Thursday, July 27, 2006

More on the MInoans: the Phaistos Disc

The Phaistos Disc is an artifact from Crete that dates to approximately 1700 BC. Although contemporary with Linear A script, the Phaistos Disc is in another Minoan script; one which the famous Minoan archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans called "hieroglyphic."
The disc was discovered in the North-East apartments of the Minoan Palace at Phaistos in Southern Crete.
There seem to be a number of competing 'decipherments' of the disc, by various people, some of which tie the script to Semitic languages and claim it is a list of commodities, others of which claim the disc is in very Ancient Greek and is a geometry proof regarding the paradox of parallel lines.
Due to recent discoveries, and research, however, the most plausible theory may be that one tying the disc to Linear B script, that is, ancient Hellenic language.
Links below provide some small sample of the various decipherment schemes.

LINKS: (overview of the disc and one possible decipherment scheme at the bottom, includes syllabary) (site of the scholars [?] who deciphered the disc as an ancient Hellenic language) (overview of various possible decipherments that have been put forward) (translation according to the very Ancient Greek decipherment scheme) (decipherment of the Phaistos Disc as a complex Minoan calendar - a very confusing page)

Graffiti - a Human Pastime

Disgusted by graffiti? Don't be. You might be looking at the next Chauvet Cave Paintings. The desire to make a mark on the physical world around us is timeless, and seems to be a human universal. From 35,000 year old caves in France to the Egyptians, Romans, and religious sites in India, evidence shows that people have been scratching and painting what we would call vandalism today since before history itself.

The etymology of the word "graffiti" is somewhat ambiguous. Some say it is derived from the Greek word graphein "to write" and was originally used as a reference to drawing or scribbling on Roman architecture, others that it comes from the the Latin graffiare "to scratch." Either way, the modern connotations of illegal, antisocial, and rude vandalism on private property stay the same. Currently, there are programs throughout the US to clean up graffiti in order to preserve property value and maintain the respectability of neigborhoods.

However, the timeless nature of the art of graffiti begs the question: what's so bad about unsolicited artwork? Graffiti, like other modernly illicit expressions of human creativity, is a scintillating and usually beautiful corner of our culture. Moreover, our reaction to it also deserves examination as a commentary on social control and cultural programming.

So next time you go by the overpass, try giving the graffiti a second look. If it helps, think of it in a museum.

LINKS: (informative page on graffiti old and new, some pictures of ancient graffiti) (official site for the Chauvet Caves, France, the spectacular caves where paleolithic depictions of the animal and natural world have existed undisturbed for the last 35,000 years. Click on "visit the cave" to take a virtual tour) (ancient rock art ["graffiti"] in Saudi Arabia, with lots of pictures) (Sumerian graffiti, may contain clues to how written language was developed) (article from LA Times on graffiti displaying what might be earliest known writing system)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Rivers Lost in Time

Today, London is a city along the Thames. But its history is built beside many other rivers, now subverted, built over, or formed into sewers. During the Medieval times (roughly 400 - 1200 AD) the rivers Langbourne (possibly), Walbourne, Fleet, Tyburn, Westbourne, Neckinger, Effra, as well as Tyburn Brook, Counter's Creek, Stamford Brook, and Hackney Brook all formed a watery landscape beside which the villages which became what we know today as London were built. Some were large enough to be navigable by barge - 12 feet or more wide and more than 30 feet deep.

The waterways still exist - in one form or another - and can be detected in the landscape, sewer ways, culverts, storm drain systems, and small brooks throughout the city. Many still are tributary to the Thames as well.

The ghostly presence of these disappeared waters are a fascinating link to London's history, while also serving as a commentary on the huge ecological impact of historical, as well as modern, human development.

Lost Rivers of London by Nicholas Barton

LINKS: (very good and informative overview of the rivers) (interesting tracing of the rivers through London - no maps though) (really interesting, though mainly on the biggest Subterranean river, the Fleet, including a map, and pictures of the modern clues to its existence)

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Lost Language of the Minoans

They say the written language of Linear A will never be deciphered by modern linguists. Mysterious and elusive, the undeciphered script of Linear A illustrates our dearth of understanding about the culture of the Minoans, and the quest that many are on to try to understand this culture that seems to slip beneath the waves of history in the 15th century BC. The decipherment of Linear A would lead us to a better understanding of Crete, the Mediterranean, and the processes of the earliest European civilizations.
The Minoan civilization flourished on the island of Crete in the Mediterranean Sea from roughly 2050 BC to 1450 BC. It has been theorized that Minoan people emigrated to the island from mainland Asia sometime during the 2nd millenium BC.
Culturally, it was far ahead of many of its counterparts; great palaces, flourishing trade, beautiful art and craftsmanship, and a written language all exemplified the great intellectual achievements of this civilization. The language of the ancient Minoans has been given the rather dour appellation of Linear A. A mysterious language in itself which linguists struggle to even transliterate, let alone understand, Linear A's syllabary (inventory of signs which correspond to sounds) was utilized in the written forms of Ancient Greek and Old Cypriot (the language spoken on ancient Cyprus).
The downfall of Minoan civilization has been attributed to various factors, including the volcanic activity of the Mediterranean during the 15th century BC, which may have weakened the civilzation and allowed for the takeover of people from mainland Greece. In any case, during 1400s BC, culture on Crete drastically changed, with a new language, Ancient Greek, taking over the old syllabary of Linear A.
Fascinatingly, examples of Linear A has been discovered in Bulgaria, which may indicate early trade contacts, or possibly the origin of the Minoans themselves.

Linear B and Related Scripts by John Chadwick (includes inscriptions in the deciphered Linear B [thought to be Ancient Greek in Linear A syllabary] and Linear A itself)
Minoans:Life in Bronze Age Crete by Rodney Castleden (on social life and culture)
The Foundations of Palatial Crete; a Survey of Crete in the Early Bronze Age by Keith Branigan
Minoan Religion: Ritual, Image and Symbol by Nanno Marinatos (on religion, evidently)
Mysteries of the Snake Goddess: Art, Desire, and the Forging of History by Kenneth D.S. Lapatin (on the forgery of the Snake Goddess, said to be an authentic Minoan statuette. Sounds really fascinating on modern views of the past and subjectivity in culture studies)

History (beautiful art and artists renderings of the Palace era) (wordy and informative about the most flourishing Minoan era and other parts of Minoan civilization)
Linear A (complex but good info on Linear A in all its permutations)

Saturday, July 22, 2006


"A Deeper Shade of Green." Reading National Geographic this month is an exercise in fright. How long until the earth becomes a factor in our cultural decisions? Global warming has become the problem that had to be solved yesterday. I wonder how long we can go on disregarding the place we live in as an unchanging and unchangeable terrarium for human kind.
What about other people? Has anyone thought about the effect powerful countries like ours are having on the ecosystem that affects everyone?
Oil, oil, oil. We are addicted to oil. The more we burn the more we make problems for ourselves. We banned marijuana. Shouldn't we make oil an illegal substance?

LINKS: (debate over hydrogen vs. ethanol fuel alternatives) (real-world tests of the different kinds of fuel possibilities in light- medium- and heavy- duty vehicles) (discussion of the alternative fuel issue, including lifespan of hybrid batteries, a salient part of the hybrid experience) (discussion of the use of lithium ion batteries in the new Subura R1e)