The Phaistos Disc/Arkalokhori Ax/CMS II 5 no. 246

inaugeral date: 4 December 2005; last update: 5 November 2014


Comments, corrections, questions: John Younger (jyounger@ku.edu)


The Phaistos Disc is unique (= it is one of a kind with no parallels). It is a clay disc (D. 15.8-16.5, Th 1.6-2.1 cm), like a large cookie in shape and color. On both sides there is a spiral band containing impressions made by metal stamps, each quite small and each giving just the profile of what it depicts (head, bird, boat) much like a modern cookie-cutter. The disc was found on July 3, 1908, in one of the eastern brick cists (compartment 8 in building 101) in the north-east angle of the palace at Phaistos; along with the disc was a Linear A tablet (PH 1) and Kamares ware pottery (MM II).

The disc's spiral band was first outlined with a stylus from the circumference to the middle; first tracing the outermost spiral as a circle, then stopping to shift direction and completing the rest of the spiral to the center, with the central loop being shaped with the inscription there in mind. Then the signs were stamped, again from the periphery in to the center (as overlaps indicate: sign on sign [e.g., A XIV 3 over 2, XVII 4 over 3, XXIX 4 over 3; cf. A V 1 over 2 in an erasure], and sign on the upper spiral line [e.g., A XX 1, III 2, XIV 3, XX 3, XXVI 3, 4; B XII 2, XXII 4]). As each group of signs was stamped, a vertical line was drawn to the left to mark that sign-group off from the one to follow; here again, some signs that begin a sign-group overlap the vertical line separating it from the preceding sign-group (A XXI 1, XXIX 1; B XXVIII 2).

That the sign-groups are arranged in phrases may be indicated by small oblique strokes below final signs (e.g., A I, A III, etc.).

The Phaistos Disc carries 45 different signs. And a total text of 221 signs altogether.

A bronze ax from the Arkalochori cave carries an inscription of 15 signs in three columns; four of these signs are new and the rest may duplicate signs on the Disc. And a clay sealing from the Phaistos sealing deposit archive (CMS II 5.246, below) also duplicates one of the signs on the Disc (sign 21); the sealing was excavated in 1955.

The Phaistos Disc syllabary (if that is the nature of the script) should have some 75-100 signs, of which some 55-59 are now known.

Although the Disc is unique as a stamped inscription (often likened to a movable font inscription, like that produced by a printing press), there is one more clay object impressed with similar cookie-cutter stamps: a clay libation table found on the floor of vano VIII at Phaistos, below the deposit archive of sealings, again MM IIB context. This table was impressed by two metal "cookie cutter" stamps, one in the form of a large S-spiral (CMS II 6.253) that impressed most of the rim, the other a bovine standing to left (CMS II 6.252) that impressed two sections of the rim and the corners. Since all signs that have a natural (a facing) direction on the Disc face right (even if they were stamped upside down), the bovine to left is probably not part of the PH Disc syllabary.

(photos JGY)

And as a spiral inscription the Disc has one Linear A parallel, KN Zf 13, the gold ring from Mavrospelio Tb IX.E1 (cf. the inked inscriptions in two conical cups, KN Zc 6 and 7): Linear A miscellaneous inscriptions.

With only 3 documents and only some 55-59 different signs, the entire signary is still unknown -- if a syllabary, as seems likely, there should be some 75-100 signs.

For a list of the PH Disc signs (including those on the Arkalokhori Ax and Phaistos sealing, compared with Hieroglyphic signs), click here.

In October 2014, Gareth Owens gave a TEDx-Talk at the Technical Education Institute (TEI) in Iraklion, in which he claims to have identified the phonetic values of 90% of the PhD signs, two words and a phrase that are similar to the Linear A "Libation Formula," and the nature of the language of the Disc and Linear A: both scripts write the same language and it is Indo-European. Some of this has been published on the website.

