free debate

April 4, 2011

Ancient Writing From a Garbage Heap

Long before I was interested in science, I had dreams of being a history professor. That interest in history has never faded and this weekend I saw an article that caught my eye. Around the year 1400 B.C.E., a sun-dried clay tablet was throw in the garbage heap by a Greek in Iklaina. That tablet was probably of not much importance at the time. I doubt anyone thought much of it when the trash caught fire. That blaze hardened the table allowing archaeologists to find it more than 3000 years later.

Writing seems to have originally developed in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and China around 3000 B.C.E. What makes this discovery exciting is it is the oldest credible example of writing found in Europe. It is written in a script called Linear B which seems to stem from a older undeciphered writing called Linear A. Linear B was eventually replaced with the Greek alphabet, which evolved into the language you are reading now.

Each discovery like this adds more detail to our understanding of the past. This find gives us greater insight into the history of writing and the power structure of ancient Greece.
“Iklaina could potentially challenge what we know about the origins of states in ancient Greece,” Michael Cosmopoulos, the Professor of Greek Studies at University of Missouri–St. Louis and director of the Iklaina Archaeological Project. “Not only does it push the origins of those states back in time by at least a century and a half, but the tablet shows that literacy and bureaucracy appeared earlier and were more widespread than what we had thought until now. We still have a lot to learn about the ancient world.”

History is a subject that I have always found humbling and a nice way to grow perspective for modern issues. Understanding the long and arduous journey writing took to get what we have now gives a greater appreciation for it. That appreciation is, in my opinion, one of history's greatest contributions.