Phaistos Disk Deciphered? Not Likely, Say Scholars

Aegean Bronze Age script experts weigh in on decipherment claim

Phaistos_A

Side A of the Phaistos Disk, which can be seen at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. Photo: PRA / Wikimedia Commons.

A Bronze Age artifact that has eluded decipherment for over a century has finally been decoded—so claims Gareth Owens, a linguist at the Technological Educational Institute of Crete. In a TEDxHeraklion talk in February 2014, Owens presented a decipherment of the Phaistos Disk, a 3,700-year-old fired clay disk stamped with hundreds of symbols. The disk, according to Owens, is a Minoan prayer to a mother goddess.

Major news outlets, including The Greek Reporter, The Huffington Post and Discovery News, recently covered Owens’s findings with great fanfare. Some Aegean Bronze Age script experts, however, are not convinced by Owens’s methodology and conclusion. This article presents reactions by scholars Thomas G. Palaima and Brent Davis, whose specializations collectively encompass Indo-European linguistics, decipherment theory and Bronze Age art and archaeology. Click on their names to jump down to their respective commentaries.

The Phaistos Disk is about 6 inches in diameter and contains on both sides symbols stamped in a spiral formation. 45 different signs—242 in all—are represented on the disk. The disk was discovered in 1908 in an early second millennium B.C.E. palace at Phaistos on Minoan Crete.
 


 
Learn about the magnificent Minoan civilization in “Who Were the Minoans?” and “Minoan Frescoes at Tel Kabri” in Bible History Daily.
 

 
Phaistos_B

Side B of the Phaistos Disk. Photo: PRA / Wikimedia Commons.

Since its discovery, scholars have debated the origin, meaning and function of the disk, as well as what its symbols actually say. The disk has been interpreted to be a hymn, a curse and even an almanac.

One major problem with attempting to decipher the signs? There aren’t enough examples to work with. The script stamped on the disk appears nowhere else, but two objects display similar—though not identical—signs: a bronze axe from Arkalokhori in central Crete and a clay seal from Phaistos.

Despite its mysteriousness, the Phaistos Disk is thought to be authentic by many, but not all, scholars.

In a TEDx talk in Heraklion on the Greek island of Crete, Gareth Owens presented a summary of his six-year-long research with collaborator John Coleman, a phonetics specialist at Oxford University, and what they claim to be a decipherment of more than 90% of the signs on the Phaistos Disk. Watch the talk:

 
 
Believing the Phaistos Disk signs to be related to the still-undeciphered Minoan Linear A script, and thus ultimately to the Mycenaean Linear B script, Owens and Coleman identified a number of keywords, including I-QE-KU-RJA, interpreted to mean “mother and/or goddess.” The researchers conclude that the Phaistos Disk is a Minoan prayer to the mother goddess.

Concerning critics of his research, Owens, in an email to Bible History Daily, said, “It is perhaps easier to criticise than to offer something new. After 25 years on Crete, and having spent a decade doing a Ph.D. in linguistics on the structure of the Minoan language, and after 6 years on the Disk, I personally will keep trying to improve our work, and I will happily hear better theories with great pleasure.”

Owens added, “Why should the Disk be treated differently as a Cretan syllabic inscription? My Ph.D. demonstrated that Minoan is an independent, insular Indo-European language. The Disk is a genuine Minoan religious inscription in a syllabic script in an IE language, so we must try both to ‘read’ and to try to ‘understand’ the text.”

He and his research team have made their work available online at TEI of Crete – Daidalika “for healthy criticism and subsequent improvement,” Owens said.

Below, two scholars present Bible History Daily with their reactions to Owens’s decipherment claim.
 


 
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1. Thomas G. Palaima, Robert M. Armstrong Centennial Professor and Director of the Program in Aegean Scripts and Prehistory at the University of Texas at Austin:

Regarding Gareth Owens’s proposed decipherment of the Phaistos Disk, my opinion is not a new opinion, but an opinion that has remained valid for over 65 years and is widely shared by many creative, adventurous and hard-working scholars, i.e., scholars who are not part of a hidebound and conservative establishment at which proposers of decipherments often rail, because the data offered by the Phaistos Disk for a decipherment have not changed significantly in all that time.

As more people than ever know now, because of Margalit Fox’s recent excellent general account of work at deciphering the Minoan and Mycenaean scripts of the Aegean area during the 20th and into the 21st century (The Riddle of the Labyrinth, Ecco Press 2013) and a decade earlier Andrew Robinson’s The Man Who Deciphered Linear B (Thames and Hudson 2002), a major figure in analyzing, systematizing and carefully publishing the data and in mastering and controlling many related or pertinent scripts and languages of the third to first millennia B.C.E. was Alice E. Kober (1906–1950). In her magisterial article on the state of research on the Aegean scripts “Minoan Scripts Fact and Theory,” American Journal of Archaeology 52 (1948), pp. 82–103, Kober comments on the Phaisos Disk: “Of Cretan origin until proven otherwise.” She says that articles that give readings of the Phaistos Disk “translate” it, rather than “decipher” it. And she sums up the state of the problem: “For many years after its discovery, the Phaistos Disk was a favorite subject for articles and was ‘translated’ several times. As a matter of fact, very little can be done with it at present.” This still holds true.

