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Re: Not the VMS but: a second Phaistos disk???

    > [Robert Firth:] I succumb to the temptation. 
    > It's a Forgery!

I don't know... what would be the motive? 

The disk is in a state museum, and there seems to be no attempt to
make millions out of it. So if the fragment is a fake, it ought to
be an amateurish one, that should be easily unmasked by modern
testing methods.

I haven't made up my mind yet, but let me play the devil's advocate.
Robert writes:

    > 1. It is not printed; it's hand carved. Why go to the trouble of
    > making a set of type and then not use it?

If the two disks were not made by the same person (see below), then
there is nothing strange in that. Type and handwriting coexisted in
Europe for the last 500 years, and even today it is not unusual to
find the same text reproduced in both forms.

    > 2. It's drawn very badly, with lots of short lines and gaps.
    > That suggests the author didn't know the set of symbols, but
    > simply copied them.

Well, handwriting is usually sloppier and uglier than type. 

On the other hand, apart for the symbols themselves, the original is
not that well made either. Observe the uneven spacing and alignment of
the symbols, the crooked guiding lines, the apparent corrections, etc.

    > 3. In some places, characters are set vertically one above
    > another. To get the Phaistos groups, you have to read the lower
    > character first. This is counter-intuitive and is not a feature
    > of the original.

Actually, the obvious differences between the two disks (including the
vertical stacking you mention) can be used to argue *against* the disk
being a fake. 

As for symbol stacking, non-linear symbol layout occurs in most
writing systems, such as Egyptian, Mayan, Chinese, Korean, etc. Even
alphabetic systems use it occasionally: think of diacritics in Greek
and Roman, and vowels in Arabic, Hebrew, and Indic.

Even *variable* non-linear layout occurs in many languages, such as
Egyptian and Mayan. In the latter, the prefixes can be attached either
above of to the left of the stem, and likewise for the suffixes at the
opposite sides. IIRC, there some logic in that freedom, because the
relative order of the affixes in Mayan is, to a large extent, either
fixed or irrelevant.

By the way, I see two instances of vertical stacking in the fragment,
and both involve the "dot-filled circle" symbol, which appears to be
somewhat special in "Phaistian". (If I recall correctly, most of the
corrections observed in the original disk appear to be transpositions
involving that symbol.) 

Perhaps the dotted circle is a non-phonetic symbol, loosely analogous
to the Egyptian determinatives. In that case, its placement relative
to the word would be purely conventional, and could vary from scribe
to scribe.

There is nothing counter-intuitive in bottom-up reading either. For
instance, Medieval scribes would use a tilde over the "u" to stand for
the "m" in "um". Note that the lower symbol "u" is to be read first
--- even though the overall direction of writing is top to bottom.

Besides, we still don't know for sure which way the original
disk should be read.  So the symbol stacking may be top-to-bottom
after all.

    > 4. The probability that a second disc would be a copy of the
    > first, or even a near copy, seems infinitesimal. And if it were
    > a copy, the probabbility it would not have been printed in the
    > same way as the original is near zero.
The disk could be an amulet with a standard magical/sacred formula.
Or a breviary (a *really* brief one 8-) with a basic prayer
or credo.  Or the Philistine version of the Ten Commandments.
Or ...

My favorite Phaistos site describes "it" as the "world's oldest hard
disk" and notes that it uses the same spiral-track tecnology as our
CD-ROMs. What if it was instead the "world's oldest audio CD",
containing the lyrics of the "world's oldest hit song"?

The disks could be an early form of money, and read "The Proto-Elamite
Treasury will pay to the bearer of this disk ...", "Counterfeiters
will be hunted down and crucified", "In Marduk we trust", etc.

Or the disks could be highly standardized business-related documents
(tax receipts, invoices, bills of lading, census forms, business
cards, passports, fishing permits, etc.). These often contain a few
variable data fields (lost in the fragment) embedded in a fixed frame
of text.
To finish off, here are two more crazy ideas to worry about:

  * It is quite possible that the Vladikavkaz fragment had its writing
    "enhanced" in recent times by scratching it deeper. (This sort of
    well-meaning "scholarly vandalism" seems to have been quite common
    in the past.) Also, accidental scratches and nicks may look like
    intentional stylus strokes. Therefore, a detailed analysis of the
    symbols must begin with a thorough miscroscopic examination of the
    object, in order to separate the ancient "signal" from any modern
    "noise". (To stay in the mailing list's topic: the same 
    caveat applies to the interpretation of colors in the VMS.)
  * One could as well claim that the Vkaz fragment is genuine,
    while the Phaistos disk (which, being stamped, is the most bizarre
    of the two) is the fake.  
    Imagine someone finding the fragment at Phaistos. A "new" lost
    language, wow! That could be his ticket to fame. But alas, the
    fragment is too small, and he can't find more right away.
    Eventually he decides to fake more exciting sample, just enough to
    keep his funding sources happy. ("I now this is not right, but it
    is for a good cause; anyway, in the next season I will surely dig
    up something genuine that will redeem this little sin.") He first
    tries to "write" the symbols on wet clay, but is not happy with
    the result --- he is no artist, and besides he can't get the
    scratches to look ancient. Then he has an idea. He writes to a
    font maker, and orders a set of type for his newly discovered
    "Phaistonian" writing, sketches enclosed (half a dozen symbols
    badly copied from the fragment, plus several dozen which he just
    invented). Success: the stamped inscription looks real cool, and
    its smooth surface is easily "ancientified"...

All the best,