The Unsolved Mystery of Phaistos Disc

The Phaistos Disc (also spelled Phaistos Disk, Phaestos Disc) is a disk of fired clay from the Minoan palace of Phaistos, possibly dating to the middle or late Minoan Bronze Age (2nd millennium BC). It is about 15 cm (5.9 in) in diameter and covered on both sides with a spiral of stamped symbols. Its purpose and meaning, and even its original geographical place of manufacture, remain disputed, making it one of the most famous mysteries of archaeology. This unique object is now on display at the archaeological museum of Heraklion in Crete, Greece. The undeciphered Phaistos Disc is one of the greatest puzzles in archaeology. Almost everything about this ancient artifact is controversial, from its purpose and meaning to its original area of manufacture. The mysterious clay tablet was found on the Greek island of Crete, at the Minoan Palace site at Phaistos. But who made it, and what was it used for?

The Phaistos Disc captured the imagination of amateur and professional archeologists, and many attempts have been made to decipher the code behind the disc's signs. While most linguistic interpretations assume a syllabary, others would only consider alphabetic and purely logographical interpretations. Scholarly attempts at decipherment are thought to be unlikely to succeed unless more examples of the signs turn up somewhere, as it is generally thought that there is not enough context available for meaningful analysis. Although the Phaistos Disc is generally accepted as authentic by archaeologists, a few scholars have forwarded the opinion that the disc is a forgery or a hoax.

The Phaistos Disc Side A (Original)

The Phaistos Disc Side B (Original)

The disc was discovered in 1908 by the Italian archaeologist Luigi Pernier in the Minoan palace-site of Phaistos, on the south coast of Crete. The sophisticated Bronze Age civilization of the Minoans reached its height in the period c.1700 B.C., and began to decline about three centuries later, when many of their palaces were destroyed. The archaeologists came upon the strange object in a basement room in the northeast apartments of the palace, together with a clay tablet inscribed in Linear A (an undeciphered script used on Crete until around 1450 B.C.), and pieces of neopalatial pottery (c. 1700 B.C. – 1600 B.C.). The palace had collapsed during an earthquake, which has been linked by some researchers to the massive volcanic eruption on the nearby Aegean island of Thera (modern day Santorini) c. 1628 B.C. the precise age of the Phaistos disc is disputed; the archaeological context of the find suggests a date not later than 1700 B.C., though the modern opinion is that it could have been created as late as 1650 B.C.

The enigmatic disc is made of baked clay with an average diameter of 6.2 inches, and a thickness of 0.8 inches. Both sides of the disc are covered with a hieroglyphic inscription arranged in a spiral. The inscription was made by impressing wood or ivory hieroglyphic seals or stamps into the wet clay, and then baking the clay at a high temperature to harden it. It has been noted that occasionally on the artefact, a symbol slightly overlaps the one to its right, which demonstrates that the creator was stamping towards the left, that resulted in the text spiralling inwards to the center. The Phaistos Disc represents what is, in effect, the earliest form of printing anywhere in the world. Printed into the disc are a total of 242 individual impressions divided into 61 groups by vertical lines; there are 45 different signs, including depictions of running men, heads with feather crowns, women, children, animals, birds, insects, tools, weapons, and plants. One or two of these symbols have been identified as vaguely similar to the Cretan hierogyphs in use during the early to mid-second millennium B.C.

What is so puzzling about the artifact is why the Minoans were using a primitive pictographic language at the same time as Linear A, a much more adanced script. Perhaps the primitive nature of the script on the disc points to a much earlier date for the object than is presently accepted. However, this is not necessarily the case, as archaic forms of writing often survive into much later periods, usually in the form of sacred or religious texts, as was the case in ancient Egypt. Furthermore, the text on the phaistos Disc is unique; no other examples of the script stamped on it have ever been located. This uniqueness, and the fact that the text is fairly brief, makes it extremely difficult to translate even a small part of it. That the inscription was made using a set of stamps would imply that there was a large-scale production of objects impressed with this script, which, for one reason or another, have not yet surfaced in archaeological investigations.

A difficulty with understanding the artifact is that no one knows exactly how the symbols on it are meant to be interpreted. Does the disc contain a hieroglyphic inscription, or are the pictograms meant to be taken at face value? Although some image on the Phaistos Disc are pictures of familiar objects, trying to understand these literally does not help with obtaining any coherent meaning from the disc. Many linguists believe the text is a series of written signs representing syllables (known as syllabary), while others assume it is a syllabary combined with pictorial symbols used to express a concept or idea (known as ideograms). The combination of a syllabary and ideograms would make it comparable to all known syllabaries of Greece and the ancient Near East, including Minoan Linear B script, hieroglyphic writing, and the cuneiform. (The latter consists of pictograms drawn on clay tablets with a pen made from a sharpened reed, and originated in ancient Sumeria in the late-fourth millennium B.C.)

The Palette of Narmer is an interesting example of such texts. It was discovered in Nekhen (modern Hierakonpolis), the ancient pre-dynastic capital of Egypt, by English archaeologist James E. Quibell, in 1894. It dates roughly to 3200 B.C. and includes some of the earliest hieroglyphic inscriptions ever discovered. The palette of narmer uses combination of hieroglyphs and pictographic symbols, which are to be taken literally to mean what they depict, indicating a possible parallel with the Phaistos Disc, in the sense that it could be interpreted as containing a mixture of ancient Cretan hieroglyphs and pictographs.

