Egyptian and Mycenaean Writing

Written language is one of the major factors that made different cultures into the first major civilizations. Examples of these first written languages include the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and the language of the ancient Mycenaeans, commonly known as Linear B. These writing systems allowed for information to be recorded and passed between people in the culture, communication, and for decoration of religious buildings and monuments. Though some of these scripts survived to become the ancestors of our modern written languages while others did not, they all give us into the historical lives of those who lived in these two cultures.

In Ancient Egypt, the most common written language was hieroglyphic script. It is dated to about 3500 years before Christ, at the beginning of pharaonic civilization, and is made up of around 500 symbols. “Hieroglyphs were called, by the Egyptians, ‘the words of God’ and were mainly used by the priests.” (Egyptian Hieroglyphic Alphabet) Most texts were written on papyrus, “a type of paper… which was made from the river plant of the same name. Papyrus was a very strong and durable paper-like material that was used in Egypt for over 3000 years.” (Penn Museum) Hieroglyphs also appeared on tombs, temple walls, and monuments as works of art. Hieroglyphs were used as either ideograms, made to represent ideas through pictures, or as phonograms that were given phonetic value.  The Egyptians also had two cursive forms of hieroglyphic writing called hieratic and demotic hieroglyphs.  They had very similar purposes but were used at different times during the Egyptian period. These written forms of language could be read from either direction, dependent on the direction of human and animal figures. The one exception is hieratic, which was always read right to left. In the First century AD, the Coptic language, a modified Greek alphabet with some demotic symbols, began to be used. By the Fourth century, Coptic had become the dominant writing form and formal hieroglyphs were used in only a ceremonial role. In 1789, the Rosetta Stone was found, a stone carved with the same text written in Egyptian and Greek, using hieroglyphic, demotic, and Greek writing forms. This allowed some Egyptian texts to be deciphered and give a better view into Ancient Egyptian history.

256px-Stein_von_Rosetta_-196                       The Rosetta Stone helped to interpret different forms

of Greek and Egyptian writing.

The Mycenaeans used a very different language called Linear B, “the oldest preserved form of written Greek that we know of.” (Violatti)  Linear B was first attested on Crete and have been found in mainland Greece, suggesting that the writing form was used between 1500 and 1100 BCE, depending on sources. Inscriptions found on clay tablets in major palace sites in Crete, Pylos, and Mycenae itself. Most of the texts found are inventories, palace administrations, and some military activity. They also dealt with religious offerings, such as food and wine, and the gods and goddess they were for.  There are no surviving narratives, myths, or poetry. The oldest of these tablets are the Room of the Chariot Tablets from Knossos, dated to 1450-1350 BCE (Wikipedia). Linear B writing consists of about 200 syllabic signs and logograms, characters that represent a word of phrase. It was initially derived from Linear A, a Minoan language that has not been deciphered yet, being mixed with Greek. Linear B is written in such a way that deciphering the pronunciation of words is difficult, especially where the meaning of a word is unclear from context of has no dialectic descendants. “Linear B cannot represent consonant clusters… the limitations of the script to represent Greek are fairly clear.” (Violatti)  “This system was apparently designed for a non-Greek language as it did not fit the sounds of Greek very well. In fact, it is likely that Linear A was used to write the pre-Greek language of Crete, and the incoming Greeks adopted this writing system for their own use, but without changing how the system fundamentally works.” (Linear B) When the Mycenaean civilization collapsed, Linear B gradually disappeared and literacy was lost until the Greek alphabet emerged in the 8th century BCE.

How Cool Is Writing?

A Clay Tablet from Pylos, an example of Linear B writing

Both of these written languages emerged, developed, and collapsed in similar ways. They were used for common functions and help historians today figure out the culture and history of these ancient civilizations today. Though these written languages are not used they still have great influence on how history is interpreted and how we see the people of ancient Egypt and the Mycenaeans.


“Egyptian Hieroglyphic Writing.” Discovering Ancient Egypt. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2015.


