The Phaistos Disk

Back to topics

The Phaistos Disