Archaeologists studying a 4,000-year-old clay disk covered with heretofore indecipherable hieroglyphs have nearly translated the entire body of pictographs etched into its surface, researchers are saying. TheWeek.com reported Oct. 24 that years of studying the “Phaistos disk” has borne fruit and they now believe they have a good grasp of what the pictographs mean and what the disk represented.
The Phaistos disk is roughly six inches in diameter (about the size of large serving saucer) and is so called because it was recovered from the Phaistos palace on the island of Crete in 1908. Dated to having been created around 1,700 BCE, the artifact quickly became one of the world’s greatest mysteries. The pictographs cover both sides of the disk, arranged in a spiral pattern from the periphery to the disk’s center. According to Discovery News, there are 241 picture segments on the clay disk’s surface composed from 41 symbols.
Dr. Gareth Owens of the Technological Educational Institute of Crete, speaking at the Technological Educational Institute of Western Macedonia this week, posited, according to Archaeology News Network: “The most stable word and value is ‘mother,’ and in particular the mother goddess of the Minoan era.”
Owens believes the disk contains a prayer for said mother goddess. He calls the Phaistos disk “the first Minoan CD-ROM,” jokingly referring to its shape and “hard-coded” data.
Owens and a colleague from Oxford University, John Coleman, have studied the disk for six years, slowly decoding the pictographs that had stymied amateur code-breakers, professional cryptographers, and archaeologists for over a century. By using specific symbols, they were able to decipher part of one side of the disk as “great lady of importance.” One the other side, “pregnant mother” was decoded. As the latter side deals with a pregnant woman, Owens says, the former conveys a depiction of a woman giving birth. The two archaeologists have deciphered about 90 percent of one side of the artifact, he says.
Speaking at a TED conference in May, according to the Daily Mail, Dr. Owens spoke about his work with Coleman. “It’s the closest thing to a partial Minoan Rosetta Stone,’ he said, admitting that the difficult work had produced a translation where 90 per cent of ‘Side A’ of the Phaistos disk could now be read.
The Phaistos disk is considered of extreme importance to historians, archaeologists, and linguists. It is from the Minoan Bronze Age. The Minoans of Crete, an island located across the Sea of Crete in the Mediterranean Sea from the Greek mainland, was Europe’s first literate civilization.