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Category Archives: Minoans

As I promised on our Facebook page Tours on Crete when posting an article about olive oil and how many fake and low quality oil is offered in our supermarkets, today I’d like to speak about Cretan olive oil and it’s history.

Oldest Olive tree

Olive Tree of Vouves

The olive tree has been declared by the Association of Cretan Olive Municipalities as a natural monument because of its shape and the exceptional aesthetics of its relied truck, reminiscent of exceptional woodwork.

The tree is located at Ano Vouves and belongs to Panagiotis Karapatakis. Its variety is called mastoid and is grafted on a rootstock of a wild olive tree. From this tree, the winner of the men’s’ marathon in the Olympic Games Athens 2004 was crowned.

The trunk at a height of 0.9m from the ground has a diameter of 3.70m and a circumference of 8.10m, while its base has a diameter of 4.53m and a circumference of 12.55m. Locals say that the olive is the oldest in the world, but this is not true as the olive tree at Azorias is older.

Olive Oil

Image result for olive oil crete image

Made from the natural juice of the olive, olive oil is truly a precious “elixir” of life, and helps the people of the Island of Crete maintain health and long life, as well as enjoying delicious food!

It’s a great mystery to anyone who has picked an olive from the tree to work out how someone could have thought that this small fruit would be transformed into a delicious meze on its own or into a nutritious tasty, and health giving oil. Even when looking fat and ripe – straight from the tree, it tastes awful!

But someone did work this out! And from its use in ancient times and the results of study after study, the oil that is pressed from the olive has proven to be a precious gift of nature. The ancient land of Crete is home to 30 million olive trees and the Cretans make full use of the abundant fruit and have been cultivating the olive tree since 3500 BC during the early Minoan period. The Minoan palace of Knossos has an olive press room.

Civilization and Olive Oil

 The olive is a favourite subject in Minoan art. Olive trees, olive branches and olive blooms are depicted in many wall paintings and relief works, found at the palace of Knossos (1600-1400 BC) and displayed in the Heraclion Museum today.

Wall-painting
with olive foliage
Storage-jar (pithos) from
Psira island

Of the most well known, is the wall painting depicting an olive tree between wild goats, the relief with the bull and the olive tree at the balcony of the northern entrance of Knossos palace, the wall-painting with “The dance in the Sacred Grove” and other scenes with olive foliage, blooming branch, branches and relief olives.

 

Olive branches and leaves are often depicted on the vases of the Minoan period. Characteristic examples are to be found in the storage-jar discovered at the small island Psira off the coastline of north-eastern Crete which is decorated with bull’s heads and olive shoots on either side (1600-1500 B.C) as in the cup with the olive branch in bloom from Knossos (1600-1500 B.C), both now displayed in the Heraklion Museum.

Rushing bull and olive-tree

 

The olive was a favourite subject even in the craft of gold-plating in the Minoan period. Characteristic of this is the superb piece of jewellery made up of a bunch of golden olive leaves found in the pre-palatial cemetery on the small island just outside today’s settlement of Mochlos to the north of the village of Lastros in Sitia.

Olive – trees on the fresco  “Dance at the Sacred grove”Knossos

 

At the Olympic games that started in 776 B.C, ancient Greeks were crowning the winners with a wreath (“kotinos”) made of branches cutted always off the same wild olive-tree, known as “kallistefanos” (which means “for beautiful wreaths”).

Wild goats and olive-tree

 

Also at the Panathenea games (600 B.C), the winner’s prize was a decorated amphora, full of olive-oil which was produced of the “Mories” (Sacred) olive-trees belonging to Godess Athena.

Wall-painting with
olive-tree branch
Olive branch
in bloom

Today the Cretans still eat far more olive oil than any other people in the world. And as a famous study proved, are the healthiest and longest living people.

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Knossos Palace Crete

Knossos Palace

It is impossible for someone to come to Crete on vacation and not visit its landmark, Knossos. For the island of Crete, Knossos has the same significance as the Acropolis for Athens. The most famous and the most impressive palace of the Minoan era, the biggest and the greatest of the decision-making centers of the Minoan Crete. Our tour in the majestic site travels us back to the past, getting us to know the Neolithic settlement, the new imposing palace, the four wings of the building with the ceremony chambers, the public warehouses, the Throne Room, the Corridor of Procession with the amazing murals, the Propylaea with the famous Double Horns of Consecration, the Royal Chambers, the servants’ dormitories, the storehouses of the palace, the various workshops, the Reservoir Basin, even a stone-built theatre. We are about to hear great myths, relating to the Palace of Knossos, such as the myth of the Labyrinth and the story of Daedalus and Icarus. We are going to walk on Sir Arthur Evans’ steps and we may feel a bit of the excitement and pride he felt when he discovered this exceptional symbol of the Minoan architecture, which even nowadays transfixes everybody with its grandeur.

Leaving the marvelous Palace of Knossos, we continue our tour towards the centre of the island, where we visit the lovely Monastery of Kera Kardiotissa, which was named after a miraculous icon of Virgin Mary. In an idyllic landscape, the monastery, run currently by nuns, is known for its artistic and its historical importance, as well as its remarkable murals.
Moving on inland and driving up to the Lassithi Plateau, we have the chance to admire the remaining famous windmills, the ditches, the “linies” as they are known, the Venetian drainage system of the plateau that turned the arid area into the most important grain-growing region of Crete and of course the small traditional villages that still keep the scent of another era. The most famous of all is the village of Psychro, where we can admire the primeval traditional art of pottery-making by the remaining craftsmen and of course we have the opportunity to visit a very significant place for religious worship of the Minoan era, the cave of Psychro, mostly known as Dictean Cave. A cave of exceptional beauty, it is considered as the place where Zeus, the father of the Olympians Gods, was born.


I have to stress that in the case of the Phaistos Disc, there is not a single word to be officially deciphered.

