Is the Phaistos Disc genuine?
By Sven Buchholz.
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In the scientific archaeological periodical Minerva, issue July / August 2008 We can read the following headline:
The Phaistos disc, a hundred year old hoax!
The 10th in a series of articles by the Editor in Chief of Minerva, Jerome M. Eisenberg, Ph.D., dealing with the problem of forgery and ancient art. The author is a well known expert who has engage himself with such forgeries over a period of many years. He also participated in TV programs.
The disc was found in 1908 by the Italian archaeologist Louis Pernier in connection with the excavations of Phaistos. Eisenberg declares that the disc is created by its finder Louis Pernier!
Motivation: Why should Pernier pull such a stunt? His colleague, the Italian archaeologist Federico Halbherr excavated in Gortyna 1884. Halbherr was most successful and found several objects with written texts in ancient Greek language from the early 5th century BC, “The great inscription” the earliest European Legal Code, written on the city walls. Halbherr became very famous due to this discovery. Pernier was working with other Italian archaeologists excavating in the same area, the Messara plain. At the beginning of the century 1900, he was working at Phaistos. This was at the same time that Arthur Evans started to excavate at Knossos where he soon discovered a lot of clay tablets with Minoan inscriptions, Linear A and B. The expectations were great for Pernier to make similar findings. By 1908 it is most likely that he had not found any inscribed material. What could he possibly do to gain sufficient fame and glory to compete with Evans and Halbherr? What could he possibly discover? He soon came up with the answer: The creation of a relic with an untranslatable pictographic text, the Phaistos Disc! Pernier was an Italian archaeologist. During his education in Italy he must have been quite familiar with the Magliano Disc, the most popular theme for scientific discussion in the 1890’s! The disc that was excavated by Italian archaeologists in the late 1880’s has a lot of similarities with the Phaistos Disc. The entire style is the same nearly round with the text in Etruscan, spiralling inwards. Etruscan language was not yet deciphered at the time. The Phaistos and the Magliano are the only two discs of this “model” that were ever found in the whole world!
The Magliano Disc
In the article Dr. Eisenberg is carefully analysing all the aspects of the disc in order to enlighten the true nature of its origin. Since the author has engaged himself on the theme forgery for such a long period of time he has collected sufficient vital experience to create:
“Stylistic criteria in ancient Art Forgery”.
His “collection about aesthetics of the forger was published in Minerva 1992. You may as well call it:
“Instructions for the detection of forgery in ancient art.”
The instructions are listed in many points. These 9 are all relevant in connection with the Phaistos disc.
1. Adisparity in the execution of the elements.
2. Adisparity in the degree of abstraction of the elements.
3. Aunique element in the construction.
4. Aunique style: The appearance of a fully developed style or type hitherto unknown.
5. Repeated favourite ancient motives and devices of the forger – in periods or regions where they do not ordinarily occur, or invented types.
6. Reversal of image.
7. Asynthesis of geographically disparate styles.
8. Adisparity in time-placement of elements.
9. Correction by elimination. One can allow for a small number of these elements to occur in a genuine antiquity, but the preponderance of such elements for the disc leads to the conclusion that it is certainly a forgery!
Similarities between the 9 points of “the instructions” and the real Phaistos disc.
Points are numbered (*1*) / (*2*) etc. with references to above mentioned points.
The disk became from the beginning a most controversial object for discussions. Until now there are more than one hundred published attempts to decipher the text. Many of these attempts are quite fantastic! None of them have the slightest resemblance with any other! The Phaistos disc is unique. Contrary to all other findings of Minoan clay tablets which are rectangular, the Phaistos disc is almost perfect circular! The most peculiar is that the characters are not engraved, they are printed with stamps! Each character has a matching stamp! Typography 3200 years before Gutenberg! The author, Dr. Eisenberg, finds it however mysterious that seemingly there is no overall layout, such as one might expect in a sophisticated script of this nature. The characters are stamped more or less coincidently, sometimes facing down, other times up, left or right! Another problem is that no such stamps used to create the disc have ever been found! Nor another copy of the disc! Most of the clay tablets that have been preserved up till our time were fired accidentally. The Phaistos disc however is baked perfectly homogenous as it could only have been in a modern ceramics oven! (*3*)
(*4*) Analysing the disc for the first time you will immediately distinguish the stylistic difference between the characters. Certain characters are picturing objects with the highest degree of “photographic” accuracy, whilst others are designed with a high degree of abstraction! With sufficient fantasy and goodwill one can accept that some of the signs of the Phaistos disk have resemblance with characters of Linear A and B as well as hieroglyphic characters from Anatolia, even from Egypt! There are also some hieroglyphic characters from Crete. It is easy to believe that the forger stole these characters from the other systems. In order to make the confusion perfect he reversed the images of some of the “stolen items” in relation to those of the prototypes. The result can only be described as: “Mixture”! Consequently, there are hieroglyphic characters on the disc where the geographic aspect is differing from Anatolia in the North to Egypt in the south, as well as characters from the Cretan Linear A and B! (*1*) / (*2*) / (*6*)
Chronologically the span is at least 600 years! We can say that the Phaistos disc is not at all compatible with any of the other Cretan hieroglyphs except for a few characters it has in common with the “Engraved Bronze Axe of Arkalochori”. This in itself is an item I found suspect many years ago, because out of the 15 hieroglyphic signs, 10 of them are unique! (*5*) / /(*7*) (*8*).
