Essay Sample on Phaistos Disk

2021-05-25 13:32:05
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Sewanee University of the South
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Research paper
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The Phaistos disk probably dates between 1600 BC and 1850 BC, either in the middle or in the late Minoan Bronze Age. It was discovered in 1908 in the palace of Minoan Phaistos on Crete (Reczko, 2009). An earthquake destroyed a palace together with other Minoan sites; the disk was discovered at the location where Phaistos stood .It was discovered in a basement cell room 101 of the palace (Rowe, 1919). The basement cells were only accessible from above and were rich in black earth and ashes. It was discovered by Luigi Permier during his dig-up of the first Minoan palace. It is made of clay that was then heated under high temperatures. It is inscribed on both sides with symbols that are unique and do not resemble any form of writing style. It measures about 15 - 16 cm in diameter and is inscribed on both sides with symbols that are arranged in a spiral pattern. It has a thickness of 2.1 centimeters. There have been debates on its origin, manufacture, purpose and meaning amongst scholars as little is known about it. It contains graphics of common Minoan artistic mages such as cattle, lilies, and dolphins thus scholars argue that it is of Minoan origin. Phaistos is an ancient city on the island of Crete that was an important center of Minoan civilization and the most wealthy and powerful city in southern Crete.

There are 242 figures in the disk. Many of the symbols represent easy to identify everyday things such as fish, birds, insects, plants, human figures amongst others. The writings on the disk were made by pressing seals into the soft clay in a direction that points to the right for example the symbol of a walking man faces to the right. The symbols on the disk overlap at times and it can be interpreted that the text is written from the exterior to the center. The overcuts, corners of the spirals and corrections made on the spot suggest that whoever wrote on the text did so as he was printing it. Therefore, there is no way one can separate the direction of reading from the direction of printing. The writings were made by impressing wood seals or stamps on the wet clay and then baking it at high temperatures to harden it. The symbols on the disk are arranged in a spiral pattern of hand drawn lines and are separated into groups of between two and seven by vertical lines (Bookalam, Colavito, 1982).There are also some symbols that indicate evidence of having been erased and re-stamped. There are also strokes impressed in the clay on the disk that seem to have been hand drawn and always appear below the symbol to the left of the symbols within a group sharing the vertical lines. The dashes and dotted bars though do not appear in all groups. There have been suggestions that they might be present to represent markers to the start of word, extra vowels, or consonants. Others have argued that the strokes were used to divide the text into paragraphs. The fact that the text on the disk is brief and short makes it hard to even try to translate even a small part of it. The inscriptions made by using a set of stamps can be interpreted to imply that the objects being impressed with the script was made on mass production, however no other object has been found by archaeologists. There have been suggestions that the Phaistos disk is the earliest typewritten work although it is not printed work. Some symbols on the disk have been said to be similar to the ancient Cretan writings in use during the early to mid-millennium BC. It is weird that the Minoan civilization used a primitive pictographic language on the disk while a much more advanced script of Linear A was already in use. There is an implication that the primitive nature of the writing on the disk point to a much earlier date for the disk than what is presently accepted. This is not necessarily the case however since there are archaic forms of writing that have survived into later periods such as the case of ancient Egypt.

There is a problem with interpreting the symbols on the disk, as little is known on the hieroglyphics used. The archeologists wonder whether the disk contains a hieroglyphic inscription or whether the symbols drawn on the disk should be taken at face value. Despite the pictures being of simple everyday things such as a child or a woman, it does not help to interpret the meaning of the disk. Some linguists have argued that the series of the symbols represents syllables while others believe that it is a syllable combined with pictures to express a concept. The combination of a syllable and an ideogram makes the symbols similar to all other known syllables of ancient Greece and the ancient Near East such as Minoan Linear B, hieroglyphic writing and cuneiform. Cuneiform consists of pictograms drawn on clay tablets with a pen made from a sharpened reed and it is of Sumerian origin in the late 4th millennium BC. There is a symbol of a marching human that appears a total of eleven times. The symbol is similar to the modern day symbol of a pedestrian. There is a sign of a plumed head, which represents a head of a human being with a crested helmet. The plumed head is the most repeated symbol and appears a total of nineteen times. There is a symbol of a wavy band that is deciphered to represent water. It appears a total of six times. The symbol of a small axe appears once. There is a symbol of a strainer that is triangle and seems to be granulated internally which appears once. There is a symbol of a flower with eight petals that appears four times and it has been deciphered to represent a rosette. The symbol of a saffron flower, which represents lilly flower, appears four times.

