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Oldest Readable Text from Europe

April 6, 2011

Image via ZMEScience

The New York Times has an article on what is likely the oldest piece of writing in Europe:

Dr. Cosmopoulos, an archaeologist and professor of Greek studies at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, said the tablet, only 2 inches by 3 inches, was a surprise uncovered last summer in the middle of an olive grove in southwest Greece, near the modern village of Iklaina. Judging by pottery in the dump, the tablet dates to sometime from 1490 to 1390 B.C. Scholars said they had little evidence before that clay tablets were made and used to keep state records so early in Mycenaean history.


On one side, the tablet has one readable word, a verb meaning to prepare to manufacture. Along the broken edges are other characters, but not enough for scholars to make out the word or words. On the reverse side, the tablet gives a list of men’s names alongside numbers. Cynthia Shelmerdine at the University of Texas, Austin, was the first to read the writing and assess its importance.

Interestingly, as we are seeing in the developments related to the lead codices forgery, the mainstream media seems to be a step or two (a week or two?) behind the blogs. Tibi Pulu at ZMEScience had already posted on this discovery a week ago. His post provides more detail:

In the ruins of Iklaina, so far archeologists have found a palace, murals, fortified walls and this highly valuable tablet, most probably written by a local scribe. The tablet is roughly 1 inch ( 2.5 centimeters) tall by 1.5 inches (4 centimeters) wide, and has markings evident of the ancient writing Greek writing system known as Linear B, which consisted of about 87 signs, each representing one syllable.

Neither link reports exactly what the writing says. NYT states: O”n one side, the tablet has one readable word, a verb meaning to prepare to manufacture.” But, what exactly are the signs? Anyone read Linear B?

One Comment
  1. April 6, 2011 1:55 pm


    The excavator himself has chimed in on Aegeanet and he gave me permission to forward it to the ANE-2 and Classics lists. You can also see it on David Meadows Rogue Classicism:


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