 

FIRST PERSUASIVE TRANSLATION OF THE PHAISTOS DISC

Jiri Matejka

Phaistos Disc, made of burnt clay, comes from the Minoan palace in Phaistos, Crete. It is dated to the Minoan middle or late Bronze Age (2nd millennium BC). Disc has diameter of 15 cm and both sides are covered by signs arranged in a spiral. Its purpose, meaning and place of production were unknown till now. It is an unique archaeological finding. It is exhibited in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum on Crete.

DISCOVERY OF THE DISC

In 1900 Sir Arthur Evans discovered Minoan capital Knossos during the excavations near Heraklion. This proved that Minoans were not just a myth. Eight years later, Italian archaeologist Luigi Pernier was leading the excavations in the ruins of Phaistos city. He found a round clay table in the ground, and this was the moment, when disc came to the daylight after the 3600 years. Pernier started to work on translation with zeal, but got stuck soon after. Evans was unsuccessful with translation too. Both renowned researchers and amateurs “read” the text as a prayer, agreement, religious calendar, initiation ceremony of girls, legacy of Atlantis, message from the aliens, or even a list of ships of the Minoan fleet in the Aegean Sea. The translations were presented with a great deal of fantasy.

PHAISTOS PALACE

Situated on the Crete island, on a place with a wonderful view of the wide and fertile Messara plain, the second biggest and most important Minoan Palace of Phaistos (sometimes spelled Festos). It is not reconstructed as well as the more known Knossos Palace, but possesses other advantages.  Phaistos Palace, serving as the winter site of the ruler, built on the Kastri hill, used to be a dominant in the countryside. Psiloreitis mountain, known under the name Ida, rises northerly direction from the palace. It is the highest mountain of Crete reaching 2 456 meters of altitude.

History of Phaistos extends to 1900 BC

History of Phaistos extends to 1900 BC. That times the first palace was built there.  It was destructed by the great earthquake, that devastated the whole island and many cities. On the groundwork of the old palace another building was erected, but was destroyed in 1450 BC, during the catastrophe, that ended the whole Minoan civilization. A big tsunami hit the whole island. Some remnants of the first palace are still apparent. Italian archaeologist Frederico Halbherr discovered it when doing excavations in 1900.

However most of the ruins belong to the second palace. It was quite large and possesses many similarities to the Knossos palace. However nobody ventured to reconstruct the large building. Entrance to kings apartments is located to the north of the main courtyard. There are apparent remnants of the sewerage system in the floor. Kings chambers were surrounded by ramparts, due to its importance. Chambers for the king were divided from the chambers for the queen.  Remnants of the pool and even the toilets are visible. Ruins of archive, where the Phaistos Disc was found in 1903, are located behind the chambers. The disc is made from originally unfired clay, the diameter of 16 cm, dated to 1700 – 1600 BC. A picture script, similar to Egyptian hieroglyphs, is imprinted on the disc. Stylized human figures and animals, objects and flowers.

ATTEMPTS TO DECIPHER THE TEXT

Numerous attempts to decipher the disc failed so far, because a bilingual inscription is missing. That means inscription, where we can read and translate one of the texts. 15 linguists dealt with the Phaistos Disc according to English Wikipedia (George Hempl, George Hempl, Florence Stawell, Albert Cuny, Benjamin Schwarz, Jean Faucounau, Vladimir Georgiev, Steven R. Fischer, Kjell Aartun, Derk Ohlenroth, Sergei V. Rjabchikov, Adam Martin, Kevin & Keith Massey, Achterberg et al., Torsten Timm, Marco Corsini) and 10 researchers of other specializations (Paolo Ballotta, Leon Pomerance,

Peter Aleff, Ole Hagen, Harald Haarmann, Bernd Schomburg, Hermann Wenzel, Friedhelm Will, Axel Hausmann, Rosario Vieni, Helene Whittaker). An opinion claiming the disc to be a forgery occurred. It uses to be so in the cases of incompetence. Jerome Eisenberg, USA, stated the disc to be a recent forgery. It is no surprise, then, that the attempts to read it failed – it has no solution. Eisenberg claims, that Italian archaeologist Luigi Pernier didn’t discover the disc in 1908, but simply created it. Any proofs?  Allegedly too much regular margins of the disc and too much perfectly burnt clay. Tablets on the Crete were burnt just unwillingly by fire that times. Dating the disc and answer to this question could be achieved by thermoluminiscence (determining the time span between the two burnts), but Greek officials allegedly refused to provide a sample of the disc to the test.

Czech teacher Jiri Vymetal from Horice, passed away in 1988, was one of the people trying to decipher the disc. He thought the script to be syllabic and published his solution. According to him, there are names of Cretan localities, noticed by some ancient traveler. For example FA-ES-TOS = Phaistos. Such solutions cannot be proven or disproven.

In the November 2000 Steven Roger Fischer, American doctor of philology, handling almost 80 live and extinct languages, came to conclusion, that he is able to read the text of the mysterious disc. He reads the text from the reverse side, from the outer margin to the middle. The whole text sounds like this: “Hear you, Cretans and Greeks. Hear you, waters, you earth. Hellas faces battle with Carians. Hear you all!. Hear you the gods of the sea, hear you all, to Naxos! Get with Greeks on your way, punish the Carians, my enemies, and save suffering brothers. Protect me Idayans, my heart is clenched by anxiety. Sail to the sea everyone! And relieve me from this great torment.”

Doctor Fischer concluded, that a messenger was wearing the disc around the island, reading this “mobilization decree” in every village. Is it possible, that one messenger would be waiting, in a moment of considerable threat, for the clay to be produced, instead of more messengers going out to mobilize the island at once? Or the disc was an official form of mobilization decree and no one would trust the messenger without it? Couldn’t there be more such discs to speed up the mobilization? Fischers’s translation seems unconvincing from the above mentioned reasons. Some historians do claim, that the disc wasn’t made on Crete, but comes somewhere from Asia Minor. It is just an assumption, nothing more.