JGY has written a response (available as a PDF) and has incorporated the more plausible of Owens's sign identifications in his Phaistos Disc sign list.


The Phaistos Disc



Phaistos Disc, side A


Phaistos Disc, side b


The Phaistos Disc syllabary (the names are conventional, Godart 1993/1995)
01 walking man 02 plumed head 03 tatooed head 04 bound man 05 child
06 woman 07 helmet 08 glove 09 plow 10 arrow
11 bow 12 shield 13 club 14 yoke 15 ax
16 saw 17 lid 18 boomerang 19 plane 20 triton
21 comb 22 frond 23 column 24 hut 25 boat
26 horn 27 hide 28 hoof 29 cat 30 ram
31 bird 32 pigeon 33 tuna 34 fly 35 tree
36 vine 37 papyrus 38 rosette 39 lily 40 bull hindquarters
41 double flute 42 rasp 43 filter 44 cleaver 45 wave


The Phaistos Disc inscription

/A I: 02-12-13-01-18/
,   /A II: 24-40-12,   A III: 29-45-07/
,   ,   ,   ,   [•],   ,   ,   ,   /A IV: 29-29-34,   A V: 02-12-04-40-33,   A VI: 27-45-07-12,   A VII: 27-44-08,   A VIII: 02-12-06-18-[•],   A IX: 31-26-35,   A X: 02-12-41-19-35,   A XI: 01-41-40-07,   A XII: 02-12-32-23-38/
,   ,   /A XIII: 39-11,   A XIV: 02-27-25-10-23-18,   A XV: 28-01/
/A XVI: 02-12-31-26/
,   ,   /A XVII: 02-12-27-27-35-37-21,   A XVIII: 33-23,   A XIX: 02-12-31-26/
,   /A XX: 02-27-25-10-23-18,   A XXI: 28-01/
/A XXII: 02-12-31-26/
,   ,   ,   ,   /A XXIII: 02-12-27-14-32-18-27,   A XXIV: 06-18-17-19,   A XXV: 31-26-12,   A XXVI: 02-12-13-01,   A XXVII: 23-19-35/
,   ,   ,   ,   ,   ,   /A XXVIII: 10-03-38,   A XXIX: 02-12-27-27-35-37-21,   A XXX: 13-01,   A XXXI: 10-03-38   B I: 02-12-22-40-07,   B II: 27-45-07-35,   B III: 02-37-23-05/
,   ,   /B IV: 22-25-27,   B V: 33-24-20-12,   B VI: 16-23-18-43/
,   ,   ,   ,   ,   ,   ,   ,   ,   ,   ,   /B VII: 13-01-39-33,   B VIII: 15-07-13-01-18,   B IX: 22-37-42-25,   B X: 07-24-40-35,   B XI: 02-26-36-40,   B XII: 27-25-38-01,   B XIII: 29-24-24-20-35,   B XIV: 16-14-18,   B XV: 29-33-01,   B XVI: 06-35-32-39-33,   B XVII: 02-09-27-01,   B XVIII: 29-36-07-08/
,   /B XIX: 29-08-13,   B XX: 29-45-07/
/B XXI: 22-29-36-07-08/
,   ,   /B XXII: 27-34-23-25,   B XXIII: 07-18-35,   B XXIV: 07-45-07/
,   /B XXV: 07-23-18-24,   B XXVI: 22-29-36-07-08/
,   ,   ,   /B XXVII: 09-30-39-18-07,   B XXVIII: 02-06-35-23-07. B XXIX: 29-34-23-25,   B XXX: 45-07/


The Arkalokhori Ax


The Arkalokhori Ax is a large, bronze double ax found in one of the caves on Prophetis Elias near the village of Arkalokhori in central Crete.

