A discovery made in Iklaina Greece has turned out to be the oldest example of decipherable text in Europe. A dig has unearthed many Mycenaean artifacts including a piece of writing made by a Greek-speaking Mycenaean scribe.
Other Mycenaean artifacts were found at the same dig. They included parts of a palace, murals, giant terrace walls and even proof of a drainage system. The Mycenaeans had a very advanced civilization and were able to dominate much of Greece between 1600 BCE and 1100 BCE. The civilization became legendary after Homer mentioned them in his work, the Ilead, which is an account of their war with Troy.
The tablet measures 1 inch tall by 1.5 inches wide. It was written using a writing system known as Linear B. This system was made up of 87 different signs that represented syllables rather than individual letters. The system was usually used to record financial matters that may have been of interest to the ruling elite at the time. This holds true for the pottery fragment that was discovered. Archaeologists have been able to determine that the syllable appearing on the fragment had to do with manufacturing although it is unknown what the rest of the piece would have said in its entirety.
There is also text on the back of the piece as well. This piece of writing includes a list of names as well as numbers. Archaeologists believe that this may have been part of a property list. There are a number of reasons why this find is so big.
The first reason is that the tablets were only meant to last a season and were therefore not made out of clay that was fired. They were dried in the sun and this made them extremely fragile. Because they were so brittle very few of the tablets have been found. They usually turn up in major palaces rather than at digs like the one at Iklaina.
It was believed that the tablet was only preserved as a fluke of luck. It appears as though the tablet was thrown into a fire pit where garbage was being burned. The heat from the burning garbage fired the clay and made it durable enough to last for thousands of years.
It is important to remember that while this is the oldest known sample of writing in Europe it is not the earliest known sample of writing that has been discovered to date. The oldest samples include pieces found in China, Egypt and Mesopotamia. The writing that has been found in those areas dates back to as early as 3,000 BCE. Scientists are hoping to be able to find evidence of an earlier writing system known as Linear A that may have been related to Egyptian hieroglyphics. Scientists and archaeologists have been unable to translate any of the Linear A writings that have been found to date.
Scientists are also hoping that the Linear B writing will give information on how Greek kingdoms may have been organized.