Elizabeth Barber in her Archaeological Decipherment: A Handbook (Princeton University Press 1974) says about the Phaistos Disk: “Not only is there not enough statistical information for anyone who claims to have deciphered a script for which only 241 [instances of the 45 distinct] signs of nonalphabetic text are known … to prove his claim, but by the same token there is not enough for anyone else to disprove it.”

What this means is that the data are insufficient for proof or for disproof. Every proposed decipherment, Gareth Owens’s included, fails the standard of ‘probability.’

As with other “translations” of the Phaistos Disk, Owens gives values for the signs and interpretations of the words made up of those signs and of groups of words, without any thorough-going proof of the overall phonology, sound-representational system and grammar and syntax.
 


 
2. Brent Davis, Adjunct Professor at the Centre for Classics and Archaeology at the University of Melbourne:

The script on the Phaistos Disk is found on no other object, perhaps apart from the Arkalokhori axe. Thus the corpus of this script is tiny—far too small to be deciphered in any reliable way. Decipherment requires a corpus consisting of thousands and thousands of signs—because only with such a large corpus can we ascertain the meanings of words without guesswork.

What Owens has done is to attempt to “sound out” the signs on the Disk by assigning them the phonetic values of Linear A signs that look somewhat similar. However, Linear A is itself undeciphered; the values of its signs are only tentative, based on their resemblances to Linear B signs. Furthermore, the notion that the Disk and Linear A must encode the same language is an assumption: the Minoans may very well have spoken more than one language, which would make the existence of multiple scripts easier to understand.

Also, the notion that “similarity of form” between signs on the Disk and Linear A signs must mean “similarity of pronunciation” is a serious assumption. The scripts may very well be related (though this can’t yet be proven); but even if they are related, the notion that “similarity of form” means “similarity of pronunciation” is still an assumption. The Cypriot Syllabic script, for example, is clearly part of the same family of scripts as Linear B, with many signs in Cypriot Syllabic resembling signs in Linear B—but most of these signs are pronounced very differently in the two scripts, even though both scripts encode the same language (Greek).

Owens likens the Disk to the Rosetta Stone, but this is far from accurate…if only that were true. The Rosetta Stone contained a text in an undeciphered script (Egyptian Hieroglyphs), as well as a translation of that text into Greek. Such a bilingual document is indeed a huge aid to decipherment, for obvious reasons, but the Disk contains just the undeciphered script—nothing else.

In the end, Owens’s “readings” are based on a stack of unverifiable assumptions; his conclusions are unproven, and unprovable. It’s not surprising, then, that so many scholars of Aegean Bronze Age scripts aren’t accepting them.
 


 
Update, November 3, 2014: John G. Younger, Professor of Classics and Academic Director of Jewish Studies at the University of Kansas, has published his response to Owens here: http://people.ku.edu/~jyounger/misc/Owens_response.pdf.
 

 

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  1. Jesse says

    Andrew Robinson (Lost Languages : The Enigma of the World’s Undeciphered Scripts, New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002) notes that the government of Crete will not permit non-destructive testing of the artifact to verify its age, one thing which has cast doubts on its authenticity.

  2. Dimitri says

    If Robinson does say that, it is odd, because the “government of Crete” doesn’t make that decision. Scientific testing of archaeological materials in Greece requires an application to the Ministry of Culture (specifically the “Section of Applied Research of the Directorate of Conservation of Ancient and Modern Monuments”).

  3. Barbara says

    Archaeology seems to be a very jealous, unforgiving business. If Owens has used the term ‘similarity of pronunciation’ surely he has done his best.
    The ‘unverifiable assumptions’ and ‘unproven conclusions’ from many scholars is puerile.

  4. Michael F. says

    The circle in which it is constructed is classical womb imagery. It would indeed relate to a goddess and most likely has to do with fertility or birth. The spiral represented the umbilical cord. The disc has 12 words on the outer edge and it set up similar to a ancient constellation division. In classical Greece there was 48 constellations, this one uses 45, combing some constellations, which was not uncommon. Thus this comes as a heavenly mother prayer, as a supreme goddess. The flip side looks like the center is a serpent’s head, a symbol associated with the goddess and wisdom.