The tremendous difficulty of translation without further examples of the script has not dissuaded both scholars and amateurs from attempting the task. In fact, the unique nature of the text has added to its mystique and enthralled rather than repelled investigators. The distinctiveness of the disc has, unfortunately, meant that there have been a number of highly imaginative and unsubstantiated translations and interpretations of the text. Perhaps the most extreme among them is that the object contains a message left thousand years ago by extraterrestrial visitors, or an ancient Antlantean civilization, for future generations to discover. The question of what exactly the message contains or why it was written in such a primitive script by supposedly advanced aliens (or Atlanteans) has, of course, never been answered.

Over the last 100 years numerous attempts have been made to try and identify the language on the disc. In 1975, Jean Faucounau published a translation, maintaining that the language was a pre-Greek, syllabic writing of a culture he identifies as Proto-Ionians, a people with closer ties to ancient troy than to Crete. According to Faucounau’s decipherment, the Phaistos Disc described the career and funeral of a Proto-Ionian king named Arion. His translation has, however, not been accepted as sound by most scholars on the subject.

In 2000, Greek author Efi Polygiannakis published (in Greek) a book entitled The Disc Speaks in Greek, claiming that the inscription on the disc was written in the syllabic writing system of an ancient Greek dialect. Dr. Steven Fischer’s Evidence of Hellenic Dialect in the Phaistos Disk (1988) also identifies the text as syllabic writing in a Greek dialect. One clue to the meaning of the object is the context in which it was found.

The fact that the Phaistos Disc was unearthed in an underground temple depository has persuade some researchers of its religious significance, suggesting that the text was possibly a sacred hymn or ritual. Several image groups in the text are repeated, which would suggest a refrain, and perhaps each side of the disc represents a verse from a song, hymn, or ritual incantation. In fact, Sir Arthur Evans, excavator of Knossos (the ceremonial and political center of Minoan civilization), concluded that the disc contained part of the text of a sacred song.

The original discoverer of the disc, Italian archaeologist Luigi Pernier, also believed it had ritual significance. Nevertheless, though the Phaistos Disc was found at a Minoan palace site, there is no absolute proof that it originated on Crete at all. It may have been imported from just about anywhere in the Mediterranean, or even from the Near East. Not a single example of the stamped or printed method of writing on the Phaistos Disc has been found in the numerous excavations carried out on Crete over the past 100 years. This complete lack of comparative material has suggested to some that this disc is a forgery. A thermoluminescence dating test would certainly prove whether the object was made during the last hundred years, or if it did in fact date to the Minoan period.

So far the Greek authorities have been unwilling to submit the disc to such a test. Consequently, the possibility that the object is a forgery made in the early 1900s – using the limited knowledge of the Minoan culture available at the time – is perhaps a far-fetched, but by no means out of the question scenario. In connection with the hoax theory, an intriguing find was made in 1992 in the basement of a house in Vladikavkaz, Russia. This was a fragment of a clay disc, smaller in size than the Phaistos Disc, but apparently a copy of it, though the symbols on this disc were incised rather than stamped.

There were rumours of a hoax, but the Russian disc mysteriously disappeared a few years later, and nothing has been heard since. Despite the apparent thanklessness of the task, many researchers throughout the world still work diligently attempting to decipher the disc. But the extreme variations in the many purported translations have made scholars doubtful of any future success at decipherment, and indicate to many that while it remains an isolated example of its kind, the disc can never be properly understood. We can only hope that future archaeological excavations in Crete, or perhaps elsewhere in the Mediterranean, will turn up further examples of this mysterious script. Until then, the Phaistos Disc, now on display in the archaeological museum of Heraklion in Crete, will remain a unique enigma.

(Sources : Hidden history by Brian Haughton; and Wikipedia)

(Pics sources :;;


Ailurophile said...

What a mysterious disc indeed! Fascinating blog!! So many interesting posts to go through. Keep up the good work :)

RiP666 said...

cool... :D

thrall061 said...

Voynich MS Carbon Dated !!! 14 FEB 2011

Watch Video

Μπουζάνης Κων. - Bouzanis K. said...

An interesting point of view.
An actions report of a manager of the ancient Phaistos commercial center

The famous Phaistos Disc is a printed, per paragraph, synoptic report of a manager actions from the Phaistos commercial center. The spirals, for technical reasons, are starting with guide the edge of the disc, from the periphery to the center, and the inscription, again for technical reasons, begins reversely.
The Phaistos Disk, the Column from Abydos, the Rosetta’s Stone, the plate from Egkomi, the plate from the Athena's sanctuary of the Idalion and the plate of Kortona are some written reports or publications current accounting's and regulatory acts for the king's or administration's or municipality's informing.!/view.aspx?cid=E39B50D7D9EA3235&resid=E39B50D7D9EA3235%21123&app=WordPdf

Tripzibit said...

@K.Bouzanis: Thank you for your additional information

Μπουζάνης Κων. - Bouzanis K. said...

Read newest for Human Written Word!
When talking about the Human Language we mean the Universal Language, which we will discover and, studying, we will approach through dialects of nations and peoples.

Powered by Blogger.