Europe's oldest readable writing found

2011-04-06 09:26
Athens - A clay tablet over 3 000 years old that is considered Europe's oldest readable text has been found in an ancient refuse pit in southern Greece, a US-based researcher claimed on Tuesday.

The tablet, an apparent financial record from a long-lost Mycenaean town, is about a century older than previous discoveries, said Michael Cosmopoulos, an archaeology professor at the University of Missouri-St Louis.

"On one side it has a list of names and numbers, on the other a verb relating to manufacture," said Cosmopoulos e-mail.

"It is the oldest tablet from a stratified deposit from the Greek mainland, and consequently from Europe," he said.

The sun-dried tablet was found near the hilltop village of Iklaina in the western Peloponnese peninsula, surviving purely by accident when the refuse pit was set on fire and baked the clay.

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The inscription it bears is in Linear B, a form of writing that predates ancient Greek and was used by the Mycenaeans, a Bronze Age culture that waged the Trojan War in Homer's Iliad and dominated much of Greece from 1600 BCE.

The excavation supervised by the Athens Archaeological Society and partly funded by the National Geographic Society began in 2006.

It has uncovered the destroyed remains of a large building complex with massive terrace walls, frescoes and an advanced drainage system, apparently an early Mycenaean palace and town dated to 1550 - 1400 BCE.

Cosmopoulos, who heads the project, said the site was apparently destroyed around 1400 BCE and conquered by the neighbouring kingdom of Pylos, whose legendary ruler King Nestor is mentioned in the Iliad.

"The existence of the tablet at Iklaina suggests that bureaucracy and literacy were more widespread and more ancient than we had previously thought," Cosmopoulos said.

"Until now, tablets had been known only from a handful of major palaces - Mycenae, Tiryns, Thebes," he said.

The finds from the dig, published in National Geographic News, are to be published by the Athens Archaeological Society, while the tablet will be presented separately by Cynthia Shelmerdine, a Mycenaean script expert at the University of Austin, Texas, who first deciphered it, Cosmopoulos said.
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