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Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
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Linear B is the name for the late Minoan script which was first found on clay tablets and sealings in the second palace at Knossos on Crete. These early tablets survived because they were baked in the fire which burned down the palace. Although there are many debates about when the script first came into use it is thought to have originated around the fifteenth or sixteenth century BCE. Because this date is around the same time as the decline of the Minoan culture and the abandonment of the large palaces on Crete, it is believed by some that invading Myceneans may have brought the script with them from the mainland and introduced it to the late Minoans. But others believe that Crete is the sole point of origin for Linear B.
There is evidence of the use of Linear B on mainland Greece from ca. 1340 to 1190 BCE. The majority of extant examples of Linear B writing come from the mainland. Yet while Linear B later died out on the mainland there is evidence that it was used in certain areas of Crete up until the third century BCE. Linear B is thought to be in some ways related to or a precursor of the later Greek alphabet. All of the Linear B tablets discovered thus far are inventories or lists as opposed to more literary works such as poetry or narratives.
Linear B was first studied by Sir Arthur Evans (Evans, Sir Arthur), but it was not until 1952 that it was deciphered by Michael Ventris. The script itself is related to and shares many characters with both Linear A and the pictographic scripts which preceded it. It is generally seen as a more simplified and less pictorial version of the earlier scripts though. It is also far more cursive in its shape. The script consists of about 87 symbols, which each represent a syllable, as well as some ideograms which represent an entire word or idea.
Linear B tablets have been found at Knossos, Pylos, Thebes, Mycenae, Tiryns and Chania, as well as other minor sites.
Linear B tablet from Pylos
Biers, William R. The Archaeology of Greece. 2nd Ed. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1980.
Hooker, J.T. The Origin of the Linear B Script. Salamanca: Ediciones Universidad de Salamanca, 1979.
Whitley, James, The Archaeology of Ancient Greece. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.