The New Palace Minoan Linear a Script
The script of the New Palace period, which was dubbed Linear A by A. Evans, arose from a transformation of the ideogrammatic script. According to recent research, this took place during the MM II period in the palace at Phaistos (18th c. BC). The new form of writing was more systematic and fluent, and the pictorial elements were standardised. The transition from one script to the other was a gradual one. The inscriptions incised on a clay rod from Malia are of great significance for this development.
The material in Linear A is rather limited and consists of inscriptions on terracotta offering-tables and other cult objects. There are rather more texts in Linear A from the palace at Ayia Triada, in the form of 150 small clay tablets listing transactions or the storing of goods. These texts had ‘headings’, which may have been the name of a place or person. The numeral system differs from that in the ideogrammatic script.
About 100 symbols were widely used in Linear A. Twelve of them are ideograms and occur in lists in isolation, followed by numbers. The other symbols occur in groups and are phonetic representations of syllables. Some characters have a double function and were used either as ideograms or as phonetic symbols.
There were local variations of the Linear A script, though these shared certain general features. One group of inscriptions had a magic or religious character, and were engraved or painted on ritual vessels, pithoi, offering-tables, stone ladles, and drinking cups from all over Crete.
Most of the texts of this period, however, were incised on rectangular clay tablets. A decimal system was used, with vertical lines representing units, dots or horizontal lines tens, small circles hundreds, and radiate circles thousands. The script was written from left to right. Somewhat fewer texts have survived from Malia and Knossos. There were originally far more tablets here, but they were not fired and therefore disintegrated. The only ones to survive were those that were baked accidentally in the fires that destroyed the palaces.
Although it is certain that the language of the tablets is Minoan, it has not yet been deciphered and many seen in it elements of a Semitic, a Luwian, or -most probably- an Indo-European language. The Linear A texts that have been preserved date from the end of the New Palace period, just before the palaces were destroyed about 1450 BC. The basic difficulty in reading Linear A resides in the fact that so few texts have survived, and it is difficult therefore to apply to them the decipherment method used for Linear B, though the two scripts have many similarities, as well as differences. The first signs yielded by the attempt are encouraging and suggest that the language of Linear A was an Indo-European language.
The expansion of Minoan trade in the New Palace period resulted in the diffusion of the Minoan script to the islands and mainland Greece. Examples are known from Milos, Kea, Kythira, Naxos, and Thera.
Importantly, the Linear A script was disseminated to Cyprus, where it was called Cypro-Minoan. Inscriptions in this script, dating from the 16th c. BC to the end of the Bronze Age, have been found mainly at Enkomi.
The Cypro-Minoan script continued in use into the Classical period.
Dr Andonis Vasilakis