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Ancient Tablet Found in Greece
Posted In: Ancient Civilizations  3/31/11
By: Yona Williams

This March, a new study has revealed that the oldest-known decipherable text in Europe has been found in Greece. The way the 3,500-year-old clay tablet was discovered is discussed in this article, as well as the significance of such a find.

In a trash heap located close to an early Mycenaean palace, a piece of history laid unseen for years. When archeologists took a closer look, they assessed that the marks on the clay tablet are the oldest known in Europe. In its time, the tablet was considered 'magical' and full of mystery. Researchers say that the only reason the writing was able to exist for so long was because a trash heap caught on fire about 3,500 years ago.

The tablet was located in an olive grove in what is now called the village of Iklaina. A Myceanaean scribe who spoke Greek is believed to have written the tablet from between 1450 and 1350 BC. The scribe belonged to a civilization that appeared in Homer's epic poem Iliad, which spoke of a fictionalized account of their war with Troy. The culture was known for dominating a great deal of Greece from around 1600 BC to 1100 BC.

Other excavations of Iklaina have proven that an early Mycenaean palace once stood in the region. Researchers have also uncovered giant terrace walls, murals, and a drainage system that is described as being advanced for its day. The tablet was found last summer and has become the prized discovery associated with the excavation of the village.

Archeologists were surprised to find the tablet at its location because it shouldn’t have been there. For starters, it wasn’t thought that Mycenaean tablets were created so early. Previously, tablets were only found in a few major palaces. A palace once thrived at Iklaina during the early Mycenaean period, but the date of the tablet is connected to a time when the settlement had taken a backseat to the city of Pylos, where King Nestor of the Iliad once said to rule. The tablet represents a rare instance where archeologists can study ancient texts as they pertain to Greek myths.

The tablet is decorated with the markings of a rather ancient form of Greek called Linear B. There were around 87 signs that stood for one syllable. Linear B was used by the Mycenaeans to document important economic matters concerning the ruling elite. Researchers believe they have identified a marking that seems to relate to manufacturing. On the back of the tablet, names are listed with accompanying numbers, which could denote a property list.

The records were made of clay that had a short shelf life because they only kept the information for one fiscal year. The tablets were not baked and only underwent a drying in the sun. This made the material brittle. However, when the tablet was tossed in a pit as they burned their garbage, the clay hardened to a point that it successfully preserved the tablet.  


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