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Re: VMs: O.T.: The Indus Script--Write or Wrong? (Science)

On Sun, 19 Dec 2004, Jacques Guy wrote:
> The Phaistos Disk was found in a trash dump too. Next time you open a
> bottle of wine, pay attention. What do you do with the cork? Pay
> attention again. Is there anything written on the cork? That is why I
> believe that the Phaistos Disk is a bill of lading (and why I believe
> that the VMs is not).

I think we might both be on the same side in this, but I'm intrigued.  Of
course there's stuff written on most corks, though not very legibly.  I
drink little wine, but generally save the corks in a kitchen drawer
because people sometimes want them for craft projects.  Ultimately they go
in the trash somewhere and thence to a landfill.  Sometimes they break up
when you extract them, in which case I toss them immediately.  I suppose
corks rot in the ground.

How does this implicate the Phaistos disk as a bill of lading?  I've
always figured that folks were right in supposing it fitted somehow into
the Linear A/B materials, but I of course that's not much help in
reading it.  For example, I gather that even though Linear A is largely
readable in terms of Linear B, it isn't decipherable, because unlike
Linear B it isn't Greek.  Not unless the mapping of characters to
syllables has changed.  I do suppose the materials must be largely
identifiable as receipts and inventories, however, from their form.  So
what about the form of the Phaistos Disk makes it seem to be a bill of

I have an idea.  The Phaistos Disk is fairly unique in that it was
prepared with some sort of stamps, rather than drawn freehand.  But
writing - Mesopotamian writing, anyway - seems to have been created as a
way of writing on clay tablets some sort of summary of a counting table
reading.  In effect they are adding-machine tapes with annotations
indicating what the numbers mean.  My understanding is that when sent to
another place as documentation the tablets - earlier the bag of counters
or at least its neck - were sealed in a clay envelope, a bulla, and then
signed by stamping or rolling a seal on them.  Some sort of summary of the
contents might also be inscribed on the bulla itself.  This was to prevent
the shipper from delivering a couple of the sheep to someone else and
tossing two of the counters along the way.  I suppose a bill of lading
could be made up by stamping some of the counters on a summary sheet
before committing them to their individual bullae.

> And then, as I am getting rather sick of repeating, take Balinese. It
> was written on palm leaves and on stone. The stone inscriptions were
> sparse and very very short, a single name, mostly. Literary texts were
> written on palm leaves. They rot, they get eaten by bugs, they
> disappear. So what is left 2000 years later?

Agreed, of course.  We do have some papyrus, etc., manuscripts of
Classical age, but only from jar burials in places like Egypt.  If the
Classical texts we have hadn't been copied and recopied over the years our
evidence for writing in the European CLassical period would be
inscriptions on buildings and objects, notably tombstones and milestones,
etc., and we wouldn't think of the Greeks and Romans as especially
literate or intellectually interesting.

I guess there are a few examples of preserved wax tablets, too.
Apparently these were used for daily notes and drafts, etc., but the
script for writing on them was rather different from the script for
writing in ink on skin and paper.

> Oh, sure, I can think of an objection or two, three even. Can you think
> of them? (I've got the answers ready).

No, but I'm not objecting.  I'm agreeing.  Granted that negative evidence,
even when the negative is a rotted away positive, isn't much help.  I
suppose to assume that a culture was literate, but that the bulk of its
writings have disappeared, you need some kind of evidence of a
well-developed tradition of writing, even though the evidence itself may
not be particularly interesting as far as content, or even decipherable.
So you need labelled artifacts, or seals - things for putting labels on
possibly more perishable materials.  Or you need a reference from
preserved materials of another culture to the unpreserved materials of the
culture in question.  For example, Mesoamerican cultures have left
numerous inscriptions on monuments, but apart from a few examples
preserved in Europe, most of the evidence we have for writing on more
perishable materials consists of Spanish reports that these materials were
burned because they were deemed to encourage resistance to the True Faith
(and coincidentally, to True - Spanish - Government).
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