part of Dolomites mountains, you can still meet original settlers of the mountain huts, who understand the old Proto-Slavic language and they can speak it. Definitely, you remember many words from your parents. I come from the city of Zlin and I remember the dialect of my grandmother."

This rigorous approach to the linguistic deep past resulted in a translation of the Disk that has the dubious distinction of being the first known one to use scatological language. This is of course not Mr. Kovar's fault but only his faithful rendering of how that potty-mouthed princess described her whoring clients. I am here quoting just the first few lines from his Side A to give you a whiff of the overall fragrance before it gets worse:

"Me guard them stricken down I am. Me stamp out
all completely. Me directly brute make from me. As a whore of palace they depict me. Me! They scar me here mow me. As whore depict what an intercourses are with me. As whore I. Tomcats, passionate cocks are all of you. ..."

In the translator's tentative reconstruction, she must have carved those sign stamps "secretly when being with the sheep", to imprint with them her desperately urgent cry for help on the smoothed and carefully prepared clay flats. Then she cut and painstakingly assembled the two halves of the Disk and baked it in a well controlled kiln as evenly as the best pottery of the time. Her plea was apparently addressed to her pre-slavery lover

"I am full of sadness and desire. I want to go to you. Loved one come, hurry to me. I am afraid of them recognizing how much I long for kisses in your arms."

It is not clear how she might have planned to convey this emergency message to its intended recipient who was presumably from her Slavic homeland and would therefore intuitively understand the meanings of her unique signs. But be that as it may, Kovar confidently asserts that "definitely the time will come, when somebody writes a great novel" about the dire plight of that ancient damsel in distress.

That great novel is literally bound to beat "The story of O", and it should of course be called "The sixty-one fields of clay" to rhyme with the current best-seller in the genre while surpassing the number in its title.

*

But Aartun and Kovar were both just epigones. The late astronomer and Disk researcher Leon Pomerance told me already in the early 1990s that a computerized analysis of the Disk several years earlier at the University of Budapest had declared it to be a sex manual.

If I added those works to my website, I could probably charge on a pay-per-view basis for X-rated pictures of that racy Phaistos Disk with its four famously topless and hothothot Minoan maidens. Oh, là, là.

         


*

To be fair, not all the attempts to decipher the Disk assume it to be writing, and some found other codes embedded in its signs.

For instance, Hans Blohm, Stafford Beer, and David Suzuki described in their book "Pebbles to Computers - The Thread" (Oxford University Press, Toronto, 1986, pages 62 and 63) an attempt to interpret the Disk in non-linguistic terms and even more broadly:

"In a boldly adventurous piece of yet unpublished work, Rudi Haas interprets the Disk at several levels. He finds it to be a calendrical device, on which daily activities in the palace were scheduled for two months ahead. He also discovered an exact sequence of stellar events which actually happened between 21 December and 19 February for a year in that era (1700 BCE). Further yet, he says the Disk includes "a code that predicts the site plan of the palace erected on the site of the ruins in which the Disk was found!"

*

Following those footsteps through heaven another few years later, Hermann Wenzel "dispelled all doubt" about the astronomical content of the Disk in his essay "Die Entzifferung des Diskos von Phaistos" which he posted at http://www.torso-lit.de/probe-essay/torso07s73wenzel.html

Mr. Wenzel asserts there that the race for the true decipherment is at long last decided but cautions that as of March 1, 2004, he still has to give his record-breaking discovery its full credibility in a monograph that he is planning to write about the number words and the three "GSL" (spirit, body, and matter) genders of signs on the Disk. His 15 pages of German text and lots of circular graphs that look like horoscope diagrams explain the seven sidereal and seven synodic planetary cycles he found on the Disk.

Moreover, Mr. Wenzel's expositions about "halving of the rhythmic changes" as well as his "sidereal cycle of Jupiter that starts on side A in House 108 and runs right-turning through 44 Houses" prove now, according to him, that the Minoans had more astronomical knowledge than the Babylonians of much later years because they had already divided the circuit of Saturn into halves and sevenths on the Disk. He also tells you all about the

"paradigmatic plane of the number tables" by "mutual relationships, harmonies, and agreement with external astronomical data".

