Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Phaistos Disc hoax...?

Note: this article has now moved to phaistos-disc-hoax on Cipher Mysteries

The Voynich Manuscript belongs to an elite club of mysterious and as-yet-unread historical artefacts. But might this club be about to lose a member?

An article in the July-August 2008 edition of the archaeology journal Minerva (as reported by the Times) declares that the Phaistos Disc may well be a hoax. Having already debunked a number of questionable artefacts in the past, Jerome Eisenberg is well-placed to spot fakes: he now suggests that the Italian archaeologist Luigi Pernier did not discover it in 1908 in the Minoan palace of Phaistos on Crete, so much as plant it there, to try to keep up with the stream of Cretan discoveries being made at the time by Sir Arthur Evans and Federico Halbherr.

As evidence for a hoax, Eisenberg points to the (implausibly) perfect uniformity of the "pancake" with its (implausibly) cleanly cut edge, together with the (implausible) movable-type-style stamping.

As evidence against, other people point to similarities between the Phaistos Disc and the marks on the Arkalochori Axe, as well as the subtle similarities between Phaistosese and Linear A.

It's a Gordian knot, one which only a sharpened knife can untie satisfactorily: best of all would be a non-destructive thermoluminescence test, to determine when the object was fired - and if it was fired circa 1908, that would be the end of that.

What do I think? Having been to Crete for my own close look at the Phaistos Disc in the museum (and yes, I bought a reproduction home, it's a bit touristy but what the hey), I have to say I'm far from convinced it's a hoax. What particularly intrigued me was the place where the reproduction and the original differed - around the rim. You see, if you look really closely at the rim, you can see traces of marks that appear to have been worn away - yet (as far as I know) these marks have not been transcribed or reproduced anywhere.

At the time, this seemed to me to be the topmost portion of an entire iceberg of detail. In the same way that you can often learn more from the marginalia than the text, here I suspect that you can learn more about the Phaistos Disc from its rim than from its stamped letters. What seem to be unique features may well turn out to be improvised solutions to problems specific to the particular function that the disc performed. But that's another story!

For more discussion (including comments from Jerome Eisenberg), there's a useful page here. You might also be interested to see this wonderful page full of (mostly) mad Phaistos Disc / Phaistos Disk theories, which rather puts my list of Voynich theories to shame. Oh well!

No comments: