Tag Archive: supersyllaograms

Linear A tablet ZA 15 VERSO (Zakros), so little text, so information rich, all about wine, with yet another Old Minoan word conclusively deciphered!

Linear A tablet ZA 15 b VERSO Zakros

If there is any Linear A tablet which conveys so much information in so few words, this has to be it. No one could be blamed for thinking that a tablet, whether or not it is inscribed in Linear A or Linear B, which contains only 2 words (qedi & kuro), 3 ideograms (wine) and one supersyllabogram would have little to say. But this is far from the case here. This tablet offers us the best of 3 worlds. First of all, the word kuro is Mycenaean-derived New Minoan; secondly, we are finally able to establish once and for all and beyond doubt that the Old Minoan word qedi actually means a flagon for wine. Since it appears on other Linear A tablets in conjunction with the same ideogram, wine, the meaning is indisputable; and thirdly, the supersyllabogram RA, as all supersyllabograms are, is information-rich. It can stand for only 1 of two possible Linear A words, rani or ratise, which are, believe it or not, practically synonymous. First we have rani, which means anything sprinkled (as in a libation); rain drop, and then ratise, which appears to be instrumental plural for with drops of wine. So the inscription reads the same way either way. I would like to point out as well that no linguist specializing in Linear A, not even Prof. John G. Younger, has drawn explicit attention to the supersyllabogram RA, which is critical to a proper reading of this tablet, since no Linear A, let alone Linear B, researchers have recognized supersyllabograms for what they are, until I myself deciphered all 36 of them in Linear B between 2014 and 2016, the results of my research consequently published in Archaeology and Science, Vol. 11 (2015) ISSN 1452-7448, pp. 73-108:

decipherment of supersyllabograms in Linear B

And not to be outdone, I have also already isolated the 27 supersyllabograms found in Linear A. It actually came as no surprise to me that Linear A has supersyllabograms.

Table 5 Table of 27 supersyllabograms in Minoan Linear A revised 2017

As it so turns out, it was the Minoan Linear A scribes who invented supersyllabograms, not the Minoan-Mycenaean Linear B scribes. You will note that I have already been able to decipher 10 of the 27 SSYLS in Linear A, including that for RA, which in the pottery and vessels sector signifies with drops of wine for a libation”. The enormous and far-reaching implications of supersyllabograms in both Linear A and Linear B cannot be stressed enough.


Linear A tablet HT 18 (Haghia Triada) in Old Minoan fully deciphered:

Linear A ideogams for wheat and barley

Linear A tablet HT 18 Haghia Triada

Except for the word pase which introduces this tablet, and which is probably Mycenaean-derived, the entire tablet is in Old Minoan, i.e. the Minoan substratum. Since we know what all of the ideograms and supersyllabograms mean, the decipherment is straightforward. On the first line, we have the ideogram for wheat followed by the associative supersyllabogram QE, which stands for qeria, Old Minoan for “emmer roasted wheat”. Next we have the ideogram for “roasted einkorn”, which Prof. John G. Younger incorrectly identifies as the ideogram for “olives”. They are sometimes confused. In this context, it makes no sense whatsoever for this ideogram to signify “olives”, in view of the fact the rest of the tablet deals with wheat, except at the very end, where figs are introduced. The associative supersyllabogram KI with the ideogram for “roasted einkorn” may reference one of two things, either kiretana, which is apparently Old Minoan for “Cretan” or more likely than not kireta2 (kiretai), meaning “with barley”. In other words, the roasted einkorn is mixed with barley. Finally, we have the supersyllabogram NI for “figs”. In old Minoan, this word is either nire or nite in the plural. The assignment of “bushel-like units” to the wheat and barley on this tablet is merely an approximation, since we have no idea what the standard unit for the measurement of grains, wheat or barley was in Minoan or for that matter in Mycenaean Crete. But it gives us an approximation of the amounts we are dealing with on this tablet.

Translation of Linear B textiles tablet, KN 527 R l 51:

KN 527 R l 51 textiles

Apart form being extremely repetitive (and I cannot grasp why the linear B scribe felt so inclined to repeat the same phrase, tetukuwoa = a kind of cloth 3 times!), the decipherment is straightforward. I do not know what Ekisia is supposed to mean. I believe it is either a personal name or a toponym (place name).  

Archaeology and Science (illustrations) No, 10 (2014) Post 1 of 2

This is the annual serial, Archaeology and Science No, 10 (2014), in which my article, “An Archaeologist’s Translation of Pylos Tablet TA 641-1952”, with translations by both Michael Ventris (1952) and Rita Roberts (2015) appear. This is the most beautiful periodical I have ever seen in my life. It is 274 pp. Long. It is in hard cover, and is worth about $80. The pages are on glossy paper and illustrated in full colour. As an author, I received a complimentary copy.

Archaeology and Science 2014 Vol. 10 front cover


Archaeology and Science 2014 Vol. 10 back cover

Archaeology and Science 2014 Vol. 10 Ventris 140 full

Archaeology and Science 2014 Vol. 14 Rita Roberts pg. 141 full

Archaeology and Science 2014 Vol. 10 Rita Roberts pg 141 close


Linear B tablet 04-81 N a 12 from the Knossos “Armoury”

04-81WIRINEO O n KAKEYAPI OPI Greek & translation 

While most of the Linear B tablets from the Knossos “Armoury” we have translated so far this month have posed few problems of any significance, and a few occasional problems of some significance,  this tablet stubbornly defies an accurate translation, for the following reasons:

1 the literal word order on the first line is so jumbled up that it is almost impossible to determine what adjectives modify what nouns. So I have had to come up with at least two alternate interpretations of this line in my free translation.  We are saddled with the burning question – 

1.1 Is the chariot equipped with straps and bridles made of leather and horse blinkers made of copper?
1.2  Is the chariot equipped with straps and horse blinkers made of leather and bridles made of copper?
1.3 even some other probable concatenation?

Then we are confronted with the mysterious Mycenaean word – (ko)nikopa – (if indeed the first syllabogram, which is partially obscured, is in fact – ko – ), leaving me no alternative but  to rummage through an ancient Greek dictionary, in the hope that I just might be able to come up with a word concatenated from two ancient Greek words, and to my slight relief, I found both of the ancient Greek words you see in the illustration of the tablet above, transliterated into Latin script here for those of you who cannot read ancient Greek. These are the words – koniatos – , which means – whitewashed – or – painted white – and – kopis – which means – sword/axe – . See The Pocket Oxford Classical Greek Dictionary, pg. 189, for these definitions. But it is quite clear to any ancient Greek linguistic scholar that I am stretching the putative meaning of – (ko)nikopa – just about as far as one can without crossing over into the realm of ridiculous speculation. So please take my translation of this word with a very large grain of salt. I merely took this meaning because the word has to mean something, so why not at least try and take a stab at it? Every one and anyone who knows me is perfectly aware that I am always the first one to take the plunge and to attempt to translate even the most recalcitrant unknown words found on Linear B tablets. Someone has to, and I am a most willing guinea pig.  

Nevertheless, it is still possible, however remotely, that the word may mean just that, especially if we assume (and that is all it is, an assumption) that the chariot builder painted an axe motif onto both sides of the chariot body, just as we find the same motif painted onto frescoes in the Hall of the Double Axes at Knossos. This motif of the double axe, which is dubbed a – labrys  – by the Minoans and Mycenaeans, is characteristic of wall frescoes at both Knossos and Mycenae, as illustrated here:

motif of labrys or double axes common to Knossos and Mycenae

clarified in turn by the illustration below of the ideogram – dapu – for – labrys –  and with a similar ideogram of a labrys incharged with the supersyllabogram WE, which I have as yet been unable to decipher:

Linear B syllabogram B232 DAPU or labrys

Prof. Thomas G. Palaima Isolates 5 Single Syllabograms as Cities & Settlement Names (Click to ENLARGE):


When Prof. Thomas G. Palaima translated Heidelburg Tablet HE FL 1994, he hit upon something truly revelatory, namely, that 5 syllabograms in a row, as illustrated in the facsimile of this tablet above, were single syllabograms, which were in actuality the first syllable of the word each represented, and that each of these words was to prove to be the name of a major Minoan/Mycenaean city or settlement. These places, Knossos, Zakros, Palaikastro (or possibly Phaistos), Pulos & Mycenae, all played a key role in Minoan/Mycenaean economy and society.