FIRST PERSUASIVE TRANSLATION

There are two conditions to be fulfilled, to give a linguist some chance to decipher ancient writing. First, he has to have enough material to examine. Second, he has to have at least elementary idea about the form of the subject language. WM Magazin focuses on the theme of Proto-Slavs and evolution of first writings. Based on the work of Antonin Horak, O Slovanech Uplne Jinak, we assume, that the inscriptions on the Phaistos Disc can be Proto-Slavic.  If we accept this fact, there is no obstacle in fluent reading of the text.

Ing. Petr KOvar

Ing. Petr Kovar

WM Magazin  is in contact with Ing. Petr Kovar for several years. He was a co-worker of Antonin Horak once.  Mr. Kovar dedicates himself to reading ancient inscriptions, not only on the Phaistos Disc, from 2003 on.  He claims he succeeded to translate the Phaistos Disc in 10 days. How is it possible? How could be translation of the disc so simple, when other specialist spent their lives by unsuccessful decipherment? We can confirm today, that it is possible!

INDICATING SIDES OF THE DISC AND THE DIRECTION OF THE TEXT

It is needed to accept the fact, that we are dealing with Proto-Slavic text, in the aim of successful translation of the picture script. You have no chance for success, if you are unwilling to accept it. This is what happened to all previous decipherers. Renowned linguists translated the signs, using different complicated methods and statistical choices, mostly with no success.  European linguists were unwilling to accept the second basic assumption, which is the form of the given language. Phaistos Disc bears a Proto-Slavic language. The inscription, thousand years old, can be understood by the “Slavs” only.

Disc is stored in the archaeological museum in Heraklion on Crete. Its sides are marked A and B. Side, considered to be A, is marked by the sign of daisy flower, side B by the sign resembling water bellows. Considering the fact, that the text wasn’t translated till now, the indication of the sides is just random convention.  It is not decisive point in choosing the side, which will be read first. I guess, that the symbol of the flower had psychological effect on decipherers, therefore it was marked side A.

(Picture: Signs of flower and water bellows)

There are disputes about the direction of reading the text from the beginning.  First decipherers preferred reading the spiral from the center to the margin. Later the opinion shifted  to reading on the spiral from the margin to the center.

DIRECTION OF READING

Signs are read as unwinding spiral from the center of the disc to the margin. This way is natural and the most simple. It is hard to imagine, that somebody starts to write on the verge and then he finds out that he is missing a space to write in the middle.

I will pose a simple example. On the round postcard from 2004 is a message from holidays in mountain range, written in the spiral.  Text starts in the middle of the postcard and ends on the verge.  That’s what I consider to be a natural writing style.  Why should we expect the direction of writing being complicated? Imagine that archaeologists will discover this postcard in 2000 years. Scholars will start to think about the correct reading. Why are the letters in bold in the middle and what represents thy systems of triangles over the line. Hundreds of pages in scholarly journals will be written by linguists and historians, stormy panel discussions will occur. One day a machinery engineer will come and say “it is simple and understandable, text is to be read naturally from the middle to the margin and language of the inscriptions is Slavic”. That’s how Ing. Petr Kovar comments recent discussions about the explanation of the signs on the disc. Furthermore, he is able to meaningfully interpret the content of the inscription.

FIRST PERSUASIVE TRANSLATION

WM Magazin readers do have the opportunity to be foremost readers of the FIRST PERSUASIVE TRANSLATION OF THE PHAISTOS DISC, made by Ing. Petr Kovar.

Ing. Petr Kovar, who devoted last 20 years to the issue of the oldest script, was fellow worker of A. Horak.  He documented ancient inscriptions on the territory of Moravia during last years.

I have to stress that in the case of the Phaistos Disc, there is not a single word to be officially deciphered. There is not an alternative standing against the translation of Mr. Kovar – we can discuss several points, places where signs are hard to read, but most of the text still remains to be clearly readable.

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.

PRINCIPLE OF READING THE SIGNS

Mr. Kovar used a simple method for successful translation of the disc. If we accept the fact, that the inscription is of Proto-Slavic origin, than it is needed to use dictionaries that keep the oldest words. Czech-SerbianCroatian dictionary from 1910, Russian and partly Polish dictionaries were used by Mr. Kovar. His procedure for individual signs was the following:

1. Determining the meaning of individual sign
2. Writing down Czech term for the given thing represented by the sign
3. Searching for Proto-Slavic term for the sign
4. Removing first syllable from the word
5. Merging syllables into words
6. Accomplishing Czech translation of the Proto-Slavic text

An example: There are signs on the disc, resembling a fish, snout of an animal and an angle (elbow).
Sign Nr. 33   Sign Nr. 29  Sign Nr. 18

1. Sign does represent a fish/ snout/ elbow
2. Czech term for the sign is ryba/ rypak/ loket
3. Proto-Slavic term for the sign is RIBA/ SURLA/ LAKAT
4. RI/ SU/ LA – first syllables removed from the Proto-Slavic terms for the signs
5. RISULA  – Proto-Slavic word composed by merger of the syllables
6. Translated into Czech means – NAPSALA

Mr. Kovar translated all the signs of the disc by this procedure. 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. Sometimes it was impossible to tell whether she says p or b, se or sye, la or lo, and also o or ou at the end of the word. Proto-Slavic language roots in the speech of some people can be observed even now in certain regions of Poland, Russia,  Serbia, Croatia and others.