After pillaging in the late 19th and early 20th century, and some excavation in the late 19th century, Spyridon Marinatos responded to more pillaging in 1935 with further excavation of the site and, among other finds, discovered a gold ax and silver ax inscribed in Linear A ("I-DA-MA-TE," AR Zf 1 & 2), and a bronze ax inscribed with some signs from the Phaistos Disc syllabary (Marinatos 1935: 250-259). Marinatos assumes a context date of MM III (-LM I), but there was little to no pottery. Most scholars assume a date either contemporary with Neopalatial axes of similar type or with the Phaistos Disc (late Protopalatial).

Since most of the sign groups on the Phaistos Disc are short (mostly 3 and 4 signs long), it is tempting to regard the signs in the third column as one sign group and columns one and two containing two sign groups each, separated by a divider (cf. the dotted vertical line that starts both sides of the Disc).

Arkalokhori Ax, drawing of inscription


The Arkalokhori Ax inscription

In columns
() Col. 1: 01-02-03
(04)
05-06
Phaistos signs: 02-19-Face
|
39?-22?
() Col. 2: 01-07
(04b)
01-03-08
Phaistos signs: 02-Curved Branch
|
02-Face-39?
Col. 3: 09-10-02Phaistos signs: 10-Double Branch-19

In signgroups (assuming sign begins a signgroup and each column contains two signgroups)

()Signgroup 1: 01-02-03 (04)Phaistos signs: 02-19-Face-23?
Signgroup 2: 05-06Phaistos signs: 39?-22?
()Signgroup 3: 01-07 (04b)Phaistos signs: 02-Curved Branch-23?
Signgroup 4: 01-03-08Phaistos signs: 02-Face-39?
Signgroup 5: 09-10-02Phaistos signs: 10-Double Branch-19


Impressed Sealing from Phaistos

The third document is an impressed sealing from Phaistos (MM II late), CMS II 5, no. 246, whose seal carried Phaistos sign 21; the sealing was excavated in 1955.


Bibliography of selected archaeological works on the Phaistos Disc

Della Seta, A. 1909. "Il disco di Phaistos," Rendiconti Accademia Lincea 18, pp. 297-367.

Duhoux, Yves. 1978. Le disque de Phaistos. Louvain-la-Neuve.

Godart, Louis. 1993. Il disco di Festos. Certezze ed enigmi di una grande scoperta. (Archeologia Viva suppl., Oct-Nov 1993). Giunti, Florence.

Godart, Louis. 1995. Le disque de Phaistos. L'Énigme d'une écriture. Editions Itanos, Iraklion. (also published in English, German, Italian, and Greek)

Grumach, Ernst. 1962. "Die Korrekturen des Diskus von Phaistos," Kadmos 1, pp. 16-26.

Mackay. 1964. "On the Type-fount of the Phaistos Disk," Statistical Methods in Linguistics 4, pp. 15-25.

Marinatos, S. 1935. Marinatos, S. 1935. "Ausgrabungen und Funde auf Kreta 1934-1935," Archäologischer Anzeiger 1935, 244-259.

Neumann, Günter. 1968. "Zum Forshungsstand beim "Diskos von Phaestos," Kadmos 7, pp. 27-44.

Oliver, Jean-Pierre. 1973. "Encore les corrections du disque de Phaistos," Antichità Cretesi 1, pp. 182-185 (Cantania).

Owens, Gareth. 2007. Labyrinth: Scripts and Languages of Minoan and Mycenaean Crete. Heraklion, Centre for Cretan Literature with the support of Heraklion Prefecture (ISBN 978-960-86847-5-1), esp. pp. 185-203, “The Phaistos Disk: The Enigma of the Minoan Script."

Pernier, Luigi. 1908. "Il disco di Phaestos con caratteri pittografici," Ausonia 3, pp. 255-302.

Younger, John G. 2007. "The Aegean Bard: Evidence for Sound and Song." In: EPOS. Reconsidering Greek Epic and Aegean Bronze Age Archaeology (Aegaeum 28), edited by S. Morris and R. Laffineur, 1-7, esp. 7. Liège & Austin.


Comments, corrections, questions: John Younger (jyounger@ku.edu)