    In related mythology Theseus used a string to find his way through the labyrinth. This is related to the same symbolism and is represented in the constellation of the Northern Crown, located above Virgo, the mother goddess. In the Bible, the Northern Crown is symbolic of the story of Tamar and the twins who again used a string. Giving birth to twins was considered a godsend and a blessing, unlike today. :)

    I would suggest a fertility prayer, which should be obvious by its construction.

  5. Andrew says

    I’m just an interested member of the public and I don’t have a languages Ph.D or 25 years in the field. However, the spirals on the disk are divided into quite a number of segments which contain and divide the symbols (text?). If this were a text such as a prayer then surely the text would be continuous and not separated into short segments.

    Could the disk be a form of tally or reckoner used to record quantities, commodities or time? I’m sure that’s already been considered but it just seems more likely to me than it being a continuous text.

  6. Peter says

    For the authenticity of the Disk, see about a quarter down the page http://phaistosgame.com/Instant-Reading.htm the discussion of two signs from the Disk that were found nowhere else except on two later artifacts, the Arkalochori Axe unearthed in 1936 and a sealing fragment that turned up in 1955 at the palace of Phaistos. If the Disk was a forgery, its forger would have needed to travel into his or her future to learn about those signs.

    Farther down that page you will also find a large sampling of “decipherments” and “translations” of the Disk that shows the variety of fantasies projected onto it, like that most recent one by Dr. Owens.

    And if you want to see a coherent and non-conjectural interpretation of the fields from the Disk as the illustrations for the fields of a gameboard, similar to those on some gameboards for the Egyptian game of Senet, see http://phaistosgame.com and the links near the bottom of that page to a series of seven articles published in the online journal popular-archaeology.com. Enjoy the reading!

  7. Raimo says

    Phaistos disk is more likely than not a fake. There’s nothing like it – it’s an anomaly – and the circumstances it was “found” are suspicious.

  8. m. says

    M.B. Manning, (adurynth@gmail.com.), author of ‘The Persistent Puzzle’ an investigation
    into the writing system of Bronze Age Crete.
    Comments on G. Owens’ “decoding” of the Phaistos Disk.

    Most of what can be said about the content of the Phaistos Disk is entirely within the realm of speculation. Some support for scholarly speculation can be found in the evidence of both the Cretan Hieroglyphic Script and the Linear A and Linear B scripts. For example there are ‘hand’ signs in all three scripts and there is a hand sign on the Phaistos Disk (note that the Linear B sign #52/’no’, is probably not an example of a hand sign). The Disk ‘hand’ sign (D#8) is unusual as it may be a type of glove, but it clearly has four fingers and a thumb. The likelihood is that all of these ‘hand’ signs represent the same syllabic value, in this case that of the vowel ‘i’ / ‘hi’. Dr. Owens ignores this information and assigns the value of the vowel ‘i’ to the ‘warrior’s head’ sign (D#2). The Disk sign D#2 however has more in common with the Linear A ‘double-ax’ sign that represents the vowel ‘a’. There are other scholars who have suggested an ‘a’ value for the ‘warrior’s head’ sign (see Duhoux,Y. 2000, AJA, #104). The key to assigning more probable value assignments to the signs of the Disk is to look for matching sign themes as well as signs that are similar in appearance. Comparing the appearances of the signs is important, though it can be misleading. For example D#12 looks similar to the Minoan Linear A ‘sieve’ sign, AB78. More likely the Disk’s ‘sieve’ sign is D#43, a triangular sieve. The weight of the evidence seems to identify D#12 as a dimpled form of the ‘potter’s wheel’, sign AB77. In support of this there are five examples of ‘aka/haga’ pair (AB8 andAB77) in the Linear A Gorila 5 Index of sign groups, but there’s not one example of Owens’ proposed reading of the first Disk sign pair: ‘iqe’ (AB28andAB78).
    The list of Minoan sign themes isn’t all that long and the complexity of the Cretan Writing system is sometimes overstated by scholars. This writing system consists of a collection of sign themes that number about 60 phonetic syllabic symbols (signs that appear in sign groups). One example of a sign theme is the depiction of various objects relating to archery. In Linear A we find a ‘bow and arrow’ sign, AB41, representing the syllable ‘si’ and an ‘arrowhead’ sign, CHIC#049 in the CHS. On the Disk we find a ‘slack bow’ sign, D#11. And so it seems reasonable to speculate that this sign also represents the ‘si’ syllable. A careful examination of the signs of the Cretan Hieroglyphic Script (CHS) and the signs of the Linear A Script will provide a list of potential sign themes. Thirty-six of the Disk signs compare well to signs in Linear A. This fact alone is enough to confirm that the Disk is Cretan both in language and manufacture. There are a few Linear A inscriptions written in a spiral form. For example the ‘magic cup’ from Knossos, KN Zc 7.1. This spiraling text also begins with the ‘aka’ pair. So in this regard the Disk is not unique. Any who would attempt to decipher the Disk will do well to identify the Cretan sign themes and recognize their potential syllabic value. As to the first sign group on the first side of the Disk (D#s 2,12,13,1,18,’ ), my suspicion is that it reads ‘haga-pa-laris’ possibly meaning ‘the holy place of the ‘laris’. In the CHS the sign group ‘lare’, perhaps related to the Disk’s ‘laris’, appears 25 times as ‘ya la re’ on seal stones. Disk signs that compare well to Linear A signs are: D#1=AB60, D#4=AB13, D#7=AB37, D#10=AB9, D#16=AB67, D#18=AB53, D#19=AB1, D#20=AB24, D#21=AB54, D#22=AB17, D#23=AB6, D#24=AB39, D#27=AB59, D#29=AB80, D#30=AB50, D#31=AB81, D#33= AB31, D34=AB45, D#35=AB4, D#36=AB30, D#37=AB7, D#38=AB2, D#39=AB27, D#40=AB44, #42=AB74, D#44=AB23 and D#45=AB76. The stroke marks on the disk may be a space saving ‘s’ syllable. The sign group (D#2, D#12/ aka/haga), could be ancestral to the Greek term meaning holy or holy place. This seems to confirm that the Disk is a religious document made by imprinting a set of stamps into wet clay. By the way, this is only a few small steps away from the invention of the printing press. The preponderance of the available evidence does support the view that the Phaistos Disk is a product of the Cretan Writing System of the Bronze Age period. As such it may be possible to understand the text of the Disk, if we ever learn how to read the Linear A inscriptions.
    11/15/2014