TRANSLATION OF SIGNS, SIDES AND THE DIRECTION OF READING

I was comparing graphic form of the signs with the official sources accessible via internet. The resulting statement is that the explanation of Mr. Kovar is correct from any point of view.  On the opposite some pictures on official pages are too much idealized and incorrect. For example sign Nr. 13. is officially being explained as “club”. Real meaning of the sign is vine, in Proto-Slavic LOZA (LO). Vineyard of these days may look a bit different, with a wire stretched in between stems. In Mediterranean the vine is grows differently, due to the warmer climate. According to Czech –SerboCroatian dictionary from 1910, the Proto-Slavic term for vine is loza. You can find a village on Moravia with a name Sucha Loz, located in a vine-growing region. Name of the village is derived from the dry vine.

Another example is sign Nr. 18, officially explained as boomerang. Real meaning is different. Sign represents an elbow or an angle. Proto-Slavic  term for elbow is LAKAT (LA), for angle is RAVEN (RA). Conclusion from the translation is, that reading starts on the side with a picture of water bellows. This is in contradiction to the official marking of sides, but as we have argued before, there is no acceptable argument for this order of sides.

Correct marking is:

Side A with the sign of water bellows

Side B with the sign of daisy flower

The reading sign by sign is the following, according to the table of signs.

Side A signs: spiral developing from the middle

7,45,25,23,34,29,7,23,35,6,2,7,18,39,30,8,7,36,29,22,24,18,23,7,5,45,7,35,18,7,25,23,34,27 8,7,36,7,36,22,5,45,29,13,8,29,8,7,36,29,1,27,9,2,33,39,32,35,6,1,33,29,18,14,16,35,20,24 24,29,18,1,38,25,27,40,36,26,2,35,40,24,7,25,42,37,22,18,1,37,7,15,33,39,1,37,43,18,23,16 12,20,24,33,27,25,22,37,23,13,2,35,7,45,27,7,40,22,12,2

Total of 119 signs on the side A.

Side B signs: spiral developing from the middle

38,3,10,1,13,21,13,35,27,27,12,2,38,3,10,35,19,23,1,13,12,2,12,26,31,19,17,18,6,27,18,32,1 4,27,12,2,26,31,12,2,1,28,18,23,10,25,27,2,26,31,12,23,33,21,13,35,27,27,12,2,26,31,12,2,1 28,18,23,10,25,27,2,11,39,38,23,32,12,2,7,40,41,1,35,19,41,12,2,35,26,31,47,18,6,12,2,8,4 4,27,12,7,45,27,33,40,4,12,2,34,29,29,5,45,29,12,40,24,18,1,13,12,2

Total of 123 signs on the side B of which 1 sign unreadable (sign Nr. 46)

SIDE B TRANSLATION

Direct translation of the Proto-Slavic words, with no modification, is the following:

Pop farted so as he got poopooed as he was
Full of the hen. Pop has well being, understandably.
So I, full of woes, to you want go I.
I wouldn’t take any carriage,
By walk, full of bones, to you want go I.
They know how to pay back here – by burial.
To you I want to go. Here said, that you are
full of bull bones. To you want go I.
They know how to pay back here – by burial.
Loved one, come here, run for me.
I conceal, not to fear,
to you and I could all desire
kisses in arms supply. Me awaits
humiliation enslavement full. Sacrificed
I am. I depict enslavement bogged down I
piteous entirely.

WHO IS AUTHOR OF THE TEXT?

Following theses are pure speculations. But after all, why not? Who is the author of the text? Who imprinted the signs into the clay of the disc found in the alleged archive of the Phaistos Palace? Even the rough translation implies that it was a woman. Emotional content of the message testifies humiliation, violence and will to get back to her loved one.  Young slave, as a toy serving delight to mighty ones. Her fate was to please “tomcats and passionate cocks”, with no possibility to escape. She was forbidden to write and they were punishing every attempt to not to obey the commands. The girl was clearly aware of her horrible fate, “when the bull gets tired, my remuneration will be my burial”…. when the ruler is fed up with me, he will let me be killed.

It is obvious that the author of the text was literate and socially educated. It could had been a “princess” captured from a “Slavic” tribe. Was the peculiar disc meaning to be delivered to somebody by an envoy sent for ransom payment? Maybe it was just a “letter” written in despair, exploiting a moment when the master fell asleep…  or her message from the capture failed to get out of the palace and she was killed because of that. Did the disc stay in the archive as a corpus delicti?

We can speculate a long time about it and definitely the time will come, when somebody writes a great novel about it.

POSSIBLE MEANING OF THE TEXT IN CURRENT LANGUAGE

Craving for love and dignified life didn’t change for millennia. Girls of these days would understand the Cretan girl with braided hair. Ancient text may be interpreted something like:

They watch over every step of mine.  Everything is forbidden to me. They take me as a cattle as a whore of the palace.  Me! I mourn, ask for mercy, but it doesn’t pay off. Finally I feel like a whore. For all  these horny men. I was writing secretly when being with the sheep. They pulled my hair to make me obey commands from the palace. They tortured me and let me lay in prison then.  Enslavement, as sheep in the fence did baa when I was maltreated by bastards. I was crying over myself. I do suffer a lot.

Master got overeaten with hen and has a rest. He is well. I want to leave, to go to you. Despaired, I will walk, with no carriage, until exhausted. To you. They say that a bull stomped you. They can even kill you. 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. Only the yoke of enslavement is waiting for me here. I am forsaken. Lost and pitiful, totally drowned in the slavery.

Jiri Matejka, Ing. Petr Kovar © 2010

(překlad do angličtiny : Ing. Dušan Polanský)


The Curious Phaistos Disc – Ancient Mystery or Clever Hoax?

Phaistos Disc

In 1908 an Italian archaeologist ventured into the ruins of Phaistos, an ancient Minoan palace on the south coast of Crete. In an underground temple depository, among burnt bones, dust, and ashes, he found a remarkably intact golden-hued disc. The discovery is known as one of the most famous mysteries in archaeology: The Phaistos Disc.

