PHAISTOS DISC A FORGERY?

An e-mail from Jerome M. Eisenberg, Editor-in-Chief of Minerva, The International Review of Ancient Art & Archaeology, alerts me to his article in the July/August issue claiming that the Phaistos Disc is “a clever forgery.” His press release says:

Dr Jerome M. Eisenberg, Editor-in-Chief and founder of the magazine in 1990, presents his spectacular findings based on scrupulous and painstaking research initiated nearly four decades ago. His aesthetic and technical analyses convincingly demonstrate that the disk was created by a master forger shortly before its ‘discovery’. He also suggests that the disk was created specifically to boost the reputation of Dr Pernier who was anxious to match the successful finds of his colleagues Federico Halbherr at Gortyna and Sir Arthur Evans at Knossos… A conference on the Phaistos Disk sponsored by Minerva will be held at the Society of Antiquaries in London on Friday 31 October and Saturday 1 November.

I’m not competent to judge, but I’m curious to see the reaction of those who are.

Comments

  1. Fortean times…

  2. Where does it say what the evidence of a forgery is?
    Some quick research shows that while the Phaistos Disc is unique, the more recently discovered Arkalochori Axe appears to share several of the same Cretan heiroglyphs, previously known only from the Disc.

  3. What next, the Antikythera mechanism?

  4. I wonder if this means that the Phaistos Unicode characters will, like Klingon, be Rejected.

  5. Hmm – I didn’t think it should be all that difficult to determine when the clay was fired. Thermoluminescence is non-destructive.

  6. I wonder if this means that the Phaistos Unicode characters will, like Klingon, be Rejected.
    Rejected? Far too late for that … Phaistos Disc characters are already in Unicode, since version 5.1 released in April, and there are several free fonts that cover the Unicode Phaistos Disc characters (Aegean and Code2001).

  7. A thermoluminescence dating test would certainly prove whether the object was made during the last hundred years, or if it did in fact date to the Minoan period. So far the Greek authorities have been unwilling to submit the disc to such a test. Consequently, the possibility that the object is a forgery made in the early 1900s—using the limited knowledge of the Minoan culture available at the time—is perhaps a far-fetched, but by no means out of the question scenario.
    Brian Haughton, Hidden History (2007) page 116.

  8. SnowLeopard says:

    I’m pretty sure the same or a very similar quote about thermoluminescence appears in the chapter on the Phaistos Disc in Robinson’s “Lost Languages”.
    As an aside, can anyone explain why it’s “Disc” rather than “Disk”? The American Heritage Dictionary’s usage note under “Compact Disk” has a thoughtful discussion of how computer scientists prefer “Disk” and recording engineers prefer “Disc”, but that only goes so far.

  9. David Marjanović says:

    The script on the disc occurs also on the bronze double-axe of Arkalochori and a clay bar from Mallia; both were discovered after the disc. The script is also actually quite similar to Linear A, B and C, it’s only less… linear. There is also a script called “Minoan hieroglyphic script” that is graphically simpler than the “pictographic script” of the disc but not linear; it provides a nice intermediate.
    The glyph shaped like a head with a Mohawk was not a known motif of the Minoan culture till 1963. The disc is inscribed right-to-left; Linear A inscriptions that run right-to-left were only discovered later.
    And then, of course, if you accept the decipherment attempt by Steven R. Fischer, which was published as a book by an utterly obscure publisher in 1988 and again as a popular book (great read) by Copernicus/Springer in 1997, it shares orthographic peculiarities with the Linears, such as a destinction between /t/ and /d/ but no distinction between /p/ and /b/ or /k/ and /g/, a lack of distinction between /r/ and /l/ (perhaps modeled after the Egyptian hieroglyphs), and the complete restriction to V and CV glyphs. Of course, if you accept any decipherment attempt, the disc can hardly be a fake in the first place.
    Oh, and Fischer spells it “Disk”. :-)
    Steven Roger Fischer (1988): Evidence for Hellenic Dialect in the Phaistos Disk, Peter Lang (Berne).
    Steven Roger Fischer (1997): Glyphbreaker, Copernicus/Springer (New York).