He makes it all so obvious that you may wonder why no one had cracked that code before.

*

When Dr. Aartun discovered Minoan writing on the Kensington Stone from Minnesota, he seems to have anticipated the Minoans' routine tin trading trips to America which Dr. Reinoud M. de Jonge, a high school teacher of chemistry and physics in the Netherlands, finds described on the Phaistos Disk among much additional information.

Dr. de Jonge is interested in archaeology and has written three books about related topics, including R.M. de Jonge and J.S. Wakefield, "How the Sungod Reached America c.2500 BC". He further explained these and several other early Minoan and Egyptian voyages in his 2008 e-book "The Phaistos Disk Decoded: New Testimony of a Lost Civilization", as posted on his website www.slideshare.net/drsrmdejonge. With his permission, I pasted below his summary of the book's ambitious contents plus some excerpts from his dating of the Disk:

"The Phaistos Disc contains an ideographic script, independent of any language. The script has been deciphered, and turns out to describe the religion of Crete. The disc has been made in Crete, even in the Palace of Phaistos itself, where it was also found. It is accurately dated at c.1458 BC, at the start of a civil war, at the very end of the New Palace Culture. It gives an accurate description of daily life on Crete, showing the yearly production of goods, and the number of people working in all parts of society. It contains a complete history of Crete and Egypt, including dates, palaces, dynasties, Kings, years of reign, sizes of the fleet, and population numbers. New information is now available, a.o. about Dynasties 1, 2, 3, and the First and Second Intermediate Periods of Egypt. Natural catastrophes are also mentioned. Dates are provided for the early discoveries of all important land areas on Earth, including Australia, America via the Bering Sea, and America via the Atlantic, as well as descriptions of the sailing routes to reach these continents. Finally, it reveals the unknown history of the copper and tin trade with America in the Bronze Age."

Dr. de Jonge reads the beginning of the "text" in the center of side A as a "cry of emergency" that "shows exactly when the Phaistos Disc was made". The signs there, although supposedly "independent of any language", express this message:

"Please, proclaim loudly, and spread by force of law, the Theory of the Kings of Upper and Lower Egypt. Please, proclaim it loudly."

The passages below show how his interpretation of the Disk enables him to deduce that it dates from the 18th Dynasty in the Egyptian New Kingdom, and more precisely from the 27th year of King Thutmose III, because

"the inner part of each side contains 18 passages, twice encoding the important 18th Dynasty of Egypt, at the start of the New Kingdom, which lasted officially from 1580 to 1314 BC. On the front side the most important phrase of the disc, "The Theory of the Holy Kings of Lower and Upper Egypt", occurs in passages A3 and A15, together forming 3+15= 18 units, again confirming the 18th Dynasty (Ch.7). On the back side the “Queen” occurs in the similar passages B3 and B15, together forming 3+15= 18 units, once again confirming the18th Dynasty of Queen Hatshepsut. So, it has been indicated four times. (...)

The back side contains 5 “Kings” and 2 “Queens”, both of which are representing Queen Hatshepsut (see the above paragraph). So in total this side [A] shows 5+1= 6 Rulers, instead of 7 Rulers. It suggests the 18th Dynasty had a total of 6 Rulers, when the disc was made. According to the literature of ancient Egypt, the 6th Ruler of the 18th Dynasty was the well-known King Thutmose III, who reigned from 1485 to 1451 BC. So, it appears the Phaistos Disc has been made in the short time period of 34 years during his reign. But there is more. The text of the inner part of 18 passages on this side consists of 6 paragraphs (Table 2.1), confirming the total number of 6 Rulers of the 18th Dynasty. The edge of the front side, around the 18 passages inside, contains 5 “Kings” and 1 “Queen”, together 5+1= 6 Rulers, once again confirming it. Passage A18 of the inner part represents the 18th Dynasty. This passage contains 6 symbols, apparently encoding these 6 Rulers. The last symbol is a “King”, confirming for the fourth time the disc has been made during the reign of the 6th Ruler, Thutmose III (Table 2.3) (...)

