Department of Classics

Professor Shelmerdine's Exciting Mycenaean Find

Thu, June 2, 2011
Professor Shelmerdine's Exciting Mycenaean Find

Professor Emerita Cynthia Shelmerdine recounts the discovery last summer of a hitherto unique Bronze Age tablet that offers the first evidence yet of Greek writing at a non-palatial Mycenaean site on the Greek mainland.

Read her account at UT's "Further Findings"

Professors Shelmerdine and Michael Cosmopoulos (University of Missouri at St. Louis and Director of the project at Iklaina) provided more details about the tablet in a preliminary report they posted on the internet forum AegeaNet in April:

Readers of AegeaNet clearly share our excitement at the discovery of a Linear B tablet from Iklaina. In the last few days it has led to some good publicity for the Aegean Bronze Age. But since media reports rarely transmit information with complete accuracy, we’d like to offer the following brief account of the context and content of the tablet. A full publication will appear as soon as practicable.

Context and date: The tablet was found in a burned refuse pit containing diagnostic pottery of LH IIB/LH IIA1/early LH IIIA2 date and is, therefore, earlier than the tablet from the Petsas House at Mycenae. Palaeographically the signs resemble those on tablets from the Room of the Chariot Tablets at Knossos, and the four (not five) early tablets from Pylos. Phylogenetic analysis by Christina Skelton (cf. her article in Archaeometry 50, 2008, 158-176) bears out a date earlier than the main Pylos archive.

Content: The tablet is broken at bottom, one side, and perhaps also at the top, which is uneven. On the front side (recto), a probable man’s name is preserved in the first extant line, followed by the number 1. We read in the fragmentary second line ]n.u.-o-wo[ , probably the end of another name (cf. the name ]ṛ.u.-o-wo on Knossos Sc 130). The back side (verso) is determined by the more slanting ductus of the signs, a point observed by J.L. Melena. It preserves a participial ending, attested at Knossos and Pylos as perfect active in form, with an intransitive-passive sense. The closest parallel is te-tu-ko-wo-a (‘fully finished’), attested at Knossos with reference to cloth (KN L 871.b, restored on KN X 7846), and in the variant te-tu-ko-wo-a2 at Pylos with reference to wheels (PY Sa 682). te-tu-]ko-wo-a is a plausible restoration on the Iklaina tablet, though of course not certain.

Thus the tablet may present a personnel list on one side, and a verb form possibly linked to manufacturing on the other. The really interesting point is that this is the first tablet ever found at a secondary center in a Mycenaean state. We think that Richard Hope-Simpson and John Bennet are right in identifying  Iklaina as the district capital a-pu2 (Alphys, vel sim.) in the Hither Province of Pylos. If the date of the tablet is not later than LH IIIA1/early LH IIIA2, as the evidence suggests, it represents either a phase of independent written accounting predating a Pylian takeover, or the very early stages of state bureaucracy. Either way, it opens a window into a state of administration barely attested at Pylos itself.


More about the find in the NY Times and National Geographic

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