“Egyptian Hieroglyphic Alphabet.” Discovering Ancient Egypt. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Mar. 2015.


“WRITING – Scribes, Hieroglyphs, and Papyri – A New Look at Ancient Egypt @ UPMAA.”WRITING – Scribes, Hieroglyphs, and Papyri – A New Look at Ancient Egypt @ UPMAA. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Mar. 2015.                       <;.

“Ancient Scripts: Linear B.” Ancient Scripts: Linear B. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Mar. 2015.


“Mycenaean Greek.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 08 Mar. 2015.


“Writing in Ancient Egypt.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 08 Mar. 2015.


Rosetta Stone, By Aiwok (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0

(, via Wikimedia Commons.

“NAMA Linear B tablet of Pylos” by Sharon Mollerus – originally posted to Flickr as How Cool Is Writing?. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons –


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The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, or Ninevah?

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The fabled Hanging Gardens were quoted as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World by many different ancient writers. Irrigated with inventions attributed to Archimedes, the Hanging Gardens were a feat of engineering that created roof-top flora for the ancient inhabitants to enjoy for the first time. This fanciful garden would have put the elegance and beauty of the outdoors in reach of wealthy aristocrats without leaving the protection of their homes. Unfortunately, no archeological evidence of the Gardens have been found despite many attempts to trace where they were originally placed. There are several historical debates surrounding the Hanging Gardens concerning where they were located and how they were constructed.

The first mention of the Hanging Gardens is from a source that no longer survives. More recent writers have quoted earlier writers who, in turn, were quoting even older writers. Josephus (20 C.E.), quoted Berossus (220 B.C.E.), and attributed the creation of the Gardens to Nebuchadnezzar II. (605-562 B.C.E.).  According to Josephus, Nebuchadnezzar II wanted to placate his homesick wife and surround her with gardens more similar to her mountainous homeland. Strabo, writing a geographical history about the same time as Josephus, placed the Hanging Gardens in Babylon as well, describing many geographical features that coincide with that area.

Each ancient source had their own agendas for mentioning the Gardens and each relied on a different, even older original source that no longer exists. This makes it difficult to determine which source is the most accurate. No archeological evidence of the Hanging Gardens has yet surfaced, though it may be lying silently in wait for future excavation beneath the waters of the Euphrates.

The irrigation of the Gardens is described by multiple sources in detail, which indicates that ancient peoples had an advanced irrigation system using machines hidden within the walls to pull water to higher elevations. In 1993, while studying the vast irrigation systems of the Persian Empire, Dr. Stephanie Dalley presented an alternate theory as to where the fabled Hanging Gardens were located.

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Although Archimedes is given credit for the irrigation advances that make this extravagant garden possible, Archimedes predates the Gardens, leading some to believe that particular invention attributed to him was used earlier than previously thought.

Dr. Dalley argues that ancient writers, all with their own agendas for quoting each other, may have misunderstood the names of ancient cities. She argues that the earliest writer, Strabo, may have been stretching the truth a bit to flatter his Babylonian patron and place the Gardens in his homeland. After all, if the Hanging Gardens were such a marvelous wonder in Babylon, Herodotus, who was a contemporary of that time, would certainly have mentioned them in his writings.

Dr. Dalley stated that the city of Babylon was often interchangeable with the city of Nineveh, and suggested the Gardens may, in fact, be there. As further evidence, Dr. Dalley has used an image at the palace of Nineveh depicting Hanging Gardens that match the descriptions of those ancient authors, as well as writings from the King at Nineveh detailing how the gardens were irrigated from the main river.

Although current excavations have been placed on hold due to violence in the area, it seems clear that the city of Nineveh is a probable location for the Seventh Wonder of the World as yet unseen by modern eyes.


Hanging Gardens of Babylon. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia:

Hanging gardens were a living carpet. (2005). New Scientist, 185(2483), 15. Retrieved March 7, 2015

Heemskerck, M. v. (n.d.). Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Retrieved from

Henzell, J. (2013, April 9). Academic unearths new lead to fabled Babylon gardens. pp. 1-2. Retrieved March 8, 2015, from

Josephus. (1917-1932). Berossus: From Josephus, &c. (H. L. Jones, Trans.) Harvard University Press. Retrieved from (and)

Oleson, S. D. (2003, January). Sennacherib, Archimedes, and the Water Screw: The Context of Invention in the Ancient World. Technology and Culture, 44(1), 1-26. Retrieved March 8, 2015, from

Omary, A. Y. (2014, March). Hanging Gardens of Babylon or Hanging Gardens of Ninewa A Comparative Study of Their Landscape Spatial Characteristics. Al-Rafadain Engineering Journal, 22(2), 1-15. Retrieved March 7, 2015

Polleket. (n.d.). Archimedean screw. Sculpture by Tony Cragg in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands. Retrieved from

Strabo. (1932). The Geography of Strabo. VII. (H. L. Jones, Trans.) Loeb Classical Library edition. Retrieved March 7, 2015, from*.html

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Mesopotamian Counting Tokens

 Mesopotamian Counting Tokens


(Basic counting tokens, c. 4000 BCE)

     Archeological digs in the Middle East have uncovered small clay objects with markings on the various faces and edges.  Many archeologists and historians have tried to determine the possible use of these tokens in the past century or so.  Some thought they were children’s toys or pieces of amateur art.  Recent studies have determined these tokens to have been a vital part of the economy as they represented numerical values of a specific commodity.  Art historian Denise Schmandt-Besserat is credited with finding the true purpose of the Mesopotamian clay tokens.  She discovered six distinct token shapes that represented different measurements of items like grain.  Early tokens were spheres, cones, disks, and other basic shapes.  These tokens were used by the peoples of Mesopotamia as far back as 7500 BCE.   Over time the complexity and uses of the tokens evolved.  There began to be writing on the tokens, possibly markings to denote an association to an accurate counting system.  By 3500 BCE the tokens began to be used alongside sphere like objects with small pockets meant for the tokens.  Many historians believe these spheres were sent alongside goods as an early attempt at a trading invoice.


(Tokens and Envelope, c. 3300 BCE)

     The tokens were present in civilizations that didn’t have an established writing system.  These tokens predated writing and numerical systems that developed in the same region.  Schmandt-Besserat and other historians believe the tokens helped to emphasize the importance of numbering systems and caused the Sumerians to develop the more complex sexagesimal number system present in third millennium Sumer.  Tokens and clay envelopes changed in Sumer to represent more than just one of a specific object.  Certain tokens would represent ten or sixty portions as opposed to the early system that used one token for one item.  There is also a direct link between the tokens and the early development of agriculture.  Hunter gatherer groups didn’t have a need for the tokens because they used a simple system of economics, like for like trading.  Agriculture brought new economic opportunities and with it the need for a system to manage a more complex economic system.  These basic tokens were the beginnings of counting in Mesopotamia and heavily influenced the later development of more modern counting systems.


Frank Swetz. “Mathematical Treasure: Mesopotamian Counting Tokens.” Convergence 10 (2013). Accessed March 8, 2015.

Denise Schmandt-Besserat . “Tokens: Their Significance For the Origin of Counting and Writing.” Denise Schmandt-Besserat. Accessed March 8, 2015.

Wikipedia contributors, “Sexagesimal,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed March 8, 2015).

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Collapse of the Minoans: Who or What is to Blame?


(“GreeceCrete”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

    In the past, many historians and archaeologists believed that the eruption of Thera, now modern day Santorini located in the Aegean Sea, was the direct and immediate cause of the downfall of the Minoan civilization. Newer research shows that this is not the case. Historians now generally point to c. 1450 or 1400 BCE as the probable dates for the destruction of the Minoans and the invasion of Crete by the Mycenaeans. However, the eruption of Thera seems to have occurred many decades or possibly even two centuries before the collapse of the Minoan civilization and the beginnings of the Mycenaean occupation.

