Linguistics Baking Part VIII: Cypro-Minoan 0

As promised in my last post, I hereby present the official cake of the ‘Understanding Relations Between Scripts‘ conference (or, as it’s familiarly known, URBS) that just took place in the Faculty this weekend:'Cypro-Minoan 0'The inscription in question is a tablet from Enkomi on Cyprus (ENKO Atab 001), dating to around 1525-1425 B.C.E., making this the oldest attestation of the Cypro-Minoan script (or perhaps group of related scripts), which is/are used to write (an) unknown language(s) up until around the 11th century; later on, the related Cypriot Syllabary is used to write Greek (as well as ‘Eteocypriot’, another very poorly-understood, but certainly non-Greek, language/group of languages).

As the oldest Cypro-Minoan (CM) writing that we have, this tablet is naturally often the focus of debates over the precise nature of the Cypriot scripts’ relationship to those found on Crete (Cretan Hieroglyphic, Linear A, and Linear B). I’ve written before about the problem of trying to identify signs whose forms and values are both similar in the Cretan and Cypriot scripts; this tablet is particularly interesting because, as well as sign-forms with very clear correspondences in both Linear A (LA) and later CM, it includes some signs which only seem to have LA equivalents, as well as others with only CM correspondences. It thus seems to represent an early stage of the adaptation of an Aegean script (whether LA or an unattested related script) to produce the CM writing system(s), including some inherited signs which may have been dropped or changed beyond recognition in later CM, but also already some newly-created Cypriot signs. Whether it, strictly speaking, represents the ‘ancestor’ of later CM is also still the subject of a great deal of debate, depending on precisely how many signs are identified as having LA and/or later CM correspondences – some argue that the differences between this tablet and later CM are significant enough that it must represent a separate branch of the script that died out before the later CM period, hence the term ‘Cypro-Minoan 0’ (later CM is traditionally divided into the subgroups CM 1, 2, and 3, though the status of these subgroups is highly controversial. You may have noticed a pattern by now in how hard it is to say anything non-controversial about CM…). In the end, it’s very hard to be certain about how to classify this single small tablet, and since I’m definitely not an expert on anything Cypriot I’m going to stay firmly on the fence for now – but in any case it certainly seemed an appropriate choice for a conference dedicated to the relationships between the various Aegean and Cypriot writing systems. Which, I should say, was an extremely interesting, enjoyable, and thought-provoking conference, wtih an impressive range of topics covered in a series of consistently high-quality papers – plus a great deal of equally interesting discussions during the tea-breaks, reception, and dinner. So a big thank-you to Pippa Steele for organising the whole thing!

Understanding Relations Between Scripts: the Aegean Writing Systems (Faculty of Classics, Cambridge, 20-21 March 2015)


PS: to anyone interested in finding out more about the Cypriot writing systems, I can highly recommend the book of Pippa’s previous conference, ‘Syllabic Writing on Cyprus and its Context’ (P.M. Steele, ed., Cambridge 2013), featuring many of the speakers who were also present at URBS. Which will hopefully have its own book appearing in the not-too-distant future…


Author: Anna P. Judson

Classics researcher at Cambridge

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