Linear A


Quick Facts





















2000 to 1200 BCE






Crete was the cradle of the Minoan Civilization, which spanned roughly from 2000 BCE to 1200 BCE. In addition to incredible frescoes, indoor plumbing (!), the Minoans also developed the first written system of Europe.

The oldest example of writing in Crete is a kind of "hieroglyphic" (which means that the signs are picture-like) script. The media where the hieroglyphic inscriptions appeared are mostly clay sealstones.

The origin of the Cretan writing system lies in the extensive use of engraved sealstones, which depict physical objects, to (possibly) record quantities of these objects in soft clay. This forms a natural progression to a systematic writing system.

As time progresses hieroglyphic system became more stylized and more linear. Instead of impressing sealstones in soft clay, the glyphs are incised on the soft clay with a stylus. In addition, quantities are represented by numerals (not multiple impressions of the same sign). As time goes on, it appears that the linear hieroglyphic system evolved into Linear A.

Linear A has roughly 90 symbols, thus most likely a syllabary much like Linear B. However, Linear A has resisted all attempts at decipherment because its underlying language is still unknown and probably will remain obscure since it doesn't seem to relate to any other surviving language in Europe or Western Asia.

Linear B and Cypriot both exhibit considerable similarity to Linear A. Because of its time depth, Linear A appears to be the immediate ancestor to both of these writing systems.

The following is an image of a Linear A tablet.