  9. Peter says

    What makes a TED talk so authoritative? It is better to be without a compass than trusting one that shows a wrong direction.

  10. John says

    Critics should study the details behind Owens’s “reading” of the Phaistos Disk signs, at
    http://teicrete.gr/daidalika/documents/phaistos_disk/signary.pdf

    Seems that some people are quick to condemn because the TEDx talk is (naturally) scant on detail. But as with all these proposals, the devil is in the detail!

  11. manning says

    This follow up commentary on G. Owens’ “decipherment” of the Phaistos Disk is an assessment of Owens’ sign-by-sign “Table of Similarities” as presented on his website at :
    http://teicrete.gr/daidalika/documents/phaistos_disk/signary.pdf.

    Garth Owens’ public announcement that he had deciphered parts of the Phaistos Disk made little impression on the academic community and other scholars who study the interesting subject of the writing system of Bronze Age Crete. As the result of more than forty-five years of studying this subject, I have a boatload of opinions on his work which I will attempt to describe in part herein. Though we may not be able to translate the Disk with any degree of certainty, the artifact’s text is available for all who have the needed understanding to fashion supportable and well-reasoned speculations. After reading much of what Owens has to say about the Cretan Writing System, I find that I agree with him on many of his points of view. Although I disagree with some of his assertions, it is primarily with most of his value assignments for the Phaistos Disk signs that I strongly object. Though I respect Owens for his efforts, his erroneous value assignments for the bulk of the Disk signs (about 75%) largely invalidate most of what follows from them. He does fairly well in comparing the signs of the Cretan Hieroglyphic Script to the signs of the Disk Script, but often fails to correctly equate the signs of the Hieroglyphic script to those of the Linear A script. I hope that Owens and other scholars will seriously consider the assignments suggested herein as they are the product of a serious and thorough examination of the available evidence.
    Speculative assignments for the signs of the Phaistos Disk are primarily based on comparisons of visual similarities, sign themes and sign frequency levels in the Cretan Hieroglyphic Script (CHS) and the Minoan Linear A Script (MLA). The stylized signs on the Disk represent a rather odd off-shoot of the Cretan writing system. Many of these signs have been purposely designed in an eccentric or peculiar fashion so as to create a somewhat disguised or esoteric script. These variations however are not so extreme that they would keep someone familiar with the traditional sign themes of the Cretan Writing System from being able to read the text of the Disk. It is likely that a religious order of some kind is responsible for the creation of this unusual artifact. For visual images of the signs discussed herein see Godart and Olivier(1985/GORILA) and (1996/CHIC) and A. Gardiner (1957/Egypt. Hiero.). Also see internet sources under Linear A and the Cretan Hieroglyphic Script.

    D#1 Owens compares this ‘running man’ sign to AB46(je/ye) a sign that appears in only six sign groups in MLA. However D#1 appears 11 times on the Disk. It is more likely that D#1 is a variation of the CHS sign CHIC#010, the ‘leg’ sign that seems to equate well to the MLA ‘foot’ sign AB60 (la/ra).

    D#2 This is the ‘warrior’s head’ sign. Owens compares this sign to AB28(i/hi) the MLA ‘hand’ sign. D#2 appears 19 times on the Disk, often in the initial position. Since there is a more likely ‘hand’ sign on the Disk, (D#8) it is more probable that D#2 is a substitute sign for the MLA ‘double ax’ sign AB08 which represents the vowel ‘a’.