The Phaistos (or Phaestos) Disc is a large, umber-coloured, fired clay plate, about 15 cm in diameter and 1 cm thick. Both sides of the disc are covered with a spiral of strange stamped symbols, circling clockwise towards the disc’s centre. It’s presumed the 45 unique symbols were made by pressing hieroglyphic seals into the damp, soft clay disc.

The Phaistos Disc, detail

The Phaistos Disc, detail (Wikimedia Commons)

Archaeologist Luigi Pernier found the disc in a basement room under the palace complex during excavation. The site is to have suffered collapse due to earthquake or volcanic eruption. Other artifacts, such as the Arkalochori Axe, have been discovered elsewhere in Crete which sport similar symbols, thought to be Linear A, an undeciphered writing system used in ancient Greece.

Luigi Pernier

Luigi Pernier (23 November 1874 –18 August 1937) Italian archaeologist and academic best known for his discovery of the Disc of Phaistos. (Heraklion-Crete.org)Bottom of Form

Interkriti writes of the ancient city, “Phaistos was one of the most important centres of Minoan civilization, and the most wealthy and powerful city in southern Crete. It was inhabited from the Neolithic period until the foundation and development of the Minoan palaces in the 15th century B.C. […] According to mythology, Phaistos was the seat of king Radamanthis, brother of king Minos. It was also the city that gave birth to the great wise man and soothsayer Epimenidis, one of the seven wise men of the ancient world.”

To this day, researchers debate the purpose of the mysterious disc, what the coded symbols mean, and even where it was created.

Palace complex, Ruins of Phaistos

Palace complex, Ruins of Phaistos (Φαιστός), Crete, Greece (Wikimedia Commons, Olaf Tausch)

Enigmatic Symbols

The most curious aspect of the discs is the hieroglyphics spiralled on both sides. The symbols are pictograms, portraying images including a man walking, a tattooed head, a helmet, an arrow, manacles, cats, eagles, and more.

Both Sir Arthur Evans, discoverer of the Minoan capital Knossos in 1900, and Luigi Pernier attempted to translate the discs but were unsuccessful. Since that time no fewer than 26 notable attempts have been made to decipher the code.  It is presumed that the writing is Linear A, a script unconnected to any known language, but some scholars suggest it is syllabic writing related to various languages, such as Hittite, Homeric Greek, Indo-European or a Semitic language. WMMagazin writes in an article that a “persuasive” translation of the Phaistos Disc by Petr Kovar has revealed the writing to be Proto-Slavic. There has never been an official agreement to a final translation.

Linear A Script

Linear A Script. Ink-written inscriptions round the inner surface of a cup. Third Middle Minoan (Public Domain)

Interpretations as to the significance of the symbols include the disc being an ancient prayer, a game board, an astronomical document, a document from Atlantis, an adventure story, a description of the mythical labyrinth, initiation rites for young women, or a solar calendar.

Researchers debate whether the symbols should be read from the centre of the disc spiralling outwards, or vice versa. They also are not decided as to whether, once the symbols are transcribed into text, that it should be read right-to-left, or left-to-right.

Unfortunately, attempts at deciphering will likely remain unsuccessful as it is thought by experts that there is not enough context available to make a valid analysis until more examples of the symbols are found.

Chart detailing a rendering of some of the symbols found on the Phaistos Disc

Chart detailing a rendering of some of the symbols found on the Phaistos Disc (Partial Screenshot, Public Domain)

Authentic or Hoax?

Experts generally accept the disc as authentic, but some scholars have suggested the artifact may be a complex hoax or forgery. Excavation records made by Pernier at the time were thorough, but no definite manufacturing timeline has been established through forensic geochronology tests. As such, theories on dating range from 1700 B.C. to 1400 B.C., and more specifically in Middle or Late Minoan times.

Some wonder if Luigi Pernier simply created the disc himself, but discovery of other artifacts with the Linear A symbols suggest otherwise. In addition, creating a forgery this enduring would be an audacious and difficult fraud to pull off, fooling experts and archaeologists for more than a century.

In the end, until the Phaistos code can be cracked and the truth revealed, the golden disc will continue to draw curious linguists, analytical cryptographers, and lovers of a good ancient mystery.


picture

The evidence for a Palace

picture
Storage magazines

The Minoan site of Petras is situated a couple of kilometres east of the modern town of Siteia and it overlooks the sea from the top of a small plateau. The site has been excavated by Metaxia Tsipopoulou since 1985 and she has also been responsible for extensive work in the bay of Siteia whose aim has been to establish the Minoan settlement patterns in the area.

The Minoan township of Petras, with a central building of a palatial character, was almost certainly the main town in this part of northern Crete. The Minoan town was already large in the Early Minoan IIB period. The houses were built together in small groups, with plastered walls and red clay floors. The processing and weaving of wool seems to have taken place in the settlement as well as the production of obsidian blades.

By the Early Minoan III/Middle Minoan IA period, at the end of the prepalatial period in Crete, larger buildings were being constructed on the hill where the later palace was to be built. The first evidence also began to emerge of elites forming and possibly competing with each other. Unfortunately the levelling of the site for the palace was so extensive that no evidence remains of buildings from the Middle Minoan I period, which saw the end of the prepalatial and the beginning of the protopalatial period on Crete so there is no way of knowing whether some large building with monumental architecture predated the first palace, which was constructed in MM IIA.

The main complex is 2800 square metres in area. The designation “palatial building” is based on finds there which resemble the architectural features of the main Minoan palaces.

Storage

First of all there is evidence that storage of produce was an important aspect of the main complex. The areas devoted to storage grew towards the end of the Neopalatial period and by the end pithoi were even being stored in the courtyard. The magazines were located to the north of the central court on a north-south axis. They were constructed in LM IA during the first phase of the construction of the second palace.

