Tag Archive: vines



Supersyllabograms for olive oil in the agricultural sector of the Minoan/Mycenaean economy:

Recently, I ran several posts on Linear B, Knossos & Mycenae, in which as it turns out I erroneously claimed that the supersyllabograms which these posts represented were centred on saffron. I could not have gone more wrong! So I have had to delete all these posts. And if anyone of you who are into Linear B or who are specializing in the syllabary have relied on these posts or have used them as references for your own research, you should at once discard these references, as they are all completely invalid!

As it turns out, while I was busy researching PDF documents for my references and notes and for the bibliography for my next major article, The Decipherment of Supersyllabograms in Linear B, which is to be published in Archaeology and Science, Vol. 11 (2015), to be released in the spring of 2017, I discovered to my horror, and then to my huge relief, that the prestigious Linear B scholar, José L. Melena,  had already deciphered both of the supersyllabograms, A & TI 42 years ago in 1974, I had grossly miscalculated to be related to saffron as actually being related specifically to olive oil. I was suspicious of my own decipherments all along, and I should have listened to my intuition, my “gut feelings”. The problem is that the ideogram for olive oil and that for saffron look so much alike that they can easily mislead the unwary, meaning in this particular case, me.  So I have had to go back to the drawing board, and start from scratch.   

To add insult to injury (though I scarcely let that bother me, as I try my damnedest not to be too egotistical), I found out that not only had Melena deciphered the SSYLS A & TI for olive oil, but he had deciphered 4 more as well! These are KU, PA, SI & WE. Boy, had I ever been sloppy, or more to the point, woefully unobservant.  Such is life. But all's well that ends well, as Shakespeare says.

My own decipherments of all 6 supersyllabograms for olive oil in the agricultural sector of the Minoan/Mycenaean economy follow:

Table 7 fb Supersyllaograms for olive oil in Myenaean Linear B

As it turns out, Melena himself,  in spite of his remarkable insight into the workings of the more esoteric points of Linear B (including notwithstanding supersyllabograms), made a  few rather gauche errors in his attempts at deciphering some of these supersyllabograms. This is because, to my mind at least, he overstretched himself by seeking out putative meanings which, to be blunt, were much to complex and far-fetched to suit the recipe. For instance, he assigned the meanings TI = tithasos =  “domestic” and A = agrios =  “wild” to the supersyllabograms A & TI, which he typified as referring “probably to distinct kinds or qualities of olives.”  But this notion stretches ones belief. Why anyone would bother cultivating wild olives, which would be difficult to grow under the best of circumstances I cannot imagine. So my alternate decipherments are, for A = aporowewe =  “an amphora (of olive oil)”, which makes eminently more sense, as the Minoans at Knossos and the Mycenaeans at Pylos always stored their olive oil in enormous amphorae or pithoi. For TI I combine TI =  timito = “the terebinth tree” with the ideogram for olive oil. But why would I do that, I hear you ask? It is really quite simple. Since the terebinth tree produces pistachio, I reasoned that the Minoans and Mycenaeans had a sweet tooth for olive oil and pistachio paste. Et voilà! Makes sense.

Moving on to PA, I agree wholeheartedly with Melena’s interpretation, but I take it one step further than he does. He deciphers PA as parayo in Linear B = palaios in ancient Greek, meaning “old”. Old olive oil? Yuk! Methinks not. What the scribes are clearly referring to is vintage olive oil, like vintage wine. Now that makes a lot more sense. As for his decipherment of SI with olive oil, he is way off the mark, once again because he unnecessarily complicates matters by looking for love in all the wrong places. Taking his cue from the Linear B word for a pig (!) = siaro, he bizarrely concludes that SI adjoined with the ideogram for olive oil references a gooey unguent comprised of pig fat and olive oil. OMG! No no no! SI clearly refers to Linear B siton, which means “wheat”, which when milled with olive oil yields none other than olive bread. Olive oil bread was in the distant past and is today a staple of the Greek diet. His interpretation of the SSYL WE as weto = “this year’s crop or harvest or harvest” is of course correct, referring to the harvesting of olive oil. The other interprration wetoiwetoi is also feasible, but less so. But we are all far from perfect, Melena and myself being right there in the pack, as this post so abundantly makes clear. We make the best with what we have by way of intellectual resources, and consequently hope for the best. Just because I have deciphered all 36 supersyllabograms in Mycenaean Linear B does not mean that I necessarily have all of them, let alone 80% to 85 % of them “right”. Besides, there is no way of our ever knowing as philologists, no matter who we are, what the Linear B scribes at Knossos, Pylos etc. actually intended ALL of these supersyllabograms to mean. We can be certain of a only a few. We can establish with probability that a number of them are quite likely to be what we ascertain them to be. But we can and must be less certain of others, and even very doubtful of a few which, for all intents and purposes, practically defy any really convincing decipherment. And there lies the perennial conundrum. 

