Early Enkomi Tablet

THE OLDEST TABLET FROM CYPRUS

Brian E. Colless





<-  [1] YA LO WA MU NA SA A LA
-> [2] KA KO RU NU TE SE TI  
<-  [3] I NE KE TA E NI              

This clay tablet shows an archaic inscription in an early form of the Cyprian script, a writing system which was constructed from Cretan Linear A syllabic signs (syllabograms).
   The direction of the writing is in boustrophedon style (as the ox ploughs); the signs for YA LO also appear on the right-side edge of the tablet, and this shows where the text begins and also indicates the direction for that line (right to left). The characters are mostly symmetrical, but the sign for LA at the end of line 1 (it originally represented a bent arm with the foream and hand depicted) is turned the wrong way, compared with the normal examples in inscriptions where every line runs from left to right. In the second line the sign for SE is the right way round for lines running from left to right (the normal direction). In the third line the TA (usually |-) is reversed (-|) with the protruding stroke pointing in the direction of the flow of writing.
   The context we have as a clue to the meaning is that the document was found in copper-smelting room in a fortress in Enkomi. In this regard, the sequence KAKO at the beginning of line two is striking. In Linear B inscriptions from Crete and Greece (and Linear B is likewise an offshoot of Linear A) these two signs have the same form and references: KA is a circle encompassing a cross (originally a cane basket, Greek kaneon) and KO is circle with a projection pointing downwards (which we can recognize as a nail with its head, Greek gomphos, and KO could also represent GO and KHO, as KA could be GA and KHA).
   In a Linear B inscription from Pylos, KAKO stands for khalkos, 'copper' or 'bronze'.
   On a bronze ax found in Cyprus (##173, now missing!) the signs for KA and KO appear in their simplified forms (the KA is angular and its bottom is gone; similarly the KO has lost its vertical stroke).
   In later Cyprian Greek inscriptions, writers were more careful to show the sounds of words, and so we find KA LA KO WO [RO] KO for khalkoworgos, 'bronzeworker'.
   This raises the question of which language is present in this old Enkomi inscription. The Greek word for 'copper' is there, but can the rest of the text be read as Hellenic?
   Incidentally, the word 'copper' comes through Latin cyprium aes from the name Cyprus (Kupros).
   KAKO does not appear in Linear A texts, but KAKU is found in Hagia Triada tablet 62, among wine and cereals; this is not likely to be copper; but perhaps it is cacao; or cocaine (Mediterranean contact with Central America did occur in the Bronze Age, as witness a bronze cup with a West Semitic inscription in Jamaica, and the sudden emergence of syllabic writing and cylinder stamps, and other cultural objects with counterparts in the Mediterranean world).
   Regarding the Enkomi tablet (##001), see Silvia Ferrara, Cypro-Minoan Inscriptions, Vol 2 (2013) 12-13 and 127; Jean-Pierre Olivier, Édition holistique des textes Chypro-Minoens (2007)  60.
   For the missing bronze ax inscribed with KAKO (##173), see Ferrara 88, Olivier 246 .


 














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