How much of an impact did the eruption of Thera have in ending Minoan civilization then? This is the question that has plagued historians, archaeologist, and scientists for decades. Major Minoan cities, such as Akrotiri located on Santorini, were inevitably destroyed with the eruption, yet it is clear that trade and productivity continued for the Minoan people well after the fact. No bodies or human remains have been found under the ash of Akrotiri, which appears to have been abandoned before the volcanic eruption (although it is still possible the bodies are there and just have yet to be discovered). One theory suggests that years after the destruction of Akrotiri, which was a major trade-hub, the cost of transporting goods slowly increased over time as the Minoans had to spend more to maintain the same amount of trade with less shipping routes. Eventually these costs led to a complete collapse of Minoan society giving the warlike Mycenaeans an opportunity to invade Crete, possibly from the Greek mainland.

In the end the impact of Thera eruption was what caused the Minoan’s downfall, but that impact may not have been seriously felt until years later, unlike what historians had previously thought. With the burden of losing their gateway city, Akrotiri, and number of necessary ships, the now much weakened Minoans could no longer hold on as a civilization, making them easy targets for violent outside forces (the Mycenaeans) to enter and take control almost two-hundred years after the devastation of Thera.


(“Ship procession fresco, part 1, Akrotiri, Greece” by Unknown – from Le Musée absolu, Phaidon, 10-2012. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)


“GreeceCrete.” Wikimedia Commons. Web. 06 Mar. 2015.

Höflmayer, Felix. “The Date Of The Minoan Santorini Eruption: Quantifying The “Offset.” Radiocarbon 54.3/4 (2012): 435-448. Academic Search Premier. Web. 5 Mar. 2015.

Knappett, Carl, Ray Rivers, and Tim Evans. “The Theran Eruption And Minoan Palatial Collapse: New Interpretations Gained From Modelling The Maritime Network.” Antiquity 85.329 (2011): 1008-1023. Academic Search Premier. Web. 2 Mar. 2015.

Mathisen, Ralph W. Ancient Mediterranean Civilizations: From Prehistory to 640 CE. New York: Oxford UP, 2012. Print.

“Mycenae and Minoan Crete.” Mycenae and Minoan Crete. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Mar. 2015.

Ship Procession Fresco, Part 1, Akrotiri, Greece. Web. Le Musée Absolu.

Wilford, John Noble. Minoan Culture Survived Ancient Volcano, Evidence Shows. The New York Times, 27 Nov. 1989. Web. 05 Mar. 2015.

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Blog Posts to check out

The posts listed below all made good grades.  None of them were perfect – you’ll notice that in some the reference list was missing bits and pieces.  In others, images were not cited correctly.

There are a few factual errors scattered around. Many are longer than what I’m asking you to do.  That being said, the posts earned As or A-s






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Hi I’m here!

I picked the name Caesarissa because I enjoy learning Roman history and this is the name that Roman empresses were given.

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Why I choose the username Tutankhamun-not-tut-duh

The reason why I chose this username is because I used to be really into Egyptology when I was a kid. As a result of this I read anything I could get my hands on about ancient Egypt. When I heard people call King Tutankhamun King Tut it really bugged me because I always read things that used his full name.

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Why I chose a username about Pompeii

I chose my username because I think that Pompeii is absolutely fascinating. It’s cool to see a place that where time has literally stopped. Food is on the table, paintings on walls. It shows what life was like because these things have not been moved or touched since and they are “seared” in history forever.

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Assignment 1: Blog Sign-up, Dehiscens

I got my username from the Celtic god of Knowledge. It made me laugh that it was a salmon fish, and I am a swimmer. Therefore considered it to be fitting.

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The Shortest Fire Giant

The name I chose comes from a family nickname Helgy, but with a twist. Muspelheim is the Norse realm of fire, one of the nine worlds. The people of this realm are usually referred to as the Eldjötnar or Fire Giants. I thought it was funny because I am a bit on the short side.

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