Script, Morphology and Glossary




Minoan Mantras The quiet decipherment of Linear A
British antiquarian Arthur Evans first gazed at the earliest example of a European script in the hands of a shepherd boy in the dim light of Crete's Psychro cave in 1896. It would be another four years before he gained international acclaim for bringing the Minoan civilization to light at Knossos. Greek tradition contends that Psychro was the cave near Lyktos on Mt. Aegaeum (Hes. Theog. 468 ff.) where Gaia, the primordial Earth goddess, hid Zeus, last-born of Rhea - sister and wife of Kronos and mother of the Olympian gods. Had Gaia not concealed him, the infant would have been swallowed by his bloodthirsty and paranoid father. So, worship there could have been as much directed toward Gaia and Rhea's early antecedents as to the youthful Zeus, who became father of the Greek gods. The nine uncial characters etched onto the rim fragment of a stone vessel were exactly what Evans had predicted in a public lecture two years earlier; but what did they say? Evans never knew. He spent the rest of his life trying to understand this 3,500 year-old message and the many others recovered subsequently, which he classified into three scripts. The first, Minoan Hieroglyphic, named for its resemblance to the Egyptian sacred pictographic writing, belonged to the first palace period from approximately 1950 to 1760 BC. Linear A, the consecutive characters used on the Psychro stone vase and others like it, on clay tablets, ceramics, and other objects, was current from the early stages of the Minoan palace period, approximately 1900 BC, to its fiery end between 1460 and 1440 BC. The latest script, Linear B, heir to

Readinq Linear A

Linear A, was prevalent during what we know now was the Mycenaean occupation of Crete from approximately 1460 to 1200 BC. But Evans failed to read any of them before he died in 1941. The first breakthrough came when British architect Michael Ventris, who had been introduced to Evans as a schoolboy, went against all preconceptions, including his own, and discovered in 1952 that Linear B was Greek (Chadwick 1958). This showed that the Mycenaeans adapted the Minoan Linear A syllabary to their language when they arrived in Crete. Ventris's brilliant decipherment not only opened a new chapter in ancient Greek studies, but it also enabled scholars to test these phonetic values in the Linear A script, which gave them the possible sounds, but not the language. For example, the group of six signs on the Psychro inscription, which Evans had guessed was the name of a goddess because the same grouping also appeared on several objects that he took to be votive offerings to a powerful deity whom he identified in the art, could now be read as Ja-sa-sa-ra-me. This title, Asasara, Ashassara, or Ashara would have delighted Evans, as it closely resembles that of the Luvian goddess Ashassarasmes (Palmer 1958), the Hittite goddess Ishassaramis, meaning 'my Lady' or 'my Queen' (Furumark 1960, 97), Ishara, the very ancient Hurrian goddess of oaths, and the great Canaanite mother-of-gods and mistress of plants and animals Ashera in Palestine, later adopted by the Hebrews and akin to Egyptian Hathor, whom Evans believed was the same as his Minoan goddess (MacGillivray 2000, 223). But this and a host of other tantalizing proper names and nouns that popped up in the texts could not be linked to any know grammar, though many were tried. Luvian, akin to Hittite and Hurrian - the language of the Mitani Kingdom of north Syria - seemed a strong contender (Finkleberg 1991; 1997; 2001). Semitic (Gordon 1966) and even Greek (Faure 2003) were attempted. But, the resulting readings fail to make sense of what the art and archaeology give us and


cannot be applied successfully to the entire corpus of approximately 1,400 documents. In any case, if we are to believe Egyptian sources at the time, most of these languages should not fit because the Egyptians employed separate interpreters for the Semitic, Nubian, Libyan, Akkadian, Hurrian, Hittite, and Kaftu or Keftiu - most likely Minoan - languages (Haider 2001). What most of these attempts demonstrated, however, was that the Minoans used a high percentage of Indo-European nouns, which made it likely that they spoke something akin to one of that very large family of languages. Now, Hubert La Marie, a judge and auditor in the Pays de la Loire Regional Chamber of Accounts, thinks he has the answer. Exactly one century after Evans first marvelled at that key Psychro inscription, La Marle published the first of his four-volume analysis and decipherment of the Minoan script and, though the academic jury is not even considering his case because he is an independent scholar, his reading makes the most archaeological sense. La Marie, who regards himself as a scientist rather than a man of letters, turned his well-ordered accountant's mind to the problem of Linear A in the 1980s. He did not accept the direct phonetic correspondence between Linear A and B and spent several years comparing Linear A signs with Cretan Hieroglyphic, Linear B, Cypro-Minoan, Hittite Hieroglyphs, Proto-Sinaitic and Proto-Canaanite. Once he was satisfied with the sounds of a full ninety-five signs, he used his computational skills to analyze the frequencies of the many sign groups. This gave him possible nouns with their compounds and case endings, verbs, adjectives and sentence structure, that is, the grammar, which was undoubtedly Indo-European. When he compared the possible case endings with those of known languages, he found that many were quite similar to the accusative, genitive, instrumental, locative and ablative endings of Old Persian and Sanskrit. Once he applied these with their vocabulary he found two types of language: one used a

