THE CRETAN SCRIPTS

Brian E. Colless

My studies on the ancient scripts of the lands in and around the Mediterranean Sea (West Asia, North Africa, Europe, Cyclades, Crete, Cyprus) have been life-long, but my first publication on the subject dates from 1988: it is an attempt to identify the original picture-signs (pictophonograms,  picture-symbols representing a unit of speech, either a syllable or a single sound) that produced the various letters of the Semitic (Phoenician, Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabian) and Greco-Roman alphabets. Preceding this simple writing system, which was a consonantary (indicating consonants but not vowels), and which I call the protoalphabet, there was also a pictophonographic syllabary used in the West Semitic region (notably at Byblos), and this syllabic system was in use in the 23rd century BCE, before the invention of the West Semitic protoalphabet and before writing appeared in Crete. My working hypothesis is that the West Semitic syllabary provided the model for the Aegean systems, and also for the Luwian script ('hieroglyphic Hittite') of Anatolia, and even the Meso-American writing systems, including the Mayan logosyllabary.

There were four syllabic scripts used on Crete in the Bronze Age (before 1200 BCE approximately). In the subsequent Iron Age, the Phoenician and Greek alphabets were employed, and the syllabaries were discarded (though in Cyprus a syllabary based on the Cretan script, specifically Linear A, continued to flourish).

The three main Cretan systems were related, as a genealogical family.

(1) Pictophonographic syllabary (PA) > (2) Linear A syllabary (LA) > (3) Linear B syllabary (LB).

(4) The fourth script was another pictophonographic syllabary (PB), which is found on the Phaistos Disc and on other documents, and which seems to be related to the other family (at least to the extent that they have many of their pictorial characters in common).

We can speak of a northern pictophonographic script (KnP, particularly connected with the palaces of Knossos and Mallia) and a southern pictophonographic script (PhP, connected with the Phaistos palace). When the Linear A syllabary was established (as a stylized simplified form of the pictophonographic system) it became universal over the island, and (somewhat paradoxically) the largest corpus of administrative tablets (that have so far been discovered) comes from Hagia Triada, near Phaistos.

I refrain from applying the term 'hieroglyphic' to the pictophonographic signs; it is a word that should be restricted to Egyptology; it leaves the Phaistos pictophonographs out of the picture; they are all pictorial signs, with nothing 'holy' (hieros) about them.

It must also be remembered that the three main systems (northern PG, LA, LB) are found beyond Crete, and it is not inconceivable that the original Aegean script was invented on the mainland (Greece) or on another island. An example of the northern pictophonographic writing was found in Kea/Keos, an island east of Athens; it is an impression on a hearth rim; and also Linear A inscriptions. This fact provides support for my hypothesis that this system was constructed acrophonically on the basis of a Hellenic dialect (examples: A axinê 'ax', O ops 'eye', TO toxon 'bow'; NI nikuleon 'fig', a Cretan word).

The signs in the 'linear' forms (LA, LB, and Linear C in Cyprus) are known to have functioned as 'syllabograms' (and also as 'logograms' in LA and LB).

Two tables are offered here: the first (Cretan Syllabograms) shows my attempt to match up the signs of the three northern systems (PG, LA , LB, as P, A, B), on the principle that the pictorial signs become stylized in the Linear A inventory, and even more so in Linear B; the second table (Cretan Pictosyllabograms) presents the signs of the northern pictophonographic syllabograms.

The P standing for pictophonographic is actually KnP (Knossos P) in the northern context; where it has to be distinguished from the southern script, KnP and PhP (Phaistos P) will be used.

A paradox is that although the Linear A script evolved out of the northern picto-syllabary, the largest collection of Linear A administrative tablets comes from Hagia Triada, adjacent to Phaistos; while Knossos and Mallia have yielded only a few fragmentary clay tablets. However, at Phaistos there are tablets exhibiting the southern script (Phaistos syllabary) as well as the northern Linear A script.

Notice that I reject the defeatist nonsense that there were not many Consonant+O signs in Linear A; supposedly lacking were so, do, dwo, mo, qo, yo, wo, no, two, ryo, zo, though o, po, to, ko, ro were grudgingly accepted onto the table; but it is true that they were not used frequently, and this says something about the language or languages in the Linear A texts.

