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.

  21. Read newest for Human Written Word!
    When talking about the Human Language we mean the Universal Language, which we will discover and, studying, we will approach through dialects of nations and peoples.

    The Common, Global System of Inscription – Reading of Ancient World
    [the iCoNoGRaMMaΤi & PaLeoGRaMMiKi SCRiPTuRe]
    http://bouzanis.blogspot.gr/p/blog-page_7.html

    THE OLDEST ALPHABET [An early Hellenic Alphabet]
    http://bouzanis.blogspot.gr/2014/01/an-early-hellenic-alphabet.html

    PHAESTOS DISC [the reading]
    http://bouzanis.blogspot.gr/2014/01/the-reading-of-phaistos-disc.html

  22. My opinion continues to be that the silly thing is a board game or something similar, like the Game of Ur.

  23. Here is a recent paper by Brent Davis, The Phaistos Disk: A New Way of Viewing the Language Behind the Script. It’s the first interesting analysis of the Phaistos I have read in a long time. The author does not try to decipher the disk, but has a more modest claim: that the Phaistos script and Linear A encode the same as-yet-unidentified language. I haven’t gone into the paper in depth, but it looks compelling.

    In the same issue of the journal there is survey of another possible writing system, the Archanes script of Crete, which may be the oldest script known yet from Europe.

  24. @Y: That’s a pretty good paper. Davis avoids the usual errors of frequentist statistics. He gives a correct account of the meaning of the p-values, and his non-null hypothesis (that Linear A and the Disc encode the same language) is not something wildly unlike, a priori. However, since his “significant” p-values are in the 1–3 percent range, there may be a “multiple comparisons” problem; if he tried ten methods of analyzing the disc data, and the first nine did not work, then the p-values derived from the tenth method are no longer statistically significant.

  25. David Marjanović says:

    Before I read the paper, let me mention the general lack of reasons to think that all Linear A inscriptions are in the same language. But of course it’s likely that some of them are in the same language as the Disc.

  26. FWIW, Peter T. Daniels, An Exploration of Writing (2018) p. 130 “Undeciphered scripts….By far the most notorious is the Phaistos Disk…stamped…on each side with a spiral of pictograms that look as though they might be writing. Dozens of interpretations have been published, with no particular plausibility, but unless some further use of the pictograms turns up somewhere against which proposals can be checked, it is impossible to verify any interpretation. No purpose would be served by listing a few of the attempts.”

  27. David Marjanović says:

    unless some further use of the pictograms turns up somewhere against which proposals can be checked

    Well, there is this thing, but there are just 15 glyphs on it.

  28. David Marjanović says:

    However, since his “significant” p-values are in the 1–3 percent range, there may be a “multiple comparisons” problem; if he tried ten methods of analyzing the disc data, and the first nine did not work, then the p-values derived from the tenth method are no longer statistically significant.

    He didn’t. He checked if there was a significant match between the disc and Linear A, and between the disc and Linear B; that makes two rather than ten. He should have divided his significance threshold by 2 – so 0.025 instead of 0.05 –, just as this famous example requires division by 20; and that doesn’t change his results, because the significant match with Linear A is well below 2.5%.

    I will say, though, that a few shifts in the vowel system would go a long way to change which syllable sequences are common in a language. The paper cannot even exclude S. R. Fischer’s hypothesis that the disc (and some, but by no means all, Linear A inscriptions) are in a form of Greek with a few slightly strange but regular vowel shifts.

    The best thing I’ve learned from the paper is that Godart & Olivier’s Recueil des Inscriptions en Linéaire A is called GORILA.

  29. John Cowan says:

    I will say, though, that a few shifts in the vowel system would go a long way to change which syllable sequences are common in a language.

    Only if the writing system changes to follow the phonology, which writing systems usually don’t; instead, the phonemic interpretation of the glyphs changes. In Old Thai, there were three classes of consonants: voiced, voiceless aspirates/fricatives, and voiceless unaspirated stops. The corresponding consonants of all three classes have for the most part come to be pronounced the same in Modern Thai, and the difference in the letters, along with the vowel length of the following vowel, is how Modern Thai tones are encoded.

  30. David Marjanović says:

    That only holds if writing is introduced before the sound changes happen!

  31. We have super-computers. The analysis and synthesis power we have, is huge. We are on year 2020 and cannot decipher the Phaistos Disk?
    Whoever is sensible, can understand is a forgery.
    And if it wasn’t, then why the Greek Authorities don’t give the permission to examine the Disk, especially with Thermoluminescence that is non-destructive? No rational explanation than the disk is fake.