Reading Linear A

religious vocabulary close to Vedic Sanskrit, a kind of Proto-Vedic, the other was a 'popular' vocabulary akin to both Proto-Vedic and Proto-Iranian (the common root of Avestan and Old Persian) but with a few specific WestIranian elements in both the grammar and vocabulary, close to Kurdish Gourani (the southern branch of Kurdish spoken in the Zagros mountains) and Dumili (a dying dialect spoken in the Anti-Taurus mountains near northern Cilicia). Minoan, then, according to La Marle, may stem from a common Indo-Iranian root and, given its nineteenth century BC date, be the oldest written language of that very ancient group. On the Psychro vessel La Marle reads: '1 have been ritually purified in olive oil and sacred iuaterfor my Lady Assara', and he shows that this phrase is repeated like a sacred mantra, or devotional incantation, on a number of other votive offerings. This reading instantly reminds us of the Minoan lustral basin, a sunken chamber next to a ritual hall with multiple doors, which Evans theorized was used for bathing and anointing with perfumed oils .

Sanskrit is the ancient language of India's Hindus, in which their sacred Vedas, or books of knowledge, are composed. A-sa-sa-l'a, to La Marle, is akin to Ishwara, the Vedic Cosmic creator, very much like Ashera's role in Palestine. This does not mean that the Minoans came from India, but that both the Cretans, who built the first European palaces and wrote Europe's first texts, and the authors of the Vedas may share a common linguistic origin and syncretic religion. But, could they share more? The Hindus trace their origins to the northwest. Likewise, on the basis of material evidence, Aegean archaeologists have long held that the Minoans migrated to Crete in periodic waves from somewhere to the east (Hood 1990). Recent Cretan DNA studies show that the first Cretans, who arrived at the island's Initial Neolithic period and founded


Knossos in approximately 7,000 BC, are characterized by the J2a-M41o haplogroup, currently believed to originate in Central Anatolia and the Caucacus (Georgia) (King and others 2008). Interestingly, this same haplogroup is confined to upper caste Dravidian and Indo-European speakers in India. These first Minoans are also related to the populations of Mediterranean Anatolia (Cilicia, where Dumili is still spoken), southern Iran (where Kurdish Gourani is still used), Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan. Two new populations, one from Northwest and West Anatolia and another related to Iraqi and Moroccan Jews and thus believed to originate in Syro-Palestine, arrived in Crete with new burial practices, pottery kilns, and bronze working in approximately 3,100 BC. This gives us three distinct Cretan Bronze Age populations and three possible languages, one of which was used in Linear A. Given the genetic relations cited above, it is tempting to associate Minoan Sanskrit with the founder population at Knossos. La Marle's reading also identifies a new and startling Minoan god: Itar, who is beseeched ten times in the surviving documents and is probably the same as Asirai, who is attested in thirteen invocations, and is qualified by 'Roja' - Lord - and so he clearly belongs at the head of the Minoan pantheon. Lord Asirai is instantly recognizable as the Minoan counterpart for Asuraj Ahura and is above all a sky god. As Itar, god of thunder, he gave his name to Crete's highest peak Mt. Ida, which could also be called Mt. Indra, after the Vedic Lord of the Winds - the gales that accompany the monsoon - whose weapons are lightning and the thunderbolt, just like Greek Zeus .

