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Phaistos Disc, a fake?

July 14, 2008

News is coming from the Times Online that the Phaistos Disc is a fake:

Jerome Eisenberg, a specialist in faked ancient art, is claiming that the disc and its indecipherable text is not a relic dating from 1,700BC, but a forgery that has duped scholars since Luigi Pernier, an Italian archaeologist, “discovered” it in 1908 in the Minoan palace of Phaistos on Crete.

A fuller description of Eisenberg’s findings can be found in the most recent issue of Minerva Magazine.

I wonder what this news means for Cyrus Gordon’s Minoan hypothesis (see a recent article here).

(HT: Dr. Claude Mariottini)

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. July 14, 2008 5:51 pm

    I don’t really think it means much. Gordon’s Minoan hypothesis did not depend on his understanding of the Phaistos Disc although he did see some things on the Disc as supportive of his idea. However, without the Disc he would have had the same opinion of Linear A. I always thought what he saw on the Disc was read into the Disc from his work on Linear A rather than the other way around. Of course, many people would say that all his efforts were read into Minoan rather than from Minoan.

  2. July 14, 2008 7:53 pm

    Duane,

    I went off and reread a bit of Gordon’s theory after posting earlier. I think you’re spot on — most of his ideas were quite independent from the Phaistos Disc. If anything, it would seem to hurt S. Davis’ counter claim that the Disc and Eteocretan inscriptions were all related to Hittite.

  3. July 15, 2008 11:08 am

    Jim,

    Thank you for calling my attention to Cyrus Gordon’s work. I will need to reread them in light of your comments.

    Claude Mariottini

  4. Sven Buchholz permalink
    August 10, 2008 2:21 am

    Is the Phaistos Disc genuine?
    By Sven Buchholz.

    In the scientific archaeological periodical Minerva, issue July / August
    We can read the following headline:
    The Phaistos disc, a hundred year old hoax!
    The 10th in a series of articles by the Editor in Chief of Minerva,
    Jerome M. Eisenberg, Ph.D., dealing with the problems of forgery and ancient art. The author is a well known expert who has engaged himself with such forgeries over a period of many years. He also participated in TV programs.
    The disc was found in 1908 by the Italian archaeologist Louis Pernier in connection with the excavations of Phaistos. Eisenberg declares that the disc is created by its finder Louis Pernier!
    Motivation:
    Why should Pernier pull such a stunt? His colleague, the Italian archaeologist Federico Halbherr excavated in Gortyna 1884. Halbherr was most successful and found several objects with written texts in ancient Greek language from the early 5th century BC, “The great inscription” the earliest European Legal Code, written on the city walls. Halbherr became very famous due to this discovery. Pernier was working with other Italian archaeologists excavating in the same area, the Messara plain. At the beginning of the century 1900, he was working at Phaistos. This was at the same time that Arthur Evans started to excavate at Knossos where he soon discovered a lot of clay tablets with Minoan inscriptions, Linear A and B. The expectations were great for Pernier to make similar findings. By 1908 it is most likely that he had not found any inscribed material. What could he possibly do to gain sufficient fame and glory to compete with Evans and Halbherr? What could he possibly discover? He soon came up with the answer: The creation of a relic with an untranslatable pictographic text, the Phaistos Disc! Pernier was an Italian archaeologist. During his education in Italy he must have been quite familiar with the Magliano Disc, the most popular theme for scientific discussion in the 1890’s! The disc that was excavated by Italian archaeologists in the late 1880’s has a lot of similarities with the Phaistos Disc. The entire style is the same nearly round with the text in Etruscan, spiralling inwards. Etruscan language was not yet deciphered at the time. The Phaistos and the Magliano are the only two discs of this “model” that were ever found in the whole world!

    In the article Dr. Eisenberg is carefully analysing all the aspects of the disc in order to enlighten the true nature of its origin. Since the author has engaged himself on the theme forgery for such a long period of time he has collected sufficient vital experience to create:

    “Stylistic criteria in ancient Art Forgery”.
    His “collection about aesthetics of the forger was published in Minerva 1992. You may as well call it:
    “Instructions for the detection of forgery in ancient art.”
    The instructions are listed in many points. These 9 are all relevant in connection with the Phaistos disc.
    1. A disparity in the execution of the elements.
    2. A disparity in the degree of abstraction of the elements.
    3. A unique element in the construction.
    4. A unique style: The appearance of a fully developed style or type hitherto unknown.
    5. Repeated favourite ancient motives and devices of the forger – in periods or regions where they do not ordinarily occur, or invented types.
    6. Reversal of image.
    7. A synthesis of geographically disparate styles.
    8. A disparity in time-placement of elements.
    9. Correction by elimination. One can allow for a small number of these elements to occur in a genuine antiquity, but the preponderance of such elements for the disc leads to the conclusion that it is certainly a forgery!
    Similarities between the 9 points of “the instructions” and the real Phaistos disc.
    Points are numbered (*1*) / (*2*) etc. with references to above mentioned points.
    The disk became from the beginning a most controversial object for discussions. Until now there are more than one hundred published attempts to decipher the text. Many of these attempts are quite fantastic! None of them have the slightest resemblance with any other! The Phaistos disc is unique. Contrary to all other findings of Minoan clay tablets which are rectangular, the Phaistos disc is almost perfect circular! The most peculiar is that the characters are not engraved, they are printed with stamps! Each character has a matching stamp! Typography 3200 years before Gutenberg! The author, Dr. Eisenberg, finds it however mysterious that seemingly there is no overall layout, such as one might expect in a sophisticated script of this nature. The characters are stamped more or less coincidently, sometimes facing down, other times up, left or right! Another problem is that no such stamps used to create the disc have ever been found! Nor another copy of the disc! Most of the clay tablets that have been preserved up till our time were fired accidentally. The Phaistos disc however is baked perfectly homogenous as it could only have been in a modern ceramics oven! (*3*) (*4*)
    Analysing the disc for the first time you will immediately distinguish the stylistic difference between the characters. Certain characters are picturing objects with the highest degree of “photographic” accuracy, whilst others are designed with a high degree of abstraction! With sufficient fantasy and goodwill one can accept that some of the signs of the Phaistos disk have resemblance with characters of Linear A and B as well as hieroglyphic characters from Anatolia, even from Egypt! There are also some hieroglyphic characters from Crete. It is easy to believe that the forger stole these characters from the other systems. In order to make the confusion perfect he reversed the images of some of the “stolen items” in relation to those of the prototypes. The result can only be described as: “Mixture”! Consequently, there are hieroglyphic characters on the disc where the geographic aspect is differing from Anatolia in the North to Egypt in the south, as well as characters from the Cretan Linear A and B! (*1*) / (*2*) / (*6*) Chronologically the span is at least 600 years! We can say that the Phaistos disc is not at all compatible with any of the other Cretan hieroglyphs except for a few characters it has in common with the “Engraved Bronze Axe of Arkalochori”. This in itself is an item I found suspect many years ago, because out of the 15 hieroglyphic signs, 10 of them are unique! (*5*) / / (*7*) / (*8*). Because many of the characters are depicting most naturally different objects, there were those who believed that the Phaistos Disc belonged to a pictographic ideogramatic writing system. In such systems each character corresponds to the object that is depicted, however the image in itself, not the word in itself! Consequently, in a pictogram system the character means the basic idea of the image. Example: In the Japanese ideogramatic writing system a picture of a HEART means heart. Other meanings are created by juxtapositions of different pictures: HEART + KNIFE = pain. It is easy to understand that such systems need thousands of pictures to convey a meaningful communication. The Phaistos Disc has only 45 characters. Several of them are repeated many times. It is therefore not possible that the disc can belong to a pictographic system. Most of the ancient writing systems in the Mediterranean Middle East area are syllabic systems. In such a system each character represents a syllable consisting of one consonant and one vowel or two vowels. Contrary to the pictograms, in a syllabic system each character represents the word of the image: Example, character depicting a HEART, in Greek KARDIA, syllable = KA.
    As already mentioned above, the Phaistos Disc only comprises 45 characters whereas the known syllabic writing systems such as Linear A and B have more than the double number of characters. A phonetic alphabet such as the Greek that was created 1000 years later needs only 24 characters. From this we can conclude that the way the Phaistos disc is designed it was never intended to communicate any meaningful message!
    Personal comments.
    I am one of those who have been fascinated by the Minoan enigma since my days as a young boy. Reading the article of Mr. Eisenberg suddenly woke up a more than 40 year old memory. A friend of mine received a postcard with the Phaistos Disc from relatives on holiday and brought it to me for further information. At the time I did not know too much about the object so I brought it to a “historian colleague” not knowing at the time that his speciality was Etruscan, not Minoan. He immediately produced a book with a picture of the Magliano disc! I remember very well he said laughing: That one, the Phaistos, looks a good as new whilst the Magliano looks really old! I forgot all about it till I saw the picture in the Minerva article! A bell suddenly started to ring!
    For many years I have engaged myself with the Minoan scripts. The aim never was to decipher the disc or the Linear A and B, but to try to understand more of the enigma. I have read about the more significant attempts to decipher the disc. Two of the books, “Die Minoische Schrift” by Kjell Aartun and “Evidence of Hellenic dialects in the Phaistos disc” by Steven Roger Fischer I have read from page one to the end. I know both writers personally! Reading such books is quite time consuming and you need to check all the time with existing catalogues depicting all the alternatives of the various characters in the respective systems. Fortunately, most of these catalogues by Evans, Chadwick, Brice and Olivier / Godard etc. are available at the library of Oslo University. From all these studies I learned a lot about the true nature of the Phaistos Disc. You do not digest material like this in one single day. Consequently it took me almost 5 years to fully “digest” the two books together with the necessary additional studies. Having familiarized myself with the material it was no big surprise for me to read the conclusions in Mr. Eisenberg’s article. I was already quite familiar with most of his 9 points! Most of my suspicion against the Phaistos disc came from reading Kjell Aartun and Steven Roger Fischer!
    These are my 6 “Favourites”:
    No way for the 45 characters to fit into any system.
    No compatibility with other Minoan scripts. Kjell Aartun’s book no. 1 also comprises the Engraved Bronze Axe of Arkalochori. Because 60 % of the characters are unique, I also found this object suspicious! This is also clearly indicated by the author Dr. Eisenberg. Maybe he has material for one more article?
    The disc is unique, but the Magliano disc is an obvious model!
    None of the stamps or any other disc were ever found!
    The style is a complete mixture of elements from different times and places.
    The characters are differing widely from photographic naturalism to abstract.
    Thanks to Internet it is possible to keep a world wide communication between people sharing an interest. At the same time it is easy to keep one self updated. I know many people who are sharing my suspicion. Because the disc has been “elevated” to become almost a “sacred object” nearly a relic, nobody dares to speak out! It might well be considered blasphemy! The only solution to stop this discussion to everybody’s satisfaction is to carry out a «thermoluminescense test». This test will establish if the object was produced a hundred years ago or more than 3000 years ago! Dr. Eisenberg tried to arrange this several times. It was not even possible for him to examine the disc outside of the exhibition case. Here is a copy of the answer of the director of the Heraklion Museum, Dr. Nota Dimopoulo – Rethemiotaki: “Dear Dr. Eisenberg, In reply to your e-mail of July 25th, 2007, we would like to inform you that unfortunately we are not able to satisfy your request to examine the Phaistos Disc and the inscribed Arkalochori Axe. Specially, the Arkalochori Axe is encased and stored, whereas the Phaistos Disc, due to its uniqueness is considered immovable.”
    Anybody who was not convinced reading the article will certainly be so after having read this declaration from the head of the museum!
    To me the test is of no importance. Dr. Eisenberg’s “9 point chain of evidence” together with my own experience is sufficient to convince me: The Phaistos Disc is a forgery!