After passage B3, there are 27 passages left. So, the Phaistos Disc has been made in the 30-3= 27th year of government of Thutmose III. He is shown in the last passage B30, which represents the year of 1485-27= 1458 BC. So, at the start of the civil war in Crete, the 18th Dynasty in Egypt, and the New Kingdom, lasted from 1580 to 1458, which is 122 years. Apparently, these years are represented by the 122 symbols of side A (dropping the 1st symbol, the “flower). (...)

Passage A27 on the front side shows King Thutmose III, confirming his present, 27th year of reign. The symbol of the “King” is one of the last 27 symbols on side A, representing his 27 years of government. The “scraper” (#42) in passage B22 on the back side contains 27 dots, confirming it. The triangular grater (#43) in passage B25 also has 27 dots, confirming it again. Both passages B22 and B25 belong to the last 27 passages on side B, again representing the 27 years of reign of Thutmose III."

This excerpt conveys the general flavor of  Dr. de Jonge's unique reasoning. I asked him how all the encyclopedic mass of data he claims to have found on the Disk could have been expressed with so few signs but he said that one has to read the book to understand this, "it is not so difficult". With this reassurance, you can try it for yourself at the above link.

*

Going a step beyond the many written interpretations of the Disk as a hymn, Anatoly Sherban performs that hymn in a video posted at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pSvsp9CeTi8

According to Sherban, the song he deciphered from the Disk has 96 bars and 16 dactylic hexameters that he indicates in his recital with hand clapping. He says the language of this song is a "Phaistos version of Cretan hieroglyphic dialect of the Greek language (Bronze Age)" but does not offer a written translation, just his clapped and sung version of the original. You will therefore have to judge for yourself how accurately his rendering follows the grooves on the Disk.

*

The fruits of those translators’ and interpreters' labors, when compared with the actual treasure lode of information preserved on the Disk, suggest that the Disk matches closely what the Greek god Hermes said about his lyre, as reported in the mid-seventh century BCE Homeric Hymns (ll. 463-495):

"Whoever with skill and wisdom expertly asks,
to him it will speak and teach him
all manner of things joyful to the mind
(...).
If anyone should in ignorance question it (...),
to him in vain it will chatter
high-flown gibberish forever
.
You may choose to learn whatever you desire."
12A

On the other hand and on second thought, we can also interpret the above chatter more charitably than what may at first come to mind in reading it. Those translators' efforts seem to demonstrate a problem that computer scientists involved in machine-learning call their biggest trap. One of them, Yaser S. Abu-Mostafa, defines it as

"... throwing too much computing power at a problem. (...) Machine-learning algorithms try to detect patterns in the data. If the algorithm is too aggressive -- perhaps using too sophisticated a model to fit a limited data sample -- it may mislead itself by detecting spurious patterns that happen by coincidence in a sample but do not reflect a true association. A significant part of the research on the mathematical theory of machine learning focuses on this problem of "overfitting" the data. (...) In machine learning, we have an old saying: if you torture the data long enough, it will confess."12B

If we draw a parallel with human learning, then many of the folks cited above were simply too smart and overqualified for dealing with the simple puzzle of the Phaistos Disk. And their widely divergent results confirm again that confessions obtained under torture cannot be trusted.

*

Shaking their heads over the gibberish in some of these overfitted "translations", many serious linguists have concluded that "deciphering such an isolated document is impossible, and the content of the inscription must remain an enigma"12C.

However, the view that the signs on the Disk are writing and thus form an "inscription" contradicts some of its repeaters’ own documentation that the visual symbols of primitive picture writing tend to convey their meanings directly, without expressing speech or language or sounds. For instance, the scholar of ancient languages and writing systems I. J. Gelb wrote:

"The symbolism of visual images in the earliest stages of writings, like that of gesture signs, can express meaning without the necessity of a linguistic garment and both can profitably be investigated by a non-linguist. (...) In the beginning pictures served as visual expressions of man’s ideas in a form to a great extent independent of speech. (...)