    D#3 Owens first compares this ‘bald-headed female’ sign to the CHS sign CHIC#002, which is a depiction of ‘a man’s bust’. CHS sign #002 appears to be the predecessor to AB16(qa). This is a realistic speculation, only Owens then erroneously compares the CHS sign #002 to AB10(u). AB#10 though is an abbreviated view of the right hand side of the CHS sign CHIC#057, which is a depiction of a type of sistrum, a musical instrument. D#3 is very unlikely to equate to AB10. There is a possibility that D# 3 is the Disk’s ‘hair’ sign and so would equate to AB69(pu/fu) and the CHS sign CHIC#071. This would be consistent with the Disk’s sometimes eccentric nature.

    D#4 This is the Disk’s version of the ‘captive or prisoner’ sign. Owens correctly equates this sign to the CHS sign CHIC#006. He fails though to equate D#4 to the MLA ‘captive’ sign AB13(me).

    D#5 This is the ‘walking child’ sign. Owens mistakenly equates D#5 to the MLA ‘hair’ sign AB50(pu). D#5 appears to share more in common with AB46(ye/je). There is only one example of this sign on the Disk.
    D#6 This is the ‘mother with a child’ or ‘bare breasted woman’ sign. Owens compares this sign to MLA’s ‘flying insect’ sign AB45(de). It is far more likely that D#6 equates to AB51(du). This sign is almost certainly a simple sketch of a woman with a child on one arm. It consists of a simplified representation of a person on the left, from which an ‘arm’ extends. On this arm sits a ‘stick figure child’ with its two legs dangling down. The Phaistos Disk sign D#6 depicts a bare breasted woman who appears to be holding something close to her in one arm. Compare it to the Egyptian signs G# B5 and B6. There are four examples of D#6 on the Disk giving it a comparable frequency level to AB51.

    D#7 This is the Disk’s ‘breast’ sign. Owens correctly compares this sign to MLA’s AB37(ti) which appears to equate to the CHS sign CHIC #034. The Disk version of this image looks very much like the Egyptian Hieroglyph, Gardiner #27.

    D#8 This seems to be the Disk’s version of the ‘hand’ sign and equates to AB28(i) and the CHS sign CHIC#009. Owens correctly compares D#8 to CHIC#009, but incorrectly assigns it the value of ‘no’. It is uncertain if this syllable occurs in Linear A.

    D#9 This sign seems to compare well with the MLA sign AB40(wi/vi). Note the crossed lines in both of these signs. Owens first confuses D#9 with the MLA sign A301 which seems to be an ‘inscribing or sculpting tool’ of some kind. He next assigns D#9 a value of ‘pe’ which is the presumed value of the MLA sign A305/L#66. There is however little if any supporting evidence for this designation.

    D#10 This sign is probably the Disk’s version of the ‘feather’ sign and as such it equates to the CHS sign CHIC#028 and the MLA sign AB09(se). Though D#10 looks like an ‘oar’, the striations on the “paddle” area suggest that this is the feathered end of an arrow. Owens compares D#10 to AB79 or AB20 without supporting evidence.

    D#11 This sign appears to be the Disk’s version of an ‘archery’ sign. It is a depiction of ‘a slack bow’ that is likely to equate to the MLA sign AB41(si) and the CHS sign CHIC#048 and #049. Owens compares D#11 to the MLA sign AB87(twe?). There are four examples of D#11 on the Disk and one of AB87 in the Gorila V Index.

    D#12 This sign is the most likely symbol on the Disk to equate to AB77(ka/ga) and to the CHS signs CHIC#033 (a spinning disk) and #073(a flat wheel), all of which appear to be examples of ‘wheel’ signs. Owens mistakenly compares D#12 to the MLA sign AB78(qe) which is a depiction of a ‘sieve’. AB78 is an abbreviated form of the CHS sign CHIC#047, a round ‘sieve with a handle’. Owens ignores the likelihood that D#43 is the Disk’s ‘sieve’ sign, not D#12.

    D#13 Owens correctly identifies this sign, a depiction of a ‘scepter or a mace’, as the Disk’s version of the MLA sign AB03(pa/fa).

    D#14 This sign may be a depiction of ‘yoke’ meant for a pair of oxen. D#14 could also be a version of the MLA sign A305(pe?), a sign that occurs in five sign groups in the MLA index. Owens incorrectly equates D#14 to the MLA sign AB59(ta). There are only two of the D#14 signs on the Disk. This is far too few to support his speculation that this sign represents the syllable ‘ta’.

    D#15 This sign depicts a ‘single headed ax’. Owens assigns it a syllabic value of ‘so’ and in this he may be correct. Another possibility is that this sign may represent the syllable ‘po’.