During LM IB two more storage areas were added, giving a total of 214 square metres of storage space. It seems likely that storage capacity exceeded the needs of the complex which suggests an administrative and redistributive role for the complex. The existence of 44 pithoi in the magazine area demonstrates that agricultural produce from the bay of Siteia must have been centralised at Petras rather than at any of the other sites excavated in the area.

The Central Court

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The central court

Secondly, there was a small central court running north-south, with a plaster floor and a drainage system using stone and plaster drains. The Central Court has now been covered with gravel to protect it so it is no longer possible to see or photograph the detail that was uncovered in the original excavation.

A central court is possibly the one essential element in identifying a building as a palace, although not all buildings which have a central court are necessarily palaces. The villa at Makriyialos, for example, has a very small central court but it is not a palace.

The palace at Petras was first erected in MM IIA and was finally destroyed in LM IB. It underwent a number of changes and the neopalatial palace was certainly less important than the protopalatial palace had been. All this was reflected in the history of the Central Court where two different phases have been identified.

The first starts in MM IIA and continues to LM IA. During this period the central court bears a similar resemblance to the central courts of other palaces. It was orientated more or less north to south and measured 17.6 metres by 7.6 metres. A monumental staircase, the remains of which are also covered in gravel today, led up to the north west corner of the Central Court from below. In the north west corner of the court there was a a square room with an entrance to the west which was no doubt used to monitor people entering up the monumental staircase.

The court was covered in a thick layer of fine white plaster and there was a double drainage system. It began at a point on the west wall of the Central Court. One branch passed north along the facade of the west wall, under the central court towards the monumental staircase where there was an outlet. The other branch ran eastwards from the same starting point beneath the central court and out below the east wall.

After the LM IA destruction alterations were made to the central court during the rebuilding of the palace. The monumental staircase was no longer used and the square room used to monitor access also went out of use and was not rebuilt. Although the total area of the court was only slightly reduced, the open part of the central court was greatly reduced in size because the eastern part of the court was covered by a stoa 4.8 metres deep and running the whole length of the court so that it effectively formed the East Wing of the palace.

It seems that the LM IB stoa was most likely an L-shaped building that ran along both the north and east sides of the central court. The east wing stoa had alternating columns and pillars. The stoa was very deep and because it only had one row of columns and pillars it could only have been a single-storey structure. Both the floor covering of the court in this period and the new drainage system were inferior to those that existed before the LM IA destruction.

The hieroglyphic archive

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The area of the archive

Inscriptions are usually associated with an administrative function. In the central building two archive tablets have so far been found. One was inscribed with Linear A while another consisted of hieroglyphic signs. The first was found in the magazine area and the second in the corridor outside the magazine area. There are also other examples of Linear A at Petras but the total number found to date is small.

The hieroglyphic archive itself was found in the west wing. The documents had fallen from the room above onto the floor below by the MM II doorway, which went out of use after the MM II destruction. Pottery found with the archive attests to its MM IIB date and the area was subsequently covered with a deposit from the LM IA period.

The excavator, Metaxia Tsipopoulou, believes that some of the finds indicate that the archive was still in use at the time of its destruction. These finds include a piece of clay the same size as some of the documents but only partly prepared; unfinished noduli of various types with their surface prepared for the impression of a seal; an unfinished medallion and a clay bar which had an uninscribed side.

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West wing from the south

The finds included various kinds of document. Firstly there were two completed four-sided clay bars. They had sign groups and numerals inscribed on them. None of the sign groups have been recognised from previous signs in hieroglyphic script from other sites in Crete.

Eight medallions were also found. All of them were inscribed with a single sign group on one side and dots which seem to represent numbers appear on the reverse side of six of them. Again the sign groups are unknown elsewhere.

Cresents are documents which usually contain inscriptions and a seal impression. One complete example was found, along with fragments of five others. Of these fragments, four had inscriptions and three had seal impressions.

The various nodules and sealings did not have any inscriptions, just seal impressions, although one seal impression might be part of a hieroglyphic inscription. It is thought that as many as 35 different seal impressions may be recorded in the archive. No evidence of Linear A was found at the site of the archive.

Monumental architecture

The architecture of the complex has similarities with palace architecture. These include ashlar masonry, pier-and-door partitions, columns and pillar combinations, particularly in the east wing stoa already described. Other important architectural features that link the complex with palace architecture include double staircases, cut slab pavements, dadoes and frescoes.

Masons’ marks have also been found in great quantities in the central building. Among the marks identified are double axes, stars, branches, Linear A signs and double triangles as well as some lesser signs.


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A Late Minoan town

Gournia: Buildings in the east part of the town
Buildings in the east part of the town

The Late Minoan town of Gournia was excavated by Harriet Boyd in the first years of the 20th century. It is one of the few Minoan towns to have been fully excavated. The original name of the settlement is not known and its present name comes from the hollow vessels found all over the site, many of which can still be seen at the entrances to the rooms.

Gournia lies on a small hill, a few hundred metres from the sea in the Gulf of Mirabello. Its position is important as it lies on the east to west route along the north coast of Crete but also near the main route in this area between the north and south coasts of Crete. This is the point where Crete is at its most narrow and the route from modern day Ierapetra in the south to the village of Pachyamos on the north coast, a few kilometres from Gournia, does not even cross mountains, making the route a very easy one to travel.

A house in Gournia
A house in Gournia

It is thought that the town may have extended down, almost to the seashore, in an area bounded by a steep hill to the east (Sphoungaras) which was used as a cemetery and a river to the west. The remains of the shoreline installations can be seen on a separate page on this website, (link at the bottom of this page).

Early habitation

From pottery finds in the Sphoungaras area it is known that groups of neolithic people were settled in the area around Gournia in the period up to 3000 BCE, that is to say, the Late Neolithic period. The next evidence we have for settlement in the area dates to 2500 BCE in the Early Minoan period. It is almost certain, however, that the area was continuously inhabited during the intervening 500 years; it is just that no finds have been made yet to establish this.