NORTHERN CRETAN SYLLABOGRAMS
       
A    AB8     P42  (ax)  [axinê]
AI    B43 A306 [aix goat?] (cp ME and QI?) (#016 AI-TA-TI?)
AU  AB85 P17 P13b (pig) [hus?] (autoboulos, self-willed, pig-headed?!)
HA  B25 (cp Phaistos 10, arrow?) A368?
E    AB38   P28   (hair, crest) [etheira]
I    AB28    P31    (olive) [hiketeria elaia suppliant olive branch]
O    AB61    P5    (eye) [ops, omma, oculus]
U    AB10    P95   (hedgehog) [hustrix]
YA   AB57   P38   (door) [Latin ianua, Sanskrit go]
YE   AB46   P4?   (walking) [ienai going, Sanskrit go]
YI   AB47?
YO  B36 A349  P54 (amphora)
YU   AB65?
WA   AB54    P41    (cloth)
WE    B75 A319      P61  (worm) [werm]  
WI    AB40    P85?       
WO   B42/AB180?  A363? A364? P2? (razor)
WU   
RA    AB60       P7   (arm) [labôn taking with the hand??]
RYA    B76        P69?   (water-course)     (cp reô flow, roê stream?)
RAI   B33  (same as saffron logogram)
RE    AB27       P23   (lily) [leirion]
RI     AB53       P10   (leg)
RO    AB2         P70   (cross) [rhombos?]
RYO   AB68      P40   (ship? spinning top?) [rhombos?]
RU    AB26       P92    (lamp) [lukhnia menorah]
MA    AB80 (cat) P34 (breasts?) [masta, mala breasts] replaced by P97 (cat) [ma, meow]?
ME    AB13        P16  (sheep) [mêlon, mêkas bleating]
MI     AB73       P13a?  (bird-head?) [minurisma bird-warbling] (or P7 [arm] is not RA?) 
MO    B15  A321 A327 (cp Cyprian MO, and Egyptian djed)  P68 (spine?) [monimos stable]
MU    AB23        P12    (cow) [mukaomai, mukêma, moo-cow bellowing]
NA    AB6          P78    (tearflow) [nama] (dakruôn therma nama Sophokles)
NWA   B48       P6    (crossed arms) (neozeuktos newly-yoked, newly-wed?!)
NE    AB24        P52 + P53 (libation vessel) [nektar divine drink]
NI     AB30        P24    (fig) [nikuleon] (a Cretan word)
NO    B52 A28b P8    (hand) [nomos law] (kheirôn nomos law of force)
NU    AB55        P9 +83?  (glove?) 
PA    AB3          P40? (ship) [baris Egyptian boat]
PE    B72 A305?     P34b? (fetter) [pedê]
PI     AB39        P20 21 22 79 90  (bee)
PO    AB11        P43  (ax)  [pelekus?]
PU    AB50 A369?    P58  (lyre)  [burtê]  
TA    AB59        P56 (tablet) [trapeza, tabula] 
TE    AB4         P25   (tree) [tere-, as in terebinthos]
TI     AB37       P49 +93 (brander) [stigeus puncturing tool]
TO    AB5        P48 (bow and arrow) [toxon]
TU    B69        P77  (fruit)
DA    AB1        P27, 29    (twig) [thalos]
DE    AB45      P37, 94?   (house/tomb) [demein build; thêkê container, grave]
DI     AB7        P39? (= B64?) (netting?) [diktuon]
DO    B14 A304?   P50    (spear?) [doru]
DU    AB51        P59 +60? (crook) [dunastês power-wielder]
KA    AB77        P47    (cane basket)  [kaneon]
KE    AB44        P36    (pavilion)  [skênê]
KI     AB67       P57  (lyre) [kithara]
KO    AB70       P62    P51   (nail)  [gomphos, wedge-shaped nail]
KU    AB81       P18     (dog) [kuôn]       
QA    AB16       P44  (bolt-pin for bar of gate? or key?) [balanos, balanagra key]?
QE    AB78       P73-75   (circular object) [kuklos, kwekwlo]
QI     AB21       P14? P54b?   (animal?)   
QO    B32 B18?  A333? A345? A347?    P11 (bull)  [bous, gwou]
QU
SA    AB31       P19 (cuttlefish, kalamari) [sêpia]
SE    AB9         P26 +3? (parsley, for victor's crown) [selinon]
SI     AB41       P55    (grain in container) [sitos]  
SO    B12 A301? P46 +80 +87   (adz) [sophia craftsmanship? skeparnon adz?]    
SU    AB58       P35 (enclosure) [supheos pig-sty]  
ZA    AB17  B19?      (Egyptian `ankh symbol, life) [zaein, zôê]
ZE    AB74        P45   (saw? comb?) [xainô comb, card; xeô plane, carve)
ZI   
ZO    AB20  A312?      P51? P85 (WI)?  (chisel? sword?) [xois sculptor's chisel]  P51=LA36
ZU    AB79?        P81?        (sun with rays?)
RYA    B76        P69?        P69
RYO    B68                    P40
NWA   B48    006    P6    P6
NAU    B86?            P40?     P40
PA3     B56                        P39
PU2     B29            P30? P32?
TYA      B66            P84, P72?
KRA     B34            P82  [glênê eyeball, pupil]
KRO    B35            P63 P64  [klôstêr thread, line]         
SWI?    B64            P39? DI?

