As an archaeologist the story of Arthur Evans excavation at the great Palace of Knossos fascinated me. It was only when I came to live in Crete to work on Minoan pottery that my attention was drawn to the Clay tablets which featured Linear B script which Sir Arthur had discovered.
Sir Arthur Evans
These tablets, around 800 or more, some found as fragments and some whole, tell us so much about a lost civilization. It wasn’t until I began learning to read and write these ancient scripts “still learning” ,that I realized the huge task which Arthur Evans had ahead of him in trying to decipher the writings upon the tablets, the strain on his eyes must have been enormous. However, Arthur Evans was not able to crack the code but he did lay the ground for Michael Ventris who eventually deciphered the tablets in l953. Actually, this was the very year I got married but did not know anything about this subject then of course .
When Schliemann excavated the mainland Kingdom of Mycenae in the l870s, Evans was sure that such a civilization could not have existed without some form of writing and sure enough he was right. In l951, some forty clay tablets were uncovered at Mycenae ,in fact ,not far from where Schliemann had excavated, confirming that Evans had long been of the opinion that an advanced literate civilization had flourished. Some of these script writings have been found at Tiryns on the mainland and Thebes. Unfortunately the ancient scribes destroyed their work at the end of each year and the granules of unfired clay were then mixed with water leaving a paste from which the next years tablets were formed. Scholars have been of the opinion that before each set of tablets was destroyed, the years records may have been transferred to a more permanent place, written on parchment and stored, but this material would have disappeared long ago ,so whether the Mycenaeans actually did this can never actually be proved so we only have evidence of the final year of each Palace before any catastrophe that happened and the Mycenaean Age was reduced to ash.
WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THE LINEAR B TABLETS.
So far these ancient scripts tell us a lot about what the Minoan civilization did in their every day life. They tell us that most workers listed were men, but from those on which lists of women’s names appear, it is clear that certain occupations, such as textile work, were reserved for them. Women spun sheep fleece into woolen yarn and flax into linin then wove it into cloth on looms; men collected the cloth, fulled it and dyed it.The tablets also record tanners, and leather workers. Men made the leather into harnesses, while women stitched it into shoes and bags.
There were sword makers for times of war, also bow makers, chariot makers and chariot wheel repair men. Linear B also tells us there were wood cutters, carpenters, shipbuilders, and net makers, bath attendants, hunters, herdsmen and bee keepers.
This subject of the Linear B ancient scripts is still a scholars nightmare as there are hundreds of fragments still to decipher if ever they can be pieced together. This is a long term project which my teacher Richard Vallance has already discovered more evidence enabling further understanding of the ancient Linear B tablets. Take a look at Richards web site at http://www.linearbknossosmycenae.wordpress.com
Linear B tablet documenting the delivery of wheels to Knossos
Linear B tablet from the room of the Chariots
Serena Malyon’s interpretation of a Minoan woman weaving.
Last but not least of these Linear B tablets. This one recording precious metal vessels.
This Lions Hunt dagger shows the exquisite work of the Bronze age Minoans.