As detailed in The Fire Seekers, many linguists have thought the Phaistos Disk will never be translated, because it’s a unique artifact – a bit like finding a single page of a foreign language, and just not enough text to go on. But, in fascinating news from Crete, Gareth Owens, a British archaeologist who has lived and worked there for decades, claims to have cracked the mystery.
OK, a clarification: contrary to headlines, Owens does not claim to have translated the Disk. Rather, he thinks he has shown (a) that the language encoded in it must be a hieroglyphic script of Minoan, (b) that it’s now possible to “read” (i.e. say what syllables are represented by) about 90% of Side A, and (c) that it’s almost certainly a song or chant to (or about) either a mother or a “woman of great importance,” perhaps a goddess. Notice: (b) is not the claim that we know what 90% of it means in English, but rather that we know what the rhythm of sounds is, in Minoan. Knowing what the Minoan means in English is another thing entirely.
I’m a bit skeptical about even this, because many similar (or similar-sounding) claims have been made about the Phaistos Disk before, both by amateur sleuths and professionals like Owens. But (speaking as a novelist here, not a linguist or archaeologist), Owens does seem to have a plausible argument that the text may not be as unique as it looks – that is, it may be a unique script that encodes the same language in some other scripts. In which case the whole “can’t be translated; not enough text” story could be wrong. For more information, see this Daily Mail article, with attached video.
Of course, IF it’s simply Minoan in an otherwise unknown script, then my spookier, weirder fictional assumptions can’t be right. I’ll be watching this with interest – but I’m sticking to “it’s the language of the Architects!” for now!
Hang on to your hats: the sequel, Ghosts in the Machine, will have even more bizarre revelations!