messages sent from the dawn of history


On March 30, 1900, during the excavation of the Palace of Knossos on the island of Crete, site of the legendary labyrinth from which Daedalus and Icarus took flight, workmen unearthed a clay tablet inscribed with an unknown script. Some of the characters of the script looked like the letters of an alien alphabet, others like alien hieroglyphics. In the following weeks and months workmen unearthed more tablets, several hundred of which had fallen from a floor above into a terra cotta bathtub. The tablets contained messages sent from the dawn of history, from before the time of Homer, but they were messages that could not be received. No one knew what language people spoke 30 centuries ago on Crete, and there was no Rosetta stone among the discoveries at Knossos. (There were, however, other enchanting wonders — elaborate lavatories, murals of griffins and dolphins.) For 50 years, the inscriptions seemed impossible to crack. The code’s ultimate decipherment would turn out to be one of the great scientific detective stories of the 20th century — The Mysterious Case of Linear B.

more from Donovan Hohn at the NY Times here.