At the basis of all writing stands the picture. This is clear not only from the fact that all modern primitive writings are pictorial in character, but also because all the great Oriental systems, such as Sumerian, Egyptian, Hittite, Chinese, etc., were originally real picture writings. (...) Syllabic signs are a later development from pictures of objects with like-sounding names".
13

Some of these symbols were pictographs which means they represented the object depicted. Others functioned as ideograms in which the picture of, say, a boat, no longer means "boat" but expresses an idea like "travel". However, such associations of an object with its main qualities, uses, or features were usually direct, quite obvious, and widely recognized.
 
Pictographs and ideograms are also much easier to understand intuitively than the syllabic and/or phonetic systems of writing which evolve from them as a means of expressing more abstract ideas in a particular language.

For instance, my toddler son recognized the local supermarket’s logo on our shopping bags long before he learned to read the letters in it. Similarly, neurologists have confirmed that most people are inherently better able to understand pictographs and ideograms than signs with more abstract meanings. One of them noted, for instance:

"A number of cases have been reported of Japanese aphasics who developed a severe alexia for kana [the Japanese phonologic symbols of syllabic writing], but were relatively unimpaired in reading kanji", the parallel type of Japanese writing which is based on ideograms."14

The famous Narmer Palette from the beginning of Egypt's first dynasty is a typical example of such early emblem and rebus writing. It contains a few hieroglyphs as writing signs used for their phonetic value, but most of the signs on it are pictographic symbols that refer directly to the objects depicted15.

For words that were not easily pictured, such as a king’s name, the writers often used the phonetic rebus principle of substituting the picture of an object that represented a similar-sounding word16.

Examples of modern picture-writing are the modern language- independent traffic signs and computer icons that each compress into a concise picture the often much longer written instructions that would be required to convey their meaning.

The astronomer Leon Pomerance applied this type of reasoning to the Disk in his booklet "The Phaistos Disk: An Interpretation of Astronomical Symbols" (1976, Paul Aströms förlag, Göteborg, 78 pages). His approach does not belong in the same "imaginative linguistics and codes" category as the above translation attempts but represents methodical research and offers verifiable observations.

Pomerance knew that most of his astronomical suggestions were unconfirmable speculations, but he realized that the signs are not necessarily phonetic or syllabic writing just because some modern specialists had said so. He also paid attention to their relative positions which none of the learned linguists appear to have done. With this sound logic, Pomerance chastised Chadwick, then the weather-making chief authority on Minoan writing, for claiming the Disk as the exclusive preserve of linguists "when we don’t even know whether it is ‘written’ in a ‘language’" (page 41).

He argued we should rather understand the signs on the Disk "as a barbarian" (page 11), meaning we should look at them as a pictorial form of symbolic communication and not as phonetic or syllabic writing signs. He also pointed out that "memorized symbols were immediately recognized as a message before they came to represent individual sounds".

Accordingly, he correctly interpreted the "head with rays emanating from it" as a sign for the sun, citing many pictorial and written parallels. He also drew attention to its positional changes relative to its neighbors
(page 46), as well as to those of several other signs which he calls "the oxhide" (pages 46 to 49), the "eagle" which occurs only together with the "tail" (pages 14 to 17) and the "dog’s head" (page 66). As you will see, he was prescient with this awareness of those signs' rotations even though the names he gave to some of the images differ from those I will use.

Pomerance appears to be the first among the many interpreters of this Disk to have questioned the "writing" dogma of the linguistic community led by Chadwick. Another one of his valuable contributions to the debate was his detailed examination of the Disk’s physical features and his Chadwick-correcting proposal that it had not been imprinted with "movable stamps" which we will discuss in chapter 2.1.

Like Pomerance, we should remain open to the possibility that the pictures on the Disk were meant simply as pictures and not as text. Indeed, you will see in this book that their puzzle falls into place and conveys coherent as well as easily verified meanings when you take the pictures not as writing signs for imagined syllables or made-up sounds but at their face value as the easily recognizable symbols with well-documented ancient associations which many of them are.

*

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