Alice Kober and Linear B

The Mycenaean civilization followed the Minoan civilization in Greece. The Mycenaeans used a script called Linear B which descended from an undeciphered earlier script called Linear A. Like the script used in the Indus-Saraswati civilization, this was an unknown script representing an unknown language and that made deciphering it a difficult problem.  Despite that the script was deciphered and the credit for that is attributed to an English architect named Michael Ventris.

According to an article, Ventris would not have made the breakthrough, if not for the work of an American classical scholar named Alice Kober.

In the search for clues, Kober learnt a whole host of languages – from Egyptian to Akkadian to Sumerian and Sanskrit. But Kober was rigorous in her work – refusing to speculate on what the language was, or what the sounds of the symbols might be. Instead, she set out to record the frequency of every symbol in the tablets, both in general, and then in every position within a word. She also recorded the frequency of every character in juxtaposition to that of every other character. It was a mammoth task, performed without the aid of computers. In addition, during the years surrounding World War II, writing materials were hard to come by. Kober recorded her detailed analysis on index cards, which she made from the backs of old greetings cards, library checkout slips, and the inside covers of examination books. By hand, she painstakingly cut more than 180,000 tiny index cards, using cigarette cartons as her filing system.Kober’s monumental effort paid off. She spotted groups of symbols that appeared throughout the inscriptions – groups that would start the same, but end in consistently different ways. That was the breakthrough. Kober now knew that Linear B was an inflected language, with word endings that shifted according to use – like Latin, or German or Spanish.[Alice Kober: Unsung heroine who helped decode Linear B]

14 Comments

  1. In every venture the person who ultimately solves the problem has had the hard work of many others as the base to start on. Jean Paul Champollion who deciphered the Egyptian hieroglyphics also had the work of Thomas Young and others preceding him.

    The question that needs to be asked in this context is – why has the Indus Valley script not been deciphered? The most extensive and impartial work on this subject has been done by Asko Parpola, of the the University of Helsinki, Finland. His contention is that the IV script is Dravidian. And perhaps that’s why the powers that be are reluctant to have any further research on the subject. Perhaps some do not want the script to be deciphered as it may point to unpalatable truths that go against current political and social agendas. Like – the IV script was Dravidian and the Aryans were invaders – perhaps reflected by the Mahabarata War – etc etc.

  2. Asko Parpola lives in Finland. Who are the powers there that have prevented future research? Indo-European studies are common abroad than in India as far as I know. Most of the journals in which such studies are published are Western. So do you think Western powers are colluding with Indian powers to prevent research in this area? How does this work exactly?

    You have been spouting conspiracy theories left and right. Give us some data to show who is supressing what. I am curious.

    1. You cannot research IV script in Finland – i hope you agree with this theory at least. Can you do research on Columbus in India? And in India for a civilisation so greatly praised and talked about there is a woeful ‘shortage’ of material. Does this tally? Look at the laughable theories in this country – we are very sure where Ram was born, where Sita cooked but we have no evidence of these as also the Mahabharata and even enough material of the IV script. The Egyptian hieroglyphics are of the same ancient vintage – look at the amount of material and evidence as also Linear A and B. Maybe the IV script does not belong to the language but only logo-grams for certain items. Let us accept that then? We are great at claiming history and achievements without evidence on the grounds that the events occurred long ago. But we have all details – including how many days Draupadi slept with each husband, who had an affair with whom and how many children who had, name of his horse or elephant(!). But ask simple things like a probable date – and everyone goes blank.

      Forget my theories – give a date for the Kurukshetra war and get it universally acknowledged. Else let us accept that these are on the same level as fairy tales.

      And if all these dynasties were so great – we have no details of what happened after the main protagonists disappear. What happened to Lava and Kush? What happened to the Pandava lineage?

