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20 April 2011
Earliest European writing discovered in Greece

What is thought to be the earliest European example of clay tablet writing has been found in Greece. The tablet fragment, measuring 2.5cm by 4cm, is believed to date from 1,500 BCE and was excavated from an olive grove in the village of Iklaina in southwest Greece, but the area would have been Mycenaean at the time the tablet was written.
     The tablets were usually just dried in the sun rather than being baked and so remained very brittle. It is thought that this fragment had been preserved because it had been discarded and burnt in a fire, thus hardening. The symbols used are from a writing system known as 'Linear B' which was a very ancient form of Greek, being replaced by the ancient Greek alphabet some 400 - 600 years later. The Mycenaeans used Linear B to record items of economic interest. The tablet bears out this theory as the front face refers to manufacturing and the reverse possibly lists properties.
     The tablet was found by Michael Cosmopoulos, professor of Greek studies and Anthropology at the University of Missouri-St Louis, who had been excavating at the site for 11 years. The excitement surrounding the find is based on the fact that, if the initial dating is confirmed, it pushes back European writing by over a hundred years. The other interesting fact is that, at the time of the writing, the settlement where it was found was a satellite of the city of Pylos, the seat of King Nestor, who features in the 'Iliad'. Michael Cosmopoulos said, "This is a rare case where archaeology meets ancient texts and Greek myths".

Edited from National Geographic News (30 March 2011), PhysOrg.com (4 April 2011) STLToday.com (6 April 2011)

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