  5. Sven Buchholz permalink
    August 10, 2008 2:56 pm

    wonder what this news means for Cyrus Gordon’s Minoan hypothesis (see a recent article here).

    (HT: Dr. Claude Mariottini)

    Cyrus Gordon was refering to Linar A script, not the Phaistos disk. This is only remoteley related to the Phastos Disc! I beleive we are close to be able to desipher Linear A! DNA tests has limmited the area of the Minoan origin to Eastern Anatolia.

  6. August 12, 2008 10:26 am

    Sven,

    Thanks for your comments. Very informative. I think you are right in regards to Gordon’s theories — they don’t depend on the Phaistos disc.

  7. Jerome Albert Cook permalink
    December 23, 2008 12:01 pm

    What evidence is there, other than a vague suspicion, that Pernier was not reputable?

  8. December 23, 2008 1:46 pm

    Jerome,

    As the saying goes: RTFA. Sven’s comments above coupled with the Minerva article provide a pretty significant case. Granted, this could all be settled by a thermoluminescence test, but the Greek authorities are reticent to give the green light for such verification.

  9. February 28, 2012 10:57 am

    Mystery of the Phaistos Disk disclosed?
    Text contents of this Disk – the rulers dedication to the high-god of the moon, copied from a labels, made in the form of three bilateral poleaxes, or from inscriptions directly on poleaxes. One of these poleaxes, the largest, four-blade may be used as a lunar calendar. The Disk itself – the moon during a full moon – a sort of portable version of the dedications and calendar.
    For details, see my website: phaestos-disk.at.ua

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