Length: 6.200 inches
Gift of Sir Arthur Evans
GR 1910.4-23.1;GR 1910.4-23.2
Room 12a: Greece Minoans
Clay tablets inscribed with records in Linear B script
Minoan, about 1450-1400 BC
From the Palace of Knossos, Crete
The earliest form of the Greek language
These tablets, made of unbaked clay, formed part of the extensive archives of the palace of Knossos. The fire that destroyed the palace in around 1375 BC baked the clay, and helped to preserve what was presumably intended only as a temporary record. The archives recorded goods and people under the palace's control. It is not known whether the Minoans used other writing materials such as papyrus or parchment, but none have survived.
The tablets were given to the British Museum by the excavator, Arthur Evans. At the time, he was not able to decipher them, though he recognised some of the picture signs that represent commodities, and the counting system. The code was only cracked in 1952, by the architect Michael Ventris (1922-56). He found that the language represented was Greek, though the script may have been developed from a Minoan prototype. This came as a great surprise, but it can now be seen as part of a wider picture indicating Mycenaean Greek domination at Knossos from about 1450 BC onwards. Archives of Linear B tablets have also been found in the Mycenaean palaces of the Greek mainland.
The smaller of these tablets records numbers of sheep at Phaistos, the larger concerns offering of oil to various deities.
J. Chadwick and others, Corpus of Mycenaean inscriptio (Cambridge University Press, 1986)
R. Parkinson, Cracking codes: the Rosetta St (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)
M. Ventris and J. Chadwick, Documents in Mycenaean Greek (Cambridge, 1956)