There is evidence of continued occupation through EM II and EM III, with both pottery finds and burials. At Sphoungaras, where there are rock overhangs, the settlers built walls to create small covered areas where the dead were buried.

The first palace period

A gourna, from which the name of Gournia is derived
Gournia took its modern name from the large number of these objects found on the site

Much of what existed on the site of Gournia during this period was levelled and built over during later building phases. It is thought, however, that the basic lay-out of the town was established at this time, although no palace appears to have been constructed at this stage. It has been argued that the size of the population reached 400 people. A few buildings survived the levelling of the area which took place at the end of the first palace period around 1700. Among these was House Aa, a large two-storied house in the north east part of the town.

New forms of burial are introduced in this period. In the first type the dead are buried in inverted pythoi which are placed in pits in the ground. (Pythoi are enormous clay vessels, more commonly used for storing and transporting foodstuffs). The other new type of burial is in house tombs. These consisted of one or two small rooms in which the dead and their grave goods were placed. Similar house tombs have been found at Mochlos, some kilometres further east along the north coast.

The new palace period

Around 1700 BCE parts of the top of the town were levelled off and a new stage of building began, giving us the town as we see it today. A palace is built for the first time, and this represents a major change in the way society in the Gournia area is organised. As happened previously in other parts of Crete when a palace was built, the surrounding villages were abandoned as the population was presumably incorporated into the new town.

The palace itself is squeezed into the southern part of the town. The most dense concentrations of buildings lie to the north and east of the palace as the gorge which the river flows through approaches quite close to the west side of the hill.

The Late Minoan palace

Gournia: The palace
The Palace

The palace building measured 50 metres by 37 metres and faced south across the courtyard, which was approximately 40 metres by 15 metres. Consequently it was much smaller than the main palaces like Knossos, Phaistos and Malia. Moreover, the courtyard had to be placed outside the palace whereas normally it would be surrounded by the four wings of the palace. There is no real West Court at Gournia like there is at the palaces. The road leading past the West Facade was simply widened at this point.

Visiting the site today, it is very difficult to make out the actual dimensions of what remains of the palace. Because it was built on a hill, levelling the ground before building seems to have been ruled out and the palace was built on three terraces. The bottom terrace, the West facade, was made up of storerooms on the west side of the structure, running on a north-south axis. This follows the traditional design for the palaces. The second level originally started above these storerooms and continued east onto the solid rock of the hill.

That part of the second level which was built above the western storerooms no longer exists so what we see today is the remains of the storerooms to the West which seem to merge into what was originally the second level of the palace where this was built on the hill itself and so its ruins have survived. The top floor would have collapsed during the destruction of the palace.

Gournia: The theatral area
The small theatral area

The palace also contained a lustral basin and light well. There were three entrances to the palace, from the south, west and northeast. Because the palace was so small, the “central court” was placed outside to the south. Built into the structure of the palace at the north end of the “central court” are two sets of four steps, placed at right angles to each other. These steps resemble the theatral areas of the main palaces. They also formed the south entrance to the palace. Unlike the other theatral areas, however, this one faces the central court, rather than the west court. It is also on a considerably more modest scale than other theatral areas.

At the top of the set of steps that run north-south, there is what might be a sacrificial stone. It has been suggested that holes carved in the stone may have enabled a table to be slotted in, on which the animal to be sacrificed was tied. Objections have been raised however that the location of the holes would not allow for a table large enough to hold an animal for sacrifice and that the stone slab itself may have served as the sacrificial spot. Another hole in the stone slab may have been used for fixing a religious symbol, for example a double axe.

The palace, together with the surrounding town, was destroyed by fire around 1450 BCE, at a time when every major Minoan settlement on the island was also either destroyed by fire or abandoned.

To the north of the palace, and separate from it, a small civic shrine was found, dating to the LM I period. This small shrine was 3 metres by 4 metres and approached up three steps. It had a ledge on the south side for the placing of cult objects. In the shrine, the finds themselves dated from a much later period and included idols of a goddess with raised arms and a clay vessel with handles on either side in the form of snakes and a relief of horns of consecration.

The Late Minoan town

Gournia: Steps leading up through the town
Steps lead up through the industrial town to the Palace area at the top of the hill.

The town which grew up in Late Minoan IA covered an area of 25,000 square metres. It can be divided into seven separate quarters. Two roads encircled the lower and upper parts of the town, joined together by steps at various points. The estimated population of the town was 4,000.

The numerous houses are small and tightly packed together. Many of the surviving rooms were most likely basements used for storage and entry to the houses would, in many cases, have been by steps leading up from the street. Some of these steps can still be seen.

Other houses were entered directly at street level and large threshold stones can still be seen at the entrance to many of these houses. Access to the basements would have been down wooden stairs or ladders, through a trapdoor from inside the houses.

Among the finds on the site are potters’ wheels, a carpenter’s workshop complete with saws and other tools, a coppersmith’s forge and an oil press.

Minoan houses

Gournia: Possible sacrifice stone
Flat stone probably used for blood sacrifice. A table may have been inserted in the holes, and an animal sacrificed on the table.

An idea of what Minoan houses looked like can be gained from the ivory and faience plaques discovered in the East wing of Knossos. These plaques show what houses in the town of Knossos looked like in the 17th century BCE.

On the roof there was a small room. This may have been used for sleeping in during the hot summer months. The rooms on the first floor had windows, but those on the ground floor did not, although some of them had doors on the ground floor. It may be that windows on the ground floor were avoided for simple reasons of security — to avoid burglary.

The houses were built around a wooden frame — wooden beams ran horizontally and were linked to upright beams. The most likely reason for the use of these beams was as protection against earthquake damage.