The real question is, why did the scribe who inscribed this tablet, use abbreviations consisting of the first syllabogram, which is always the first syllable of a Linear B word to represent the entire word?  Was this a phenomenon limited to Heidelburg tablet HE FL 1994, or could it be found on other tablets, and if so, how many... just a few or many? As it turns out, I have discovered this phenomenon occurring on not just a few Linear B tablets, not even a fairly wide cross-section, but — hold your breath — on literally hundreds of tablets. So what is going on here? Why would the Linear B scribes resorted to using single syllabograms on hundreds of tablets over and over again, unless they had very good reason to do so? But that is exactly what they did, and with astounding frequency. It is critical to recognize here that no Linear B scribe alone, let alone so many scribes, would resort to using just one single syllabogram just for the fun of it. That single syllabogram must have meant something, in fact, must have meant a very great deal, and have been a big deal; otherwise, the scribes would not have used them so very often.

The next obvious question is why did they resort to using single syllabograms so often?... & to represent what?  Prof. Palaima’s translation of Heidelburg Tablet HE FL 1994 makes it abundantly clear that what these syllabograms represent is entire words, in the case of this tablet, names of Minoan/Mycenaean cities and settlements. 

But, as it turns out, when I went to investigate several other single syllabograms (8 in all), I discovered to my astonishment that they could and did represent much more than just the names of cities and settlements.  Of the 8 new syllabograms of this type or class, I was able to at least tentatively decipher 6 of them, and I found that none of these represented merely city or settlement names, but something quite different. I recognized a specific word, one word and one word only, in a specific context, in that context and that context alone, for each and every one of the syllabograms I was able to decipher, even if my decipherment was not necessarily “correct”, whatever that is supposed to mean. What was astounding was this: in the specific context which each of these syllabograms appeared in, the word they represented always fits the context like a glove. For instance, the syllabogram for O stands for the word “onaton” = lease field, the syllabogram for KI stands for “kitimena” = plot of land & the syllabogram PE for “periqoro” = enclosure or pen, i.e. a sheep pen, and I emphatically stress, all three of them in the specific context of sheep. In this context and this context alone all three of these translations fit like a glove. For this reason, although my decipherment or translation of each one of these syllabograms (O, KI & PE) may be viewed as tentative by some, I truly believe that they have gone beyond that point, and may in fact be entirely sound, having the very meaning which I have assigned them. 

Now, since single syllabograms such as these are all, without exception, the first syllable by default of the Mycenaean Greek word in Linear B which of which they are the abbreviation, I feel obliged to assign them a name, calling them “supersyllabograms”.  As it now stands, my co-researcher and I have isolated 8 sypersyllabograms, of which we have managed to tentatively decipher 6, in addition to the 5 sypersyllabograms identified by Prof. Thomas G. Palaima, for a total of 13.


The Supersyllabogram PA... a huge challenge but... (Click to ENLARGE):

d1342 RATOYO PAITO ram

If I thought the other supersyllabograms we have “deciphered” to date (O, DI, KI, PE, ZA & ZE) were a challenge, I had better think again! Before I show you the possible “translations” for this sypersyllabogram (PA) — there are 3 of them — I should first explain my somewhat unorthodox methodology. Faced with the fact that nowhere does there appear the full word which this pesky little sypersyllabogram (PA) can account for on any extant Linear B tablets or in any currently available Linear B Lexicon, I was completely stumped... at first. But then the light came on. I simply had to bite the bullet, and thoroughly scan every single entry in Liddell È& Scott, 1986, beginning with the Greek letters transliterated into Latin as PA, and encompassing no less than 37 pages of this voluminous lexicon (pp. 511-538), in the desperate hope that something, anything, might miraculously pop up and rescue me from my conundrum. And a few, a very few, words did. These are all to be found on the illustration of this tablet above.