    D#16 This is the Disk’s simplified depiction of a horn shaped ‘drinking cup’ or ‘kilix’. It equates to AB67(ki) with a probable sign theme of ‘to drink’. In the CHS the ‘bent arm’ sign, CHIC#007, is the most likely equivalent to AB67 (see the Egypt. Hiero. ‘bent arm’ sign G#D41). Owens mistakenly compares D#16 to the CHS sign CHIC#045 and AB74(ze) the ‘hand saw’ sign.

    D#17 This sign appears to be a side view of a Minoan pinch-back seal stone. This sign’s syllabic value is very questionable. It could be the Disk’s version of AB16(qa), and the CHS precursor, CHIC#002, a simple sketch of a ‘man’s bust’. This comparison is based on the idea that seal stones were representative of personal identity. Owens equates D#17 to the ‘loop’ sign, Evans#138. This is certainly possible, but in the creation of the MLA script some of the CHS signs were simplified and literally put up on a “stick”, which would better explain AB17 than it does AB16.

    D#18 Owens compares this sign to the MLA sign A310, a segmented symbol that appears in six sign groups in the GORILA V Index. D#18 however occurs 12 times on the Disk, a strong frequency for an uncommon sign in MLA. It is more likely that D#18 is a form of the MLA sign AB53(li/ri). D#18 compares well to the CHS sign CHIC#060, probably a depiction of a harvesting tool, perhaps a ‘pruning shear or a scythe’.

    D#19 Owens correctly identifies this ‘forked branch’ sign as equating to AB01(da).

    D#20 This sign is the Disk’s version of the ‘amphora’ sign. It compares well to the MLA sign AB24(ne) and the CHS signs CHIC#052 and #053. Owens seems uncertain about the syllabic value of this sign.

    D#21 This is the Disk script’s odd looking ‘loom or weaving’ symbol. D#21 equates well to AB54(wa/va) and the CHS sign CHIC#041. Owens’ assignment of the Linear B sign value of ‘swi’ to D#21 seems highly unlikely.

    D#22 This sign may be a form of the CHS ‘loop’ symbol, Evans #138, the most likely precursor to AB17(za). Owens points out that this sign resembles A318, a sign of unknown value, that looks like AB46(ye/je). D#22 bears no resemblance to the Linear B ‘zo’ sign LB20, the value given to D#22 by Owens.

    D#23 This is the Disk’s minimal version of the MLA sign AB06(na), that is apparently derived from the CHS sign CHIC#044. All of these signs are all likely to be depictions of a ‘wood chisel’. Owens has correctly identified this sign’s value, but not its CHS ancestor CHIC#044.

    D#24 This sign depicts either a ‘tower or another type of structure’. Some have called it a ‘beehive . It compares well to the CHS sign CHIC#036 and to AB39(pi/fi). Owens mistakenly equates D#24 to AB38(e). AB38 is more likely a simple depiction of a ‘mason’s compass’. Note that AB39 has a strong frequency in the MLA script (it appears in 46 sign groups), unlike AB38 which appears only sixteen times in the GORILA V index. D#24 occurs six times on the Disk.

    D#25 The Disk’s ‘ship’ sign equates well to AB86, a sign of unknown syllabic value. One possibility is that it represents the syllable yu/eu. Owens assigns D#25 a value of “dwa’.

    D#26 This sign is a depiction of a ‘horn’. The question is, what kind of horn is it? One of the signs in the CHS that depicts an animal with horns is the ‘goat’ sign, CHIC#016. This sign is the most likely ancestor of AB73 (mi). See GORILA V pg. 39, Table of Sign Variations, AB73. Owens compares D#26 to AB76(ra2) the ‘eye brow’ sign, a very unlikely designation.

    D#27 The Disk’s ‘cow or ox hide’ sign compares well with AB59(ta). With 15 occurrences on the Disk, D#27 has a comparable frequency to AB59. Owens’ identification of D#27 as potentially equating to AB54(wa) appears very unlikely.

    D#28 This ‘bovine foot’ sign is correctly identified by Owens as equating to the CHS sign CHIC#046 and the MLA sign A301. CHIC#046 appears to be a depiction of an ‘engraving tool’ with a ‘bovine foot’ for a handle. This sign could be a “logo-gram’ meaning “inscribed” or “written”. Owens compares D#28 to the Linear B sign #36(jo). There is no evidence however indicating that the MLA script has a “jo” syllable.

    D#29 Owens seems to have confused the Disk’s version of the ‘cat head’ sign with the CHS ‘dog’s head’ sign, CHIC#017. There are ‘cat’ signs in the CHS but they are not recognized as syllabic elements in CHIC. Owens then equates D#29 with a bovine head, AB85(au?). The forward facing ‘cat head’ sign in the MLA script seems to have been replaced on the Disk by a side view of this valued animal.

