The Riddle of the Labyrinth

The Riddle of the Labyrinth

Author:Margalit Fox
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: HarperCollins

IN 1949, KOBER came out with a noteworthy article that solved two enduring small mysteries in a single stroke. One was the problem of telling male from female animals in paired logograms like and . The other was an analogous problem: how to tell apart the two words— and —that almost certainly meant “boy” and “girl” but were likewise indistinguishable. As her paper showed, the same key unlocked both questions, and it had been hiding in plain sight in the tablets all along.

The solution centered on the only Linear B word whose meaning was known beyond doubt—“total.” The word appeared again and again at the bottom of inventories on Linear B tablets, and as scholars from Evans onward had noted, the Minoan scribes routinely wrote it in two forms: and . Though the pronunciation of these forms was unknown, each obviously had two syllables, and the initial syllables were obviously identical. As Kober’s major work had shown, it was also clear that the second syllable of each word began with the same consonant but ended with different vowels. But if both forms meant “total,” then why, Kober asked herself, did they need to differ at all? She began to look closely at the context in which each form occurred.

As Evans had recognized, some of the inventories on the tablets were lists of names—names of soldiers, names of slaves, names of workers in various trades. Lists marked with the “man” logogram, , obviously contained men’s names. The famous twenty-four-line tablet from Knossos, known as the “Man” tablet, displays the logogram at the end of each line, just before the numeral:


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