The Gezer Agricultural Almanac 925 BCE, Comparison Between the Paleo-Hebrew Alphabet on it & Mycenaean Linear B: Click to ENLARGE

Gezer Calendar or Almanach 925 BCE original versus Linear B

The Gezer Agricultural Almanac or Calendar was discovered in 1908 by R.A.S. Macalister of the Palestine Exploration Fund during the excavation of the ancient Canaanite city of Gezer, 32 kilometres to the west of Jerusalem. Inscribed on limestone, it describes monthly or bi-monthly periods of agricultural activities such as harvesting, planting or tending to specific crops. Paleo-linguistic scholars are divided concerning the language it is written in, some believing it to be Phoenician, others Proto-Canaanite, otherwise known as Paleo-Hebrew. But since the tablet makes as much sense in Paleo-Hebrew as it does in Phoenician (even though the translations must perforce differ), this raises a serious question which cannot be safely ignored over the perceived theoretical or actual relationship between the Phoenician and the Paleo-Hebrew alphabets, which in turn raises the further question whether or not Paleo-Hebrew is itself directly derived from Phoenician. Although open to dispute, if this notion holds any water, then the Proto-Canaanite or Paleo-Hebrew alphabet may very well be directly derived from the Phoenician, in which case even the ancient classical Hebrew alphabet, spawned from Paleo-Hebrew, is also indirectly derived from the Phoenician alphabet, despite appearances to the contrary.

But the vein may run even deeper. Since many scholars believe that the Phoenician alphabet grew out of Egyptian hieroglyphics, this in turn implies that the ancient Paleo-Hebrew alphabet at least is indirectly descended from Egyptian hieroglyphics. But there is a further complication. Since Paleo-Hebrew post-dates the almost identical syllabaries, Minoan Linear A by 7 centuries & Mycenaean Linear B, the latter falling into obscurity with the destruction of the Mycenaean civilization ca. 1200 BCE, fully 200 years before the advent of Proto-Canaanite, what are we to make of that? This is all the more pressing an issue, given that no fewer than 12 of 61 or 20 % of Linear B syllabograms look strikingly like the Paleo-Hebrew letters on the Gezer Calendar? if in fact it is written in Hebrew.

For the sake of argument and sheer practicality, let us say it is. If that is the case, then we have to wonder whether or not both the Phoenician and Proto-Canaanite alphabets were actually at least partially derived from either Minoan Linear A or Mycenaean Linear B or both. Given this scenario, it is open to serious doubt whether or not the Phoenician and Paleo-Hebrew alphabets were exclusively derived from Egyptian hieroglyphics alone. This hypothesis cannot be safely ignored, given the striking similarities in particular characters in all 4 of these scripts, Minoan Linear A, Mycenaean Linear B, Phoenician and Paleo-Hebrew. However, there is a wrench in the works. If this hypothesis is correct, then why on earth did both the Phoenician and Proto-Canaanite alphabets lose the five vowels of their more ancient predecessors, Minoan Linear A, Mycenaean Linear B? So we are left with an irresolvable conundrum.

Nevertheless, this hypothesis does raise doubts over Egyptian hieroglyphics being the sole ancestor of the Phoenician and Paleo-Hebrew alphabets. Why so? ... because neither Minoan Linear A nor Mycenaean Linear B are the offshoots of Egyptian hieroglyphics. Back to our messy little paradox. The Gezer Almanac is held in the Archaeological Museum Artifacts Collection of the Istanbul Archaeological Museums (ISTANBUL ARKEOLOJI MÜZELERI), here:

Istanbul Archeological Museums Logo
In the next three posts, I shall:

1. post a table illustrating the comparison between the Phoenician and Paleo-Hebrew alphabets, which are almost identical;
2. draw a thorough comparison between the Paleo-Hebrew letters (consonants only) on the Gezer Almanac and the 12 syllabograms + one ideogram in Mycenaean Linear B which resemble them;
3. translate the Gezer Calendar into Mycenaean Linear B, to clearly demonstrate the extremely close parallel in the efficacy of both scripts for statistical inventories. If anything, this remarkable parallelism reinforces the possibility that the Phoenician and Paleo-Hebrew alphabets may at least partially be outcrops of Minoan Linear A (preceding them both by at least 700 years) & Mycenaean Linear B, disappearing two centuries prior to widespread appearance of the former at the outset of what is commonly and largely erroneously referred to as the Dark Ages of the early Iron Age (ca. 1100-780 BCE).

Richard

							
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