Although all of these alternatives make at least some sense in the specific context of sheep (rams and ewes), I eventually had to narrow down my choices from 6 (actually 5) to 3. This is how I did it. The putative translation “furnishing, supplying” is, after all, a bit of a stretch in the context of sheep, unless of course someone has supplied all of the sheep listed on this tablet (i.e. 300 of them all told), not just 3 of them. That doesn’t really make much sense. It is either all of them or none of them supplied, at least as far as I am concerned. The translation “by the sea” must also fall by the wayside, for the same reason. Why would 3 rams be by the sea, and the other 297 not?

That leaves: [1] rams who have wandered off, wandered back, and are thus safely recovered, combining the first two meanings in the list below the tablet (see above) into one, since in effect they do constitute one meaning, amounting one and the same thing: if the 3 rams have wandered off and wandered back, then they are safely recovered. [2] then we have 3 rams enclosed by a fence, which makes an awful lot of sense in the context of sheep, especially when we recall the supersyllabogram PE, PERIQORO, which means virtually the same thing, (in) an enclosure or a pen or sheep pen. This is the most tenable translation, as it almost perfectly matches the translation we easily found for all the tablets using the supersyllabogram PE (and there are plenty of them). [3] off a trodden or beaten way or beaten path. This translation matches up well with [1], and is therefore admissible. In fact the tablet could feasibly be saying that these 3 little rams had wandered off on a trodden or beaten path, and wandered back safe & sound. Makes perfect sense in the context. However, given a choice, I prefer [2], for the simple reason that it matches the 2 syllabograms PA & PE into a unified field (pardon the pun!).

We should also be sure to take note that on all of the Linear tablets using this syllabogram PA,s the number of sheep (all rams) it refers to is always very small (no more than 10), usually out of 100s, which makes the preceding translations all the more tenable.

However, in spite of the apparent cleverness of all three of these translations, all of which nicely fit the bill, a strong word of caution. Caveat: since there exists no word in the extant Linear B lexicon, whether from the extant tablets themselves, or in the two major lexicons currently available online, this opens my interpretations or so-called “translations” to (serious) doubt. I can perfectly understand that a considerable number of researchers in the field of Linear B will protest my choices (some somewhat loudly). This is perfectly reasonable. On the other hand, I would have been remiss, had I not made a valiant attempt to come up with any kind of feasible translation(s) in the context of sheep. But I did this, because that is my way. Better venture into unknown territory, and possibly be right (on 1 of 3 counts, but which one is anybody’s guess). After all, someone can and, I believe, should take this risk, and that someone is me. 

On the other hand, we should take into account that the discovery of new Linear B tablets in the future may just possibly supply a word or two to fill the gap and truly account for our little faux PAs, in a funny sort of way. Folks will surely object, the chances of that ever happening are pretty slim, if you ask me. And again, they would be right. But nothing ventured, nothing gained, I always say.

Anyway, of these 3 translations, the one referring to our 3 little rams being fenced in has a remarkable ring of plausibility to it, especially in light of the much sounder translation of the sypersyllabogram PE, infra:




The Supersyllabogram ZA with no less than 3 others, O, KI & PE! Knossos Tablet KN 927 F s 01 (Click to ENLARGE):

Knossos Tablet KN 927 F a 01 rams

Although this tablet looks a little confusing (messy?) at first, it really is not all that difficult to translate, when you come down to it. We just need to separate the men from the boys, or the mature rams from the young ones, so to speak. This tablet (above) illustrates exactly how I accomplished this without too much fuss. A small word of explanation: if 3 rams have just been introduced to the flock this year, I presume that that they are young rams, otherwise why would there be so few of them to introduce. And that is why I rendered the text the way I did.

It is astonishing but also really space saving, that the scribe had the presence of mind to use 4 supersyllabograms on one tablet! Now that is what I call saving precious space on what is admittedly a small tablet, as most Linear B tablets are. Yet again, this tablet is a superb example of how (some) Linear B scribes resorted to sypersyllabograms in a big way, as a shorthand, making shorthand a notable characteristic of Linear B (let alone with its prolific use of logograms and ideograms).       


Introducing the Supersyllabograms KI (KITIMENA, plot of land) & NE (NEWA, new):

I have assigned the values KITIMENA (plot of land) to the sypersyllabogram KI and NEWA (new) to the sypersyllabogram NE.  I can hear you protesting, “How can you get away with that?  You are just guessing.”  Not really, not at all.  Due to the paucity of the extant Mycenaean Greek vocabulary, or if you will, lexicon, it was actually quite easy to come to this conclusion by the simple process of elimination.