Because many of the characters are depicting most naturally different objects, there were those who believed that the Phaistos Disc belonged to a pictographic ideogramatic writing system. In such systems each character corresponds to the object that is depicted, however the image in itself, not the word in itself! Consequently, in a pictogram system the character means the basic idea of the image. Example: In the Japanese ideogramatic writing system a picture of a HEART means heart. Other meanings are created by juxtapositions of different pictures: HEART + KNIFE = pain. It is easy to understand that such systems need thousands of pictures to convey a meaningful communication. The Phaistos Disc has only 45 characters. Several of them are repeated many times. It is therefore not possible that the disc can belong to a pictographic system. Most of the ancient writing systems in the Mediterranean Middle East area are syllabic systems. In such a system each character represents a syllable consisting of one consonant and one vowel or two vowels. Contrary to the pictograms, in a syllabic system each character represents the word of the image: Example, character depicting a HEART, in Greek KARDIA, syllable = KA.
As already mentioned above, the Phaistos Disc only comprises 45 characters whereas the known syllabic writing systems such as Linear A and B have more than the double number of characters. A phonetic alphabet such as the Greek that was created 1000 years later needs only 24 characters. From this we can conclude that the way the Phaistos disc is designed it was never intended to communicate any meaningful message!
I am one of those who have been fascinated by the Minoan enigma since my days as a young boy. Reading the article of Mr. Eisenberg suddenly woke up a more than 40 year old memory. A friend of mine received a postcard with the Phaistos Disc from relatives on holiday and brought it to me for further information. At the time I did not know too much about the object so I brought it to a “historian colleague” not knowing at the time that his speciality was Etruscan, not Minoan. He immediately produced a book with a picture of the Magliano disc! I remember very well he said laughing: That one, the Phaistos, looks a good as new whilst the Magliano looks really old! I forgot all about it till I saw the picture in the Minerva article! A bell suddenly started to ring!
For many years I have engaged myself with the Minoan scripts. The aim never was to decipher the disc or the Linear A and B, but to try to understand more of the enigma. I have read about the more significant attempts to decipher the disc. Two of the books, “Die Minoische Schrift” by Kjell Aartun and “Evidence of Hellenic dialects in the Phaistos disc” by Steven Roger Fischer I have read from page one to the end. I know both writers personally! Reading such books is quite time consuming and you need to check all the time with existing catalogues depicting all the alternatives of the various characters in the respective systems. Fortunately, most of these catalogues by Evans, Chadwick, Brice and Olivier / Godard etc. are available at the library of Oslo University. From all these studies I learned a lot about the true nature of the Phaistos Disc. You do not digest material like this in one single day. Consequently it took me almost 5 years to fully “digest” the two books together with the necessary additional studies. Having familiarized myself with the material it was no big surprise for me to read the conclusions in Mr. Eisenberg’s article. I was already quite familiar with most of his 9 points! Most of my suspicion against the Phaistos disc came from reading Kjell Aartun and Steven Roger Fischer!
These are my 6 “Favourites”:
No way for the 45 characters to fit into any system.
No compatibility with other Minoan scripts. Kjell Aartun’s book no. 1 also comprises the Engraved Bronze Axe of Arkalochori. Because 60 % of the characters are unique, I also found this object suspicious! This is also clearly indicated by the author Dr. Eisenberg. Maybe he has material for one more article? The disc is unique, but the Magliano disc is an obvious model!
None of the stamps or any other disc were ever found!
The style is a complete mixture of elements from different times and
The characters are differing widely from photographic naturalism to abstract.
Thanks to Internet it is possible to keep a world wide communication between people sharing an interest. At the same time it is easy to keep one self updated. I know many people who are sharing my suspicion. Because the disc has been “elevated” to become almost a “sacred object” nearly a relic, nobody dares to speak out! It might well be considered blasphemy! The only solution to stop this discussion to everybody’s satisfaction is to carry out a «thermoluminescense test». This test will establish if the object was produced a hundred years ago or more than 3000 years ago! Dr. Eisenberg tried to arrange this several times. It was not even possible for him to examine the disc outside of the exhibition case. Here is a copy of the answer of the director of the Heraklion Museum, Dr. Nota Dimopoulo – Rethemiotaki:
“Dear Dr. Eisenberg, In reply to your e-mail of July 25th, 2007, we would like to inform you that unfortunately we are not able to satisfy your request to examine the Phaistos Disc and the inscribed Arkalochori Axe. Specially, the Arkalochori Axe is encased and stored, whereas the Phaistos Disc, due to its uniqueness is considered immovable.”
Anybody who was not convinced reading the article will certainly be so after having read this declaration from the head of the museum! To me the test is of no importance. Dr. Eisenberg’s “9 point chain of
evidence” together with my own experience is sufficient to convince me!
For those not in agreement this argument could easily stand on its own:
Nobody could possibly claim that the disk fits in a phonetic system. The systems we know have 22 to 35 characters. Linear B has more than 100 characters. It is therefore simple arithmetic to conclude that no syllable system consisting of
only 45 characters would be able to convey an intelligent message For pictogram systems we all know it takes thousands of characters, ref. Chinese and Japanese.
Therefore, the Phaistos Disc can only be a hoax!
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