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Is the Phaistos Disc an homage to motherhood?  Academia is undecided.

Discovered in 1908 in the Minoan Palace-site dedicated to Phaistos – a Minoan deity – by Italian archaeologist Luigi Pernier, the Phaistos disc has been an enigma for more than 100 years.  Oft written about, rarely understood, never truly deciphered, the Phaistos disc is a remnant of a civilisation long dead, a civilisation connected most intimately to classical Greece, and possibly even…Atlantis.

There are those who believe, with some credibility, that the great Atlantean society was in fact the Minoan peoples situated on the volcanic islands of Santorini and Crete.  Some researchers claim that the massive volcanic eruption centered in Santorini’s Thera, was the very same cataclysmic event described in Plato’s Criteas and Timeas, the event which caused the demise of the so-called island of Atlantis.  Details are scant, of course, since all of the modern conjecture about Atlantis is based on best guesses and ancient legends, but of the many Atlantis theories, the Minoan eruption theory is among the more believable.

Of course, all of that is moot, as it pertains to the Phaistos Disc, if we cannot understand what it says, and thus far we cannot.

The Phaistos Disc, much like other linguistic puzzles – such as the Voynich Manuscript – has been the focus of much study and debate, and until recently all theories about its content were on relatively equal footing.  To date there have been no less than 23 decipherment attempts, all of which claimed some measure of success.  Both linguistic and symbolic interpretations have been put forward, but none has offered any sign of a congruent, predictable language or system of communication…until now.

On October 20 of this year, Associate Director and Erasmus Coordinator of the Technological Education Institute of Crete, Gareth Owens, presented his own findings and theory about the meaning of the cryptic symbols imprinted on either side of the disc.  Owens claims to have deciphered most of the symbols and describes it as “the first Minoan CD-ROM featuring a prayer to a mother”.  He identifies several words emerging from the symbols, most pertaining to motherhood, and believes that it is an homage to a Minoan deity connected to fertility, pregnancy, and birth.

Owens’ confidence in his interpretation, which was a joint effort in conjunction with linguist and Professor of Phonetics at Oxford, Dr. John Coleman, lead him to claim that the Phaistos Disc can now be used as a Rosetta Stone for the ancient Minoan language.

The Phaistos Disc

Though, as with any ancient artifact of this nature, his theory isn’t accepted by all.  Researcher and expert on symbolism and ancient language traditions, and author of the book The Decipherment of the Phaistos Disc, Dilip Rajeev disagrees with Owens, calling his interpretation “implausible”.

The basis for this objection is in the assertion that the disc is not an alphabetic text, as Owen’s suggests, but is instead decipherable as a body of symbolic text, similar to traditional Chinese kanji.  The difference, according to Rajeev, is that symbolic characters depend on association with other characters to derive meaning.  For instance, when one symbol appears on its own, it can have a particular meaning, but when paired with other symbols that meaning changes, sometimes drastically.  In alphabetical texts, such associations are much less important.

When viewed this way, Owens’ interpretation of the disc is certainly called into question.  Though we’ve all heard these claims and counter claims before.  You’ll recall that the enigmatic Voynich Manuscript has been thought solved several times too, though in each case, as with Phaistos Disc, the claims are inevitably marred by competing theories and minor details in disagreement with each other.  It may be that these artefacts are truly indecipherable, after all, they’ve held their secrets this long.  No doubt though, researchers will continue to chip away at the meaning behind the symbols, and may, eventually, provide us with definitive explanations for these mysteries.