  32. David Marjanović says:

    We have super-computers. The analysis and synthesis power we have, is huge. We are on year 2020 and cannot decipher the Phaistos Disk?

    Garbage in, garbage out.

    Nothing in, nothing out.

    If you know the language, you can decipher the script; if you know the script, you can read it and try to understand the language; if it turns out to be a known language, great, but if it’s an unknown language, good luck trying to learn it from no other input than such a short text.

    How could a supercomputer help with any of this?

    No rational explanation than the disk is fake.

    Or the authorities are stupid. 😐

  33. January First-of-May says:

    Garbage in, garbage out.

    Nothing in, nothing out.

    If you know the language, you can decipher the script; if you know the script, you can read it and try to understand the language; if it turns out to be a known language, great, but if it’s an unknown language, good luck trying to learn it from no other input than such a short text.

    Pretty much. I don’t expect the Phaistos Disk to ever be deciphered unless a significantly longer text in the same script is found.

    If you want something to turn your deciphering supercomputers on, I recommend the Voynich manuscript. And even then only after you test them first with a known text in a known language (and a known script).

  34. Some recent developments on a possible fake, the Letter of Clement of Alexandria that quotes from a “Secret Gospel of Mark”

    Did Morton salt Mar Saba?
    There’s no consensus yet, but it may be, partly by unintended consequence, slowly arriving.

    Geoffrey Smith recently showed persuasively (in LMWsymposium.com) that the letter by “Clement” (his quotation marks) was composed sometime after Eusebius’ History, so not by Clement. And, I add, if Clement of Alexandria disappears from this, likely so does the Secret Mark of Alexandria—apparently not known to Origen, nor anyone else, before Morton Smith. Geoffrey Smith, and co-author Brent Landau–who dismissed some proposals, but only some targets easier to caricature, not Smith seen in full (e.g., his humor)–propose it was written after Eusebius but before Morton Smith. Yet Michael Zeddies has demonstrated (JECS 2007; HTR 2009) that a very detailed revisionist setting can be argued, even if not finally persuasively. But Origen (Zeddies’ choice) stated that he had not met Carpocratians (correcting Harpocratians with Henry Chadwick and an assist from A. D. Nock; c. Cels. 5.65). Origen was not trickily addressing dead Celsus, an option M.S. offered in a 1984ff article (see below), but addressing his contemporary Christians, including patron Ambrose.

    Post Eusebius, Carpocratians were likely extinct; Epiphanius had to content himself for his disdain by quoting earlier writers. M. S. found in them a parallel to a version of Sabbatai Sevi’s tikkun, though Scholem demurred. Who else had similar motive? A forthcoming book (Yale UP) may attempt to answer that. After Origen and after Eusebius, Clement’s reputation was diminished by guilt by association with Origen—perhaps not a great pseudepigraphic pick to allege a Secret Gospel.

    Morton Smith in a detailed article in JTS archive (box 10, folder 1), unpublished (though marked up for publishing), perhaps intended to be used for “the Score” after two decades, brazened it out, saying, in effect, of course this was Clement. Neveryoumind that the language is hyper-Clementonian and the content is non-Clementite, because the letter is his secret writing, as opposed to his other writing that Morton Smith repeatedly characterized as his writing in public. So difference to be expected, see? It does not take super imagination to find a subtext not far to seek: this is Clement, fools, because I wrote it as Clement! (More sermons by Augustine discovered in a Mainz library in 1990 did not have changed doctrine.)

    Some of his students, even without including Neusner, apparently think he was capable. At least one scholar Smith listed as accepting Clement authorship has denied that. To say (with Brent Landau) that Smith was “ethical” by leaving the book at Mar Saba begs the question whether he planted it there, pre-inscribed. So far the most detailed paleographic publication is by Agamemnon Tselikas. Voss page 11 had ink and pen tests (Greek). (Minor note: Latin text used in the binding.) Book provenance indications were ripped away.

    Did M. S., as has been suggested, have an accomplice? I doubt the few available expert suspects would trust Smith nor he them. Not to deny as possible, though, that he may have practiced other writing and been critiqued by an expert or two, unaware of the real purpose. (Compare, in admittedly quite different and worse context, those who trained as pilots, only to crash planes).M. S. of Philadelphia, if I remember, though I’ve lost the reference (anyone know?) deposited a “manufactured in the United States” 1958 neat fair copy of his with a named Philadelphia bookdealer. Quite speculative: is that from whom he bought 1646 Voss? Of course, not the final word. Corrections welcome.

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