    D#30 This sign appears to be the Disk’s version of a ‘ram’s horn’ sign. It can be compared to AB58(su), the MLA script’s ‘ram’s horn’ sign. Though not recognized as a syllabic element in CHIC, there are more than a dozen examples of ‘rams horn’ signs (Evans#137) in the CHS. Owens first compares D#30 to the CHS sign CHIC#016, a ‘goat head’ sign, then he compares it to AB13(me) the ‘captive’ sign with an added question mark.

    D#31 Owens correctly equates this Disk sign to the MLA ‘flying bird’ (or kumindus) symbol, AB81(ku). In the CHS the ‘ku’ syllable is represented by the ‘dog or dog head’ signs (Gk. ‘kuon’) CHIC#s 017 and #018.

    D#32 This is the Disk’s ‘walking duck or goose’ sign. It can be compared to the MLA sign A306(ai?). Owens wrongly compares D#32 to AB60(la/ra), the MLA scripts ‘foot/leg’ sign, an abbreviated linear form of CHIC #010. In the CHS there is a ‘perched bird’ sign that appears to represent the ‘ra’ syllable. This sign was abandoned in the MLA script and the foot/leg’ sign was there after employed to represent both the ‘ra’ and ‘la’ syllables.

    D#33 Owens correctly identifies this sign as the Disk’s version of the ‘fish’ sign, and equating to AB31(sa).

    D#34 This Disk sign is a depiction of a ‘honey bee or flying insect’. It compares well to AB45(de) and to the CHS signs CHIC#s 020, 021 and 022. Owens mistakenly identifies D#34 as equating to AB39(pi/fi).

    D#35 Owens correctly identifies this simple ‘tree’ sign as equating to AB04(te).

    D#36 Owens correctly identifies this ‘fruit tree’ sign as equating to AB30(ni).

    D#37 This symbol seems to be a version of the ‘rainfall or flowing water’ sign. As such it compares well to AB07(di) and the CHS sign CHIC#068. Owens equates D#37 to the Linear B sign #33(ra3). This seems to be an unlikely and unsupported conclusion.

    D#38 This sign is a depiction of a ‘rosette’. It is probably related to the CHS sign CHIC#070. Note this flower image has eight petals. If you combine the two types of the CHIC#070 signs together, you will make a ‘rosette’ like D#38. CHIC# 070 is the most likely sign to equate to AB02(lo/ro). Owens has confused D#38 with AB77 (ka), the ‘wheel’ sign.

    D#39 This is the ‘crocus or iris’ sign. It compares well with AB27(le/re) and to the CHS signs CHIC#s 023 and 031. Owens correctly identifies this sign as equating to AB27.

    D#40 This is the Disk’s ‘tripod’ sign. It can be compared to AB44(ke/ge) and the CHS sign CHIC#032. Owens mistakenly identifies D#40 with AB69(tu), the ‘perfume flask’ sign.

    D#41 This sign appears to be a depiction of a ‘bone’. It is unlike anything in MLA script or the CHS. It can be compared though to the Egyptian hieroglyphic sign G#F44 ‘flesh and bone’. In the MLA script the sign AB66(ta2) can be compared to G#F#44 and so perhaps to D#41. Owens is also uncertain about this sign.

    D#42 This is the Disk’s version of the ‘wood saw’ sign. It appears in all of the Cretan Scripts. Compare D#42 to AB74(ze) and in the CHS see CHIC#045. Owens doesn’t speculate on the syllabic value of D#42.

    D#43 Owens correctly compares this sign, a ‘triangular sieve’ to the CHS sign CHIC#047. He then assigns it the value of AB66 “ta2”. It is far more likely that D#43 is the Disk’s version of AB78(qe), the MLA version of the ‘sieve’ sign.

    D#44 This sign appears to be a simplified version of the CHS sign CHIC#012, a ‘cow’s head’. It compares well to the MLA sign AB23(mu). Owens doesn’t speculate on this one.

    D#45 The ‘eyebrow’ sign easily equates to AB76(ra2) and to the CHS sign CHIC#069. Also compare D#45 to the Egyptian hieroglyphic sign G#D13. Owens first confuses D#45 with the CHS’s ‘hair’ sign CHIC#071 and then with AB07(di) the MLA version of the ‘rainfall or water’ sign.

    The Stroke Mark: These hand inscribed stroke marks are very likely to be space-saving “s” sound substitute indicators. It is understood by scholars that medial and final “s” sounds are often not indicated in the MLA inscriptions. For example the sign group “pa-i-to” (HT97a.3) is understood to actually read “Phaistos”. The Phaistos Disk probably uses these stroke marks to eliminate the uncertainty encountered in the MLA inscriptions.