La Made's thesis, that the texts record Minoan Sanskrit, is startling, yet not entirely unexpected. Sinclair Hood, dean of Minoan studies, has shown that the most prominent of the Minoan sacred symbols, the double axe, first appeared in Proto-Elamite Persia, modern Iran (Hood

Reading Linear A

William Brice, founding editor of Kadmos, the journal for ancient script, notes that the structure of the Minoan tablets most closely resembles that of the ProtoElamite script (1967). Others have noted that Vasiliki Ware pottery of the Early Minoan lIB period, approximately 2,600 BC, when Sargon of Akkad boasted his authority over the Kaptara (Cretans) in the Upper Sea (Mediterranean), bears a striking morphological resemblance to the Elamite wares of the same time. And the water pipes installed in the first palace at Knossos are best paralleled in Elamite Susa. Add to this many Cretan toponyms, for example Zakros, which is linked with Persia's Zagros mountain range, and which is considered the origin of Zagreus - meaning 'the Zagriot', or 'Zagrian one' - the Greek name for the primary male deity they encountered in Crete when they took control of the island in the fifteen century BC (Cook 1914), and La Marle's theory gains even more strength.

In the face of these Persian Minoan roots, it should come as no surprise that La Marle reads the Minoan language as one of the Proto-Indo-Iranian languages, closest to Vedic Sanskrit and Avestan, which likely originated in the Zagros mountains. Hubert La Marle has completed the first comprehensive study of the Minoan language of the Linear A script and has given us the first sensible reading of the texts inscribed more than 3,500 years ago in Crete and the Aegean. In doing so, I believe that he has brought us closer to the Minoans than anyone since Sir Arthur Evans entered Knossos in 1900. Joseph Alexander MacGillivray Palaikastro, Crete,


References to the preface
Brice, W. C. 'The structure of Linear A, with some ProtoElamite and Proto-Indic comparisons', in Europa. Festschrift E. Grumach, Berlin, 1967, 32-44. Cook, A, B. Zeus. A Study in Ancient Religion, Volume 1: Zeus God of the Night Sky, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1914. Faure, Paul. 'Du caractere indo-europeen de la langue ecrite en Crete a rage du bronze moyen,' in Etudes indoeuropeennes, 8, 1984. - 'Le caractere hellenique de la langue des Minoens', in Actes du 7e conqres d'Etudes cretoises, Rethymnon, 1995. - 'Le premier sceau hieroglyphique de la litterature cretoise NMA 8915.' in Y. Duhoux, (ed) Briciaka. A Tribute to W. C. Brice, Cretan Studies 9, 2003, 27-36. Finkelberg, M. 'Minoan inscriptions Minos 25-26, 1991, 43-85. on libation vessels' Migrations to

-'Anatolian Languages and Indo-European Greece' Classical World 91, 1997, 3-20.

-The Language of Linear A: Greek, Semitic, or Anatolian?' in R. Drews (ed.), Greater Anatolia and Indo-European Language Family. Papers presented at a Colloquium Hosted by the University of Richmond, March 18-19, 2000 Journal of Indo-European Studies. Monograph Series 38, Washington, 2001, 81-105. Furumark, A. 'Gods of ancient Crete' OpAth 6, 1960, 85-98. Gordon, C. Ugarit and Minoan Crete, New York, Norton, 1966.

Reading Linear A

Gordon, C. H. Forgotten scripts, Basic books, Rethymnon,

Haider, P. W. 'Minoan deities in an Egyptian medical text' in R. Laffineur, and R. Hagg (eds) Potnia. Deities and Religion in the Aegean Bronze Age (Aegaeum 22) Liege and Austin, 2001,479-82. Hood, M. S. F. 'Settlers in Crete c. 3,000 B. C.' Cretans Studies 2, 1990, 151-8. -'Eastern origins of the Minoan Double Axe' in Y. Duhoux, (ed) Briciaka. A Tribute to W. C. Brice, Cretan Studies 9,

S. S. Ozcan, T. Carter, E. Kalfoglu, S. Atasoy, C. Triantaphyllidis, A. Kouvatsi, A. A. Lin, C-E. T. Chow, L. A. Zhivotovsky, M. Michalodimitrakisand P. A. Underhill 'Differential Y-chromosome Anatolian Influences on the Greek and CretanNeolithic' Annals of Human Genetics, 72, 2008, 205-214. Palmer, L. Luioian and Linear A, Transactions of the Philosophical Society, 1958,75-100.

R. J. King, R. J.,

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