new discoveries at akrotiri (forward)

Fri, 10 Jun 1994 08:53:23 -0500

The following news article just appeared on the CLASSICS list. I thought
it might be of interest to some Darwin-L members. The decipherment of
Linear A remains one of the great challenges of Classical linguistics.

Bob O'Hara (

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Date: Wed, 8 Jun 1994 14:05:00 CDT
From: Tatiana Summers <YL70ATS@LUCCPUA.BITNET>
Subject: New tablet w/ Linear A writing

A slightly popularized but nevertheless interesting article from Reuter
on new findings in Santorini.


Subject: Greek Bronze Age Site Surrenders Rare Treasures

AKROTIRI, Greece (Reuter) - Archeologists working in this
Aegean port have discovered nine rare marble figurines and a
tablet which could help unlock the secrets of an ancient
The spectacular finds were made by the archeological team
excavating at Akrotiri, on the island of Santorini, which
flourished as a Cycladic Bronze Age city some 3,600 years ago.
Only about 20 early Cycladic marble figurines have ever been
"The nine marble statuettes of standing men are about six
inches high and span the third millenium BC," said archeologist
Christos Doumas, who has overseen the Akrotiri excavations for
many years.
Although the figurines are an impressive find, Doumas is
even more excited about another recent discovery -- a clay
tablet with Linear A writing, the mysterious scripture of Bronze
Age Greece, also found in Minoan Crete.
The small number of surviving tablets has been considered
one of the main reasons why the language has never been
deciphered. The more of these tablets are found, the greater the
chance it will be read.
"We had good reason to believe these tablets existed but we
were afraid they were ruined because there was no fire during
the destruction to bake the clay like in the Minoan palaces in
Crete," Doumas said.
He said the tablet was found in a small room thought to be a
storing space and could be a sign or a list of goods.
"There is always the hope that because these people were
great traders we may find a tablet with more than one language,
like the Rosetta stone, and finally understand Linear A," he
The Rosetta stone, inscribed with three ancient scripts,
including Greek and hieroglyphics, was the key to understanding
the language of the Egyptian pharaohs.
Archeologists believe the people of Akrotiri found the
marble figurines while clearing out debris after one of the
frequent earthquakes that hit the island and, suspecting they
were precious, put them on display at one of the city's squares.
"They might have been obeying some collective memory that
told them these things came from their past, much like we today
cherish antiques," said archeologist Marisa Marthari, pointing
at the small stone mount where the statuettes were found.
Just as Roman Pompei was preserved under lava, Akrotiri was
covered by ash, rock and earth that spouted from the island's
volcano at about 1625 BC, sealing the city until systematic
excavations began in 1967.
This was an archeologist's dream come true -- a city with
streets, houses decorated with exquisite wall paintings,
pottery, furniture, tools and samples of writing.
Unlike Pompei, excavations revealed no skeletons and few
precious items, indicating that the people of Akrotiri must have
fled shortly before the great disaster.
Finds show that the people who lived here were skilful
craftsmen, inspired artists and successful traders who roamed
the Mediterranean with their ships and brought back goods from
Crete, Cyprus, Egypt and Syria.
Most of the information about their elusive culture comes
from stunning wall paintings, now at the Athens Archeological
Museum, showing bright-colored flowers, birds and animals, such
as monkeys, that must have come from Africa.
They depict scenes of ships sailing from port to port or
taking part in sea battles. Others show life-size bare-breasted
women with elaborate clothes and boys boxing or showing off
catches of fish.
The most recently found wall painting is a procession of men
bearing gifts. It was found above a staircase in one of the
biggest houses in Akrotiri and has not yet been completely
pieced together, Doumas said.
Santorini, which some have identified in the past with
Plato's lost continent of Atlantis, is a half-moon shaped island
with an active volcano.
Its dramatic landscape, with traditional white-washed towns
perched on steep volcanic cliffs and vineyard-covered slopes
attract throngs of tourists every summer.
Under a rusting roof, built quickly to protect the sensitive
finds from turning into mud with the first rain, thousands of
visitors walk the streets of Akrotiri, looking through doors and
windows into the two- and three-story houses at plaster replicas
of furniture and other objects.
Doumas has been seeking government and private funding to
replace the old roof, a costly project but one that would not
only preserve the site but develop it into a major tourist
attraction, he said.
"The cost of the shelter, which will turn the site into an
energy self-sufficient museum, could be met by the rising number
of visitors who would come to see it," Doumas said.
Only a small part of the Bronze Age town has been unearthed,
but money is so scarce that despite the fact that the site is
sheltered, excavations last only two months a year, he said.

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