Consulting both The Mycenaean Linear B – ENGLISH Glossary and the much more comprehensive Linear B Lexicon by Chris Tselentis, and putting all the words I found under KI and PE in the specific context of sheep, I was quickly able to determine which words to automatically eliminate, since they did not make any sense whatsoever in this particular context. As if turns out, it was to prove to be almost all of the Mycenaean Greek words beginning with KI and PE in Linear B.

As for Ki, the only viable candidates remaining after winnowing out the obviously ridiculous or non relevant words are: kitita (barley), kitano (terebinth tree), kitiyesi (they cultivate) & finally, kitimena (plot of land). Under NE, in both of these sources, all I could find was a single word, newa (new), all the other words under NE being nothing but personal names. So that narrows our choices down potentially to only 1 adjective and 1 of 3 nouns and 1 verb. However, our choices are even more circumscribed by the fact that “newa” is feminine, meaning that we must eliminate kitano and kitiyesi. That leaves only newa “newa kitita”, new barley and “newa kitimena”, new plot of land. Now I have rarely ever heard of anyone talking of “new barley” as such... fresh barley, harvested barley etc., yes, but not new barley. Besides, in the specific context of sheep, the only remaining word that makes sound sense with the feminine adjective “newa” is the feminine noun “kitimena”, giving us the completely transparent phrase “newa kitimena”, a new plot land. If anything makes perfect sense in the context of sheep, it has to be this. So be it.

Thus, as far as I am concerned, the supersyllabograms KI and NE almost certainly mean “new” and “plot of land” respectively, Given these values, this translation of the tablet makes perfect sense. Click to ENLARGE:

Knossos Tablet 1240 F k 01
 This brings the number of supersyllabograms we have so far defined to 5: DI, KI, NE, PE & ZE.  Richard 


Translation of Knossos Fragment KN 190 B with the Sypersyllabogram DI by Rita Roberts 

Well over a year ago I became interested in the ancient script writings of the Minoans. These scripts are written on clay tablets and were discovered by Sir Arthur Evans whilst excavating the grand Palace of Knossos in Crete. It was Evans who named these scripts Linear B.

My Linear B teacher and mentor Richard Vallance Janke is extremely helpful in guiding me through what would be a difficult course for me to follow. However, with Richards humour and patience and his unique way of teaching I have found this subject a delight to learn in so much that I have now completed levels 1-4 (Basic to Advanced, Part 1).

Now Richard has given me my first assignment in translating Linear B fragments into English. These fragments seemed simple at a first glance as all of them contained the words KOWA for girl and KOWO for boy, so I thought, this should be reasonably easy. However, when I looked at what I thought was a simple translation where the first word was KOWA followed by the single syllabogram DI this confused me, I had no idea what this could possibly mean.

I know that Richard has been working hard on his new theory of Sypersyllabograms. I call them Supergrams to myself, so I knew he would advise me to consult the Linear B English Glossary and the Linear B Lexicon a much larger dictionary where I most likely would find what the Syllabogram DI might mean, this I did and to my astonishment there I found an entry which made sense " diwiya" alternately spelled "diwiyaya" meaning "a or the Priestess of the god Zeus".
This Sypersyllabogram DI meaning is to me a logical translation since the three most important deities the Minoans worshipped were Pipituna, the Snake Goddess and Zeus, hence my translation as follows:

Translation of Knossos Fragment KN 190 B with the Sypersyllabogram DI by Rita Roberts (Click to ENLARGE):

Folder Ref DI translation 2

Rita Roberts

NOTE by Richard Vallance Janke.

Folks, this is Rita’s firs major contribution as an official translator of Linear B fragments. Considering that Rita only just began learning Linear B in the spring of 2013, she has come a very, very long way indeed. The task of translating this recalcitrant fragment placed enormous intellectual demands on Rita, and she has surpassed herself in the sheer ingenuity of her translation, which I would never have dreamt of myself, in spite of my extensive knowledge of Linear B, and a translation which I consider to be not only second to none, but highly accurate. Congratulations, Rita. We look forward to more fine translations from your expert hand.




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