NORTHERN CRETAN PICTO-SYLLABOGRAMS
                               
    CHIC  Brian Colless   (John Younger)
    001    seated human
    002    head? (razor? WO cp P88?)       
    003    head +026     SE (= 026)?
    004    upright human YE? DWE?     
    005    eye    O    (Rv)
    006     *X*  2 arms  NWA      (NWA)
    007    bent arm   RA/LA  (MI)    [MI 013? 057?]
    008    hand  NO  (A3)
    009    glove?  NU 009 +083? (A2)
    010    leg     RI  (RI)
    011    bovine head  (front)  QO (SI2) [11-16 mixed animals]
    012    bovine head  (side)   MU (MU)
    013    animal snout? (mixed?)  MI (MU2) [some 013? +015?]
    014    animal head    QI?  (I)
    015    animal snout (1x)   MI?  +013?  (DU?)     
    016    horned head    ME   (KI2)
    017    pig head      AU (AU)
    018    dog head + tongue  KU  (RA)           
    019    cuttlefish, sepia      SA  (SA)
    020    bee      PI  (AI)     [PI 020-022 +033? 079? 090?]
    021    bee      PI  (PI)
    022    bee      PI 
    023    lily flower? RE/LE   (TO)
    024    fig tree?     NI  (NI)
    025    tree?          TE  (TE)
    026      _(_(_(_(   SE             [SE 026 +003?]
    027      |/ (3x)     DA? (= 029?)
    028    hair crest    (KU2)
    029    double twig DA (MA)   [DA 27 + 29?]
    030    \}/  (1x)     DA? PU2 (phu)? (PU2)
    031    \|/    I 031? +032?  (RE)     
    032    \!/ (9x)       PU2 (phu)?  (RE2)
    033    }.{ (3x)      ZU? +81
    034    fetters? breasts?  PE +ME? (TA)
    035    pig-pen?       SU (SU)
    036    pavilion         KE (SA2)
    037    house/tomb   DE 037 + 094? (Rv)  [cp PhDisc 24]
    038    door + post    YA (JA)
    039    netting/trellis  DI  (PA3)             DI 039? (=LinB64?)
    040    ship               PA  (RO2)          
    041    cloth?            WA (WA)
    042    double ax       A  (A)
    043    ax                 PO (SO)
    044    metal object   QA (KO)
    045    saw                ZE (ZE)
    046    adz                SO 046 + 080 + 087  ( )
    047    cane basket    KA (QE)
    048    bow & arrow   TO [1x]  ( )                    
    049    /|\                 TI      (RO3)      TI 049 + 093?
    050    spear?            DO?  (TI)
    051    dagger? chisel? ZO? (KI3)
    052    ewer                NE  (NE)            
    053    jug                  NE      (KI?)
    054    amphora (2 rams?) YO?     (DE)     YO? +MA? +QI? 
    055    grain vessel?     SI   (KE)              
    056     talent? tablet?  TA    (KU)           
    057      V+  kithara      KI  (KI)          
    058     lyre                  PU (PU)              
    059     crook                DU                DU 059 +060?
    060        |\                  DU?
    061     snake? worm?   WE   or = RI 010?
    062    ___.     <o         KO  (NA)
    063    _._        KRO?
    064    --o--        KRO?  (DA)
    065    .__.        ?
    066    ||          PA?
    067    *||*        HA?
    068    spine?     MO     (Rv)                  
    069    ZZ        RYA?
    070   cross  +  x             RO (RO)          
    071    }}}       RYA?
    072    triangle   TYA??         (KA)
    073    circle        QE 073? +74 +75
    075    circle (dotted)      QE 075 (1x) + 074 (1x)
    076    ?        YU?
    077    fruit      TU   (RU2)                       MA? ME? NI?
    078    eye and tear-flow?  NA (DO)                             
    079    bee?        PI? (= 020)    
    080    adz        SO (= 046)
    081    (1x)        ZU?
    082    eyeball?        KRA?
    083    (=009?) (1x)        NU?
    084            TYA? TWO?
    085     /+\    WI? (WI)
    086            QO? (= 068?)
    087    adz        SO (= 046)
    088         [razor?     WO? RI =002?
    089    X         YE? PE? RI?
    090    bee?        PI? (= 020)
    091    ^^^        ?
    092    lamp?       RU    (RU)
    093    /|\        TI (= 049) (TI)
    094    /=\        DE? (= 037)
    (097)     (cat)        MA? (MA)
 

What you see here is a host of hypotheses struggling to become a grand unified theory.

This is a revised and expanded version of my release entitled "Table of Cretan pictoglyphs" (28 July 2003), providing a description or drawing of the characters, and an attempt to match them with their counterparts in the Linear B inventory.

The prefix 'P' stands for 'pictosyllabogram' (or 'pictophonogram'), with the CHIC numbering.