The symbol of a tattooed head is deciphered to represent a bald human head with tattoo or jewelry on the cheek and appears twice on side A of the disk. The symbol of a captive man represents a standing human being whose arms have been tied and it appears once. The symbol of a child appears once, while that of a woman appears four times. The symbol of a helmet appears eighteen times and is a bell- shaped symbol. The symbol of a tiara appears two sides on side B only. The symbol of an arrow appears four times on side A only, while that of a bow appears once. The symbol of a shield appears seventeen times while that of a club appears six times. The symbol of manacles, whose flat tops and slots in the basement are for attachment of thongs, appears two times on both sides. The symbol of a mattock appears once.

The symbol of a saw, which looks like a knife, appears twice on side B only. The symbol of a lid is deciphered to represent an instrument for cutting leather and appears once. The symbol of a boomerang appears twelve times and is deciphered to represent a carpenters angle. The symbol of a carpentry plane appears thrice only on side A and it is Y-shaped. The symbol of a dolium represents a handled vase and appears twice on side B only. There is a symbol of a column that is square headed and represents a mallet that appears eleven times. The symbol of a sling represents a double pipe and appears five times only on side B. The symbol of a comb appears twice on side A only and is deciphered to represent a palace floor pan. The symbol of a beehive, which looks like a hut, appears six times. The symbol of a ship appears seven times and it lies in a vertical representation. The symbol of a horn that is deciphered to represent the horn of an ox appears six times. The symbol of a hide that looks like an ox hide appears a total of fifteen times.

The symbol of a bulls leg which is deciphered to represent an oxs foot appears twice only on side A. There is a symbol of a cat that appears eleven times and it is deciphered to represent the head of an animal of the feline family. The symbol of the head of a ram, which is deciphered to represent the head of a horned sheep, appears once on the disk. The symbol of an eagle is deciphered to represent a flying bird and appears five times only on side A. The symbol of a dove is deciphered to represent a seated dove and it appears thrice. The symbol of a tunny, which is deciphered to represent a fish, appears six times on the disk. The symbol of a bee, which is deciphered to represent an insect, appears thrice.

The symbol of a plane tree is deciphered to represent a plant and appears eleven times. The symbol of a vine is deciphered to represent an olive branch and appears four times on side B only. The pictographs on the disk that functioned as ideograms no longer just represent the object depicted but express ideas or concepts. For example, the symbol of a boat does not represent a boat but expresses an idea, say of travelling. Direct associations of objects with its uses, features, and main qualities are simple and widely recognized. Pictographs and ideograms are also easier to interpret and understand than the syllabic systems of writing, which are a way of expressing more abstract ideas in a particular language.

Some arguments that have been made about the uses of the Phaistos disk include the following; some argue that it was used to represent the journey of humanity; there has been argument that it was used as a gift or token, others argue that it was used as a legal document. It has also been interpreted to have been used in healing processes or used a calendar system to track time, used as a crossword puzzle or a board game. Yet there are arguments that it was used to record the activities of the palace as well as a map outline for the Minoan palace. It has also been interpreted to be a representation of musical notes for a stringed instrument; others decipher it to be a poetic verse or a magical curse. There have also been suggestions that the disk was left by extraterrestrial visitors on earth or by an ancient generation thousands of years ago as a message to future generations. Some researchers have claimed to have deciphered the text on the disk to be a Minoan prayer to the mother goddess. Scholars have not concluded on what the graphics and symbols of the disk could be representing.

Attempts to decode the meaning of the symbols have been made. There have been many suggestions to the meaning of the symbols including prayers, stories games, and geometric theorem among others. The attempts by scholars to decipher the meaning of the symbols are thought to be unlikely to succeed since no second disk has been found to date. The mathematician Claude Shannons theory about the Unicity distance suggests that length of the text is enough for reaching to one meaning that is sensible (Christakis, 2012). However, even if a common meaning was reached it would be necessary to verify the solution by deciphering another text written in the same style yet no second disk has been found hence it would be difficult to verify. Some of the symbols were pictures meaning that they represented the object in the disk. In 1975, Jean Faucounau in an attempt to decipher the meaning of the disk, published a translation indicating that the language was pre-Greek of a tradition he identified ad Proto-Ionians. These people had closer ties with ancient Troy rather than Crete, thus it would imply that the disk was not of Cretan origin. Faucounaus interpretation argues that text on the disk was used to describe the career and funeral of a Proto-Ioanian king called Arion. Most scholars have however disagreed with this decipherment. Efi Polygiannakis published a book in 2000, arguing that the writing on the disk was in the syllabic writing system of an ancient Greek dialect. Efis argument is supported by Dr. Steven Fischer who also identified the text as syllabic writing in a Greek dialect. Some researche...

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