  10. Glyphbreaker sounds like it should be an action movie!

  11. perhaps the next installment of the Librarian series?

  12. David Marjanović says:

    Yeah. I don’t know whose idea the title and a few other things like the blurb were. The text of the book is entirely modest and serious, as you’d expect from a scientist.
    Book titles are not always chosen by the authors. The last book by the theoretical biologist Rupert Riedl is Riedls Kulturgeschichte der Evolutionstheorie. He mentioned in a course that the first word had been added by the publisher.

  13. David Marjanović says:

    I should mention I’ve never seen the 1988 book, which is the actual scientific publication (the 1997 book goes pretty far into the science, but not far enough to answer all of, say, my questions). I’ll try to get it some day, assuming it’s still in print. (I don’t think that’s the kind of thing people sell used on Amazon.)

  14. What next, the Antikythera mechanism?
    Quite possibly. It seems that Eisenberg specializes in exposing fake ancient art, the more famous the better. Does this press release from August last year sound familiar?
    Hailed as one of the centerpieces of the new Greek and Roman Galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, extensive academic research has branded the world-famous Etruscan Monteleone Chariot a clever forgery – a pastiche of ancient and modern elements. In a groundbreaking new article published in England in the July/August 2007 issue of the academically acclaimed Minerva, the International Review of Ancient Art and Archaeology, Dr Jerome Eisenberg, Editor-in-Chief and founder of the magazine in 1990, presents his sensational findings based on scrupulous and painstaking research initiated nearly four decades ago.

  15. John Emerson says:

    Evidence for Hellenic Dialect in the Phaistos Disk: at Amazon for $117.
    At Amazon.uk for less, but it’s out of stock and will probably stay that way.

  16. David Marjanović says:

    Must be a mighty thick book, at that price…

  17. The reference to the possibility that the Phaistos Disc might be a forgery appearing in Andrew Robinson’s Lost Languages was in quoting a letter that I wrote to the Economist in January 1999: ‘In my opinion, having studied the Phaistos Disk at length some 30 years ago, the reason it has not been deciphered and that its symbols do not relate in any way whatsoever to any other known script is simple: it is a forgery. It is a joke perpetrated by a clever archaeologist from the Italian mission to Crete upon his fellow excavators. Taking a thermoluminescence test, which should date the firing of the clay at about 100 years ago, can solve the mystery of the disc. It is hope the Greeks will take this simple step to clear up this vexing problem; until now they have been unwilling to do so.’ Brian Haughton picked up on this in his Hidden History (2007).
    The script on the Arkalochori Axe is NOT the same as that on the Phaistos Disk. As Louis Godart points out in his The Phaistos Disc – the enigma of an Aegean script (1990, 1995), ‘there are no definite comparisons between the signs of the Disc and the syllabograms of the three known Cretan scripts (Hieroglyphs, Linear A and Linear B)…
    There is only a vague similarity between glyph no. 2, the plumed head or ‘Mohawk head’, and any other Cretan glyphs.
    As for the inscription running right to left, a reversal of image is a favored motif of the forger and is demonstrated again by several of the disk’s glyphs.
    Yes, Mr. West, I have concentrated on the exposure of forgeries that have been accepted as major works of art for the past 40 years and have presented papers on such objects since 1970 at the meetings of the Archaeological Institute of America, the International Bronze Congress, and the International Congress of Classical Archaeology.
    These included the Boston Throne, the Ludovisi Throne, the Symmachi ivory panel, the Rubens Vase, the Portland Vase, the Munich Perugia Bronzes, and the Met’s Monteleone Chariot. The press release you have quoted is, of course, standard reheated stuff.

  18. The only stockist around here still has last month’s issue out, but I’m keeping a watch.

  19. I have concentrated on the exposure of forgeries … [including] the Boston Throne, the Ludovisi Throne, the Symmachi ivory panel, the Rubens Vase, the Portland Vase, the Munich Perugia Bronzes, and the Met’s Monteleone Chariot.
    And the Lupa Capitolina I presume.

  20. Michael Farris says:

    And crystal skulls, I presume:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7414637.stm
    I’m getting the impression that the ancients spent too much time sitting around and not enough time making nice trinkets for us to enjoy today.

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