The formatting may collapse and wreck the columns, but in each case my proposed identifications will be easy to find.

I would have sent it in an attached MSWord document, from my trusty Macintosh, but many people are suffering a surfeit of worms and afraid of opening such a possible can of worms. By the way, there is perhaps a worm lurking in there (P61 WE, weurm?).

This document needs to be studied in conjunction with:
the table of standardised signs provided by Godart and Olivier (CHIC p. 17);
and their detailed inventory of syllabograms (CHIC p. 386-422).

There are numerous uncertainties (indicated by my question marks) and some
missing syllables (ZA [AB17], Egyptian 'ankh sign, 'life', is in LA and LB,
but not in the CHIC collection; YE [AB46] seems to have been two legs walking, but P89 might be the original).

Some of my suggestions will be erroneous. The method involves trial and error in matching up the forms taken on by the stylized versions of the pictographs in the scripts of Crete and Cyprus. My previous experience is in the scripts of Canaan, tracing the pictographs of the syllabary and the proto-alphabet through their various stages of 'deformation'. But there I am able to test my hypotheses on inscriptions in a *known* Semitic language (Canaanite, Phoenician, Hebrew). With Cretan texts (pictosyllabic and Linear A) we are still not sure about the language or languages we are playing with. And if the style of encoding PG and LA inscriptions is as shorthand-ish as in the LB Mycenean texts, then we are in deep trouble.

John Younger's method for determining phonetic values for pictographs is double-edged: seeking "morphological and/or functional similarities with Linear A signs". He leans more on the 'functional' side, looking for similar patterns and combinations in PG and LA texts, but he begins with the core of form-resemblances proposed by Jean-Pierre Olivier and Louis Godart (CHIC p. 19).

For my part, my grandiose aim is to do a complete matching of signs over all the systems, so that there are no pieces left lying on the desk when I have finished the puzzle! However, not all the pictographs have found their perfect match on the scheme I have presented above.

I usually attempt to find an acrophonic origin (in 'Asio-European' or 'Euro-Asiatic' = IE) for each syllabogram (PI bee, TE tree, A ax, O ops, TO toxon, KA kaneion, KU kuon, RE leirion, NI nikuleon, DA thalos; YA invokes yanua 'door', and SU suggests supheos 'pig-sty', and SA is sepia 'cuttlefish').

John Younger feels that not all the syllabograms are acrophonic. When I first started proposing ideas in this field, I was struck by the animal sounds of some LB  M-characters (MA cat, ME sheep, MU cow), and John has also noticed this (11/01/2002).

PG013 is a menagerie of different animals, but among them are some beaks and snouts which might be the origin of MI (LAB73), which seems to have a beak or bill and an eye, rather than a bent arm with a hand (PG007 = LAB60 RA?). There are a few beasts hiding among the pots in P54, and maybe some pigs (like LB85) hiding among the fauna of P11-17.

My equating of KU with the dog still stands; I continue maintaining that the supposed bird of LA and LB KU (AB81) is an illusion, and also that attempts to find KU-RO ('sum total') in the pictographic texts may be based on a wrong assumption that the language (or at least the accountancy jargon) is the same as in the LA texts. And any pictograph suggested for KU ought to be able to take wings and fly, like LAB81; but PG056 (a wax tablet?) has no curving lines.

On the other hand, it may be that even if the Linear B characters are ultimately derived from the pictographs, nevertheless the Myceneans ignored their original sound values and arbitrarily assigned new syllabic values to the characters. If this proves to be the truth, then my two tables will need to be interpreted in that light. Thus, the door-sign is certainly YA in Linear B, but not in its original pictographic usage. This would mean that our hopes of determining the phonetic values of most or all of the pictosyllabograms would be well and truly dashed.

I have decided to let the cat right out of the bag at this time (is the cat in the pictographic texts MA ?!). Notice that I have added P97 (cat) to the list of pictosyllabograms, because the cat is certainly depicted on the seals, but it is allegedly only decorative or heraldic. If it is in fact MA, its few occurrences do not equate with the 2.9% for Linear A MA (apparently a cat). So, like the KU-bird, the MA-cat may be an illusionary chimera, fashioned out of the fruit (P77: malon/melon/malum) or the pot with two lugs/ears (P54).

May I draw your attention to KE (036 pavilion), DE (037 house), YA (038 door), SO (047 adz), KRA (082 eyeball), KRO (063/064 cord on stick), which are novel.

Speaking of pots and novels, have you redd the latest pottery books? One magical series tells you how a *harried *Azkaban prisoner can make a *secret chamber pot with a *goblet of fire, a *philosopher's gall stone, and the *ordure of a phoenix?

We cryptologists are trained to detect such hidden messages. And you can treat the whole of this posting on a par with that if you feel the need.

Ever so sincerely

Brian Colless