  3. Who said you cannot research IV in Finland? Where did Parpola publish his papers from? You are simply making up stuff

    1. So Parpola also got the research material in Finland? You can publish your papers from anywhere including Timbuktoo but you have to first go to the place where the material is available, take notes, photographs, whatever and then you can write the papers anywhere. The question is – are all the materials, seals etc available being made available for all researchers? Or only those who have agreed to write what the government wants get access to the National Archives and items in the possession of the ASI.

  4. OK, looks like you are not understanding what I am saying.

    1. Parpola has been writing that IV script is Dravidian for quite some time.
    2. His major contributions have been (1) classifications of IV seals and (2) claims that the language is Dravidian
    3. He was honored by the Dravidian Nationalist Karunanidhi for all this efforts on June 23, 2010 at World Classical Tamil Conference at Coimbatore.
    4. So it looks like Parpola was able to access the seals so that he could classify them into a corpus.
    5. It looks like the government gave him access
    6. So what are you talking about?

    1. Thank you for the information. So do you agree that the IV script represents a Dravidian language? – that’s why he was honoured at the World Tamil Conference. Now – if the IV script was Dravidian what about the IV civilisation? How did it suddenly become Aryan – unless the Aryans came from outside? When did this event take place – which event represents this invasion best – Kuruskshetra?

      1. You are jumping around left and right. Let’s sort the basic things first.

        1. You made an accusation that people like Parpola cannot do research on IV script.
        2. Do you agree that if people want to do research on IV script they can?
        3. Do you agree that you were completely wrong about this accusation?

  5. Please read my posts carefully. I DID NOT say that people like Parpola cannot do research on IV script. I said that they have to come to India to do it and whether they had access to all the material is in doubt.

    Of course they can do research but will they get access to all that they want or is there? The question whether I am wrong is irrelevant as you are accusing me of making accusations that I did not.

    Now some questions for you – Do you accept Parpola’s theory that IV script is a Dravidian language? Do you then accept that Dravidians were there first in the IV valley civilisation before the Aryans? What reasons can you adduce for their coming south – Aryans?

  6. 1. I don’t accept Parpola’s theory that IV script is Dravidian. So rest of the questions don’t make any sense.

  7. Very easy for you to make a bland statement and escape. Have you done any research on the basis of which you are making the statement? Have you even read Parpola’s book “Deciphering the IV Script?”. So pray tell me the reasons why you do not agree that the IV script is Dravidian.

    1. Why should I do any research. I am not trained for it. There are many other who have claimed that IV is (a) Sanskritic (b) not even a script or language and IV people were illiterate. So why should any one simply accept it is Dravidian? If you want to believe it, do it by all means. I don’t believe it and I don’t know what is the language of IV is. All I know is that lot of people have lot of theories.

  8. Adding on the discussion

    A. Parpola must have visited India for his research. Even if he has not is it not possible to get all the required material with the resources at his disposal?

    B. If we have to look at all things in a very impassioned way i dont think we are still clear today whether it is an offset of Dravidian.

    C. The moment we include the so called Dravidian nationalist Karunanidhi logic and reason go for a toss.

    D. As for the award given to Parpola by the DMK it might be for propoganda purposes.

    E. As regards to AIT and Dravidians being Indus people the myth has been slowly demolished by genetic studies if i am not wrong.

    F. As regards to why Indus has not been deciphered the reasons are many which include no relation to any other language for starters. Also the intent to decipher it has international implications. I hope you agree with me on that.

    1. A. How do you get the material without visiting India?

      B. Assuming it is not Dravidian, no one has yet come up with a logical case that it is anything else

      C. Yes I agree that politicians and their views must be discounted.

      D. See C above

      E. By whom? By the same people who have vested interests? However there is one genetic trait that stands out. 70% of North Indians have lactose tolerance (ability to drink raw milk without boiling) just like the Caucasians and Europeans but only about 20% of South Indians have this genetic ability. Further the oldest Y-chromosome strain in India has been found in Jyothikuppam village near Madurai. How did it get that far south?

      F. How is it we have Dravidians and Aryans in South India ( I am a Aryan – Yajur Vedam) but there are hardly any Dravidians the North except in small pockets?

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