Earliest European Writing Found

April 2nd, 2011
in econ_news

Greek clay tablet Econintersect:  More than three millenia ago clay tablets were used for written records.  Until recently in ancient Greece the oldest such written records were from about 1,200 bc.  However, a clay tablet about 3,350 years old has been discovered, preserved by what was probably an accident.

The tablet, found by University of Missouri- St. Louis archaeologist Michael Cosmopolous, was found at a location known as Iklaina, a secondary location, one of 16 city-states conquered by King Nestor.  The tablets were used to record information which was kept for a year at a time.  Then the tablet materials were recycled into new tablets.  The tablet recently discovered had been fired and become permanently, perhaps by some accidental occurrence such as being left in refuse which was burned.

Follow up:

From the News & Observer:   

Archaeologists "had grown more and more comfortable" with the idea that writing was limited to the major ruling centers of the time and was not to be found at secondary sites such as Iklaina, which was the equivalent of a district capital, said archaeologist Thomas Palaima of the University of Texas at Austin, who was not involved in the research.

From the LA Times:

The presence of the tablet at Iklaina, Palaima said, suggests two possibilities. It may indicate that Iklaina was once a major center of its own and had the potential to become a dominant center until it was crushed and absorbed by Pylos.

But it could also be that, even after Iklaina became part of Nestor's kingdom, it was allowed to retain a significant amount of administrative freedom. That would be surprising, Palaima said, because most historians believe that virtually all record-keeping was centralized in the major centers. If the city was allowed to retain record-keeping, it would suggest that Pylos maintained a benevolent rule over its domain.

The tablet measures 2 inches by 3 inches and has writing on both sides in the Linear B system, which is older than the alphabet.  The picture at the beginning of the article is from the LA Times.

The findings will be published this month in the Proceedings of the Athens Archaeological Society.

Raleigh News & Observer and Los Angeles Times

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