    In an attempt to save space I have not discussed the issue of sign frequency for every sign. For the same reason I have not listed comparisons of Disk and MLA sign groups in support of the syllabic values that I’ve suggested herein. Based on the sign values I have suggested, there are about thirty-four examples of these matching sign groups (34 out of 61 Disk sign groups). They are available on request at my G-mail address. The likelihood is that almost all of the signs on the Phaistos Disk equate to the well-represented signs in the Linear A script. Thus few if any uncommon or rare MLA sign values are likely to occur on the Disk. The most problematic signs on the Disk are D#s 3, 5, 14, 15, 17, 22, 26, & 41. The Tables of Sign Variations for the MLA script and the CHS in GORILA and CHIC are of considerable importance in assessing the relationship between the signs on the Phaistos Disk and those of the other scripts of the Cretan writing system.
    As to Owens’ Sign Grid for the Phaistos Disk, there are many common MLA signs that do not appear in his table. These include: the vowel a, and the syllabic elements: du, ke, ki, za, me, mi, nu, ri, ru, se, ja, ji and wi. The signs in this list with high frequency numbers in the MLA inscriptions are very likely to be included on the Disk. This reinforces the impression that Owens has failed to correctly assign MLA values to the majority of the signs on the Phaistos Disk. If scholars could somehow manage to agree on the value assignments for the bulk of the signs on the Phaistos Disk, this would not result in a “decipherment” of the text of this document. It should though add to our list of “Minoan” sign groups as well as increase our the understanding of the nature and development of the Cretan writing system.
    Of historical interest, I have the impression that the eccentric nature of many of the signs that appear on the Phaistos Disk could be explained as a reaction to the often severe degree of abbreviation of the signs of the Cretan Hieroglyphic Script that took place in order to create the Minoan Linear A Script. It is possible that some of the more traditionally minded scribes and scholars of Bronze Age Crete reacted with disdain to the creation of this form of linear short-hand. Just as many in our modern world react to the mangling of the English language that has taken place in the creation of so-called “internet jargon”. Such short hand as, TMI, 4=for and OMG for example, are understandably distressing to those who strive to preserve the precision and traditions of the English language.

    M. B. Manning, Dec. 2014, Contact e-mail: adurynth@gmail.com

  12. Yessai says

    Before reaching a final conclusion may I respectfully suggest the researches of Armenian scholar
    ARMAN REVAZYAN be taken into consideration.
    Y.R.

  13. DawnE says

    Not sure what Owen and others are looking for. The disk has been completely decrypted by Russian scientist Gennady Grinevich in 1983
    http://survincity.com/2010/12/phaistos-disk-silent-3700-years/

  14. Rafael says

    Read Jean FAUCOUNAU’s “Le Déchiffrement du Disque de Phaistos”, L’Harmattan, Paris, 1999 (2008), 192 pp. It’s ALL there!!

  15. Roro says

    The Phaistos Disk is a royal genealogy on the recto side and a mythical flood narrative on the verso side, with a war story thrown in for good measure. For more on this, please see: phaistosdisk.com

  16. David says

    The essential challenge of a successful decipherment is its validateableness. Nothing that I have seen has been validated due to the absence of any body of attested material to compare the PD with.

    Without validation there is no sound foundation for scholars to build on and so speculative products abound which are basically dead ends.

    I am not a scholar, but I pursued a validatable hypothesis to a conclusion that provides a basis that I believe provides plenty of material for scholars to work on. I worked on it for about 10 years, but it is not published. The work lies fallow.

    I would like someone to help me get it out there. I believe it is essentially correct.

    The results are consistent with conventions of linear B grammar and Indo-European which in turn correspond with attested historical practices. The direction of decipherment is revealed by the Disc itself without any assignment of syllabic values. The derivation of syllabic values follows logically from the strong direction and the validity of the results is tested against the historical records relating to that direction.

  17. R says

    The Phaistos Disc is not a hieroglyphic text message and that is why it has not been deciphered after 100 plus years. It is I believe a simple pictographic map of a trade based island nation. Each pictograph represents a landmark, product, trade or service, etc. and its approximant location on the island. It starts with the ship tied up in the harbor and then works its way up to the government complex at the top center of the island. I believe it is a map of Thera/Santorini before the eruption 3600 years ago.

  18. Alexander says

    Text contents of this disc – the rulers dedication to the god of the moon, copied from a labels, made in the form of three bilateral pole-axes, or from inscriptions directly on pole-axes. One of these pole-axes, the largest, four-blade may be used as a lunar calendar. The disc itself – the moon during a full moon – a sort of portable version of the dedications and calendar.
    For details, see my website: phaestos-disk.at.ua

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Friday Varia and Quick Hits | The Archaeology of the Mediterranean World linked to this post on October 31, 2014

    […] I am dismayed that scholars are rejected the decipherment of Phaistos disk presented at TED on Crete. If we can’t believe a local TED talk, I am completely without a compass. […]


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