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Mystery Phaistos Disk Of Ancient Crete

By James Donahue

Visitors to the Heraklion Archaeological Museum on Crete, Greece, might pass without paying much attention to the small 5.9-inch oval disk covered with strange images displayed there. But this small object, nicknamed the Phaistos Disc, is considered among the more famous mysteries of ancient archaeology.

Discovered in 1908 by the Italian archaeologist Luigi Pernier, the disk was made of fired clay at the Minoan palace of Phaistos and is believed to date back some 3,000 to 4,000 years to the middle or late Bronze Age.

The images, which appear on both sides of the disk, appear to have been pressed into the clay when it was soft before the disk was fired to its present form. They appear on both sides of the disk, following a clockwise pattern spiraling from the outer edge and ending near the center of the oval disk. They offer 45 different images, appearing 241 times in what appears to be messages. Yet to this date, if those images represented words or a written message, no one has been able to decipher it.

Strangely, the Minoan people of that time had a known form of writing known to archaeologists and calligraphers as Linear A. But these symbols did not resemble the Minoan form of writing. Thus controversy has developed over just what the Phaistos Disc was made for. Some theorize that it was a coded message. Others suggest it was a prayer token, or even a message from alien visitors.

Whatever its purpose, the disc represents one of the earliest forms of encryption. Scholars agree that it was made by pressing preformed characters into the clay when it was soft. Thus it was an ancient concept of using movable type.

That the images have never been found anywhere else in the world have raised the question among some researchers as to the authenticity of the disk. Is it a hoax? That Pernier found it buried in ash and black dirt in a basement room under the ruins of the ancient Greek palace points to its age and authenticity.

Herbert Brekle, a German typesetter and linguist, published an article in the Gutenberg-Jahrbuch in which he claimed that the Phaistos Disc is an early document of moveable type printing. If he is right, this makes the strange little disk with its peculiar images a truly unique relic of the ancient past.