The post palatial period

The area around Gournia suffered depopulation in the ensuing period, represented by the rule of the Mycenaeans in the centre and west of the island. It is not known if Gournia itself was completely abandoned, but this seems unlikely as attested by the fact that one house was clearly occupied throughout this period and the cult objects in the shrine date from LM III. Burials from this period have also been unearthed in the area. It is thought that the site was finally abandoned around 1200 BCE

The site is open to the public from 8.30-3.00 (entrance 2 euros in 2012). Very few tourists visit the site which means you can enjoy the remains of this Minoan town at your leisure. A good view of the whole of the east part of the the town can be had from the main Agios Nikolaos-Siteia road. To reach the harbour installations (link to page on the right) walk down the dirt track from the entrance to Gournia archaeological site until you reach the main road. Cross the main road and turn left. Walk a hundred metres or so until just before the bridge over the ravine. Turn right down the track here and walk down to the shoreline.


The settlement is located in the north corner of the village of Tylisos (also Tylissos), south-west of Heraklion on the road to Anoyeia and Mount Psiloritis.

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Although the site of the Minoan town was known early in the 19th Century, it was finally excavated by Hadzidakis from 1909-1913. Further excavations were carried out by N. Platon in 1953-55 and by A. Kanta in 1971.

The Minoan town occupied a large area and there are traces of houses from earlier periods (EM II to MM II) scattered throughout the site. Hadzidakis excavated only three of the main buildings and the two most important of these, Houses A and C, date from the very end of MM III (around 1600 BCE in the neopalatial period). They were destroyed by fire in LM IB (around 1450 BCE) when all the major sites in Crete apart from Knossos were either damaged, destroyed or abandoned. The site was later reoccupied early in LM IIIA.

Tylisos was clearly a very important site in Minoan times. Although no palace has been discovered here, much of the architecture was palatial in nature and according to Antonis Vasilakis, more impressive than the architecture of some of the palaces. The miniature frescoes are similar both in style and subject matter to those found at Knossos and may have been produced by the same painters. They make up the second largest group of miniature frescoes in Minoan Crete. The huge size of the three cauldrons found on the site not only attests to the numbers living in the mansions but also to the ability of the inhabitants to obtain large amounts of copper, the supply of which would have been centrally controlled at Knossos. The presence of Linear A inscriptions also points to the importance of Tylisos.

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Room 2 in House C

House A is a large mansion which was originally a two storey building. The ground floor alone had 24 rooms. The walls were built of ashlar masonry. The mansion was entered from the east through a pillared court. There are two parts to the building. The northern part was the storage area, and two magazines were located here. A number of large pithoi were discovered here, and over 50 were found throughout the building. The southern part was a residential area, with a number of rooms organised around a Minoan Hall. In one of these rooms a tripod cooking pot was found. In the centre of the living quarters there was a light well.

The Minoan Hall is room 6. Its west wall is the pier-and-door partition outside which is a small, narrow forehall and a light well with columns that form a small portico. Driessen believes the house may have been altered in order to incorporate the Minoan Hall system. Unusually access to twelve of the fourteen rooms in the south wing is gained through the Minoan Hall since by closing the partitions the forehall becomes part of a corridor. This has also been observed at other sites including the palace at Zakros and the Little Palace at Knossos. Room 6 together with the rooms to the east and south of it form a square within a square pattern, which was used in Minoan architecture long before the Neopalatial “villas” were built. Given the number of rooms that lead directly off the Minoan Hall, it would not have been a very peaceful place, certainly during the day, though in the evenings it may have returned to what is considered one of the main roles of the Minoan Hall, as a gathering place.

The rooms to the west of the light well produced the best finds. Room 3, the most northerly of the three rooms contained jars, vases, loomweights and a bronze figurine which had almost certainly fallen from the floor above. Room 4, to the south, contained many small jars and Room 5 originally contained four large bronze cauldrons which were found by a peasant before the excavations began. Two Linear A tablets and some clay sealings were also recovered from the room. The Minoan Hall with its paved floor did not itself yield up anything significant. To the north-east of the Hall there was a lustral basin. A staircase led to the upper floor.

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View of House B

House B has a much simpler design than House A and may have been an annexe although it might actually have predated House A. The building seems to have contained storage rooms, but little was found apart from a large collection of LM I vases in one of the rooms. The building was destroyed by fire.

House C is in fact two buildings. The first was built at the same time as Houses A and B, that is to say in the neopalatial period. After the general destruction of 1450 BCE the remains of the neopalatial mansion were covered with earth and consequently was found to be in quite good condition when it was excavated.

As with House A, the entrance to House C is to be found on the east side of the building. The rooms on the ground floor were connected by a series of four corridors. These linked a possible shrine in the southern part of the building to the store rooms in the western part of the building and finally the residential area in the northern part of the building. There were three staircases leading to the upper floor and in the northern part of the building a lustral basin was found. As well as jars and clay vases, fragments of frescos which had fallen from the upper floor were also discovered in House C.

Later on a LM III building was built on top of House C and even later still a Greek sanctuary covered the northern part of the building. Little remains of the LM III building. A pithos found in the storage area was inscribed in Linear A.

The cistern also dates from the later LM III period. Like the cistern at Zakros it can be entered by steps. An aqueduct with clay pipes can also still be seen. The name Tylisos is to be found in the Linear B tablets from Knossos and is a pre-Greek name. A peak sanctuary which remained in use until at least LM IA is located on the Pyrgos hill above the site.

The site is open to the public and a small admission charge is made.

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East entrance to House A
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Room 15, House A
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Room 18, House A, from the north
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Room 18, House A, from the south
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Room 17, House A, from the south
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Room 6, House A
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Room 11, House A
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Room 3, House A
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Room 6, House A, from above
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Lustral basin, house C
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Room 15, House C
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Room 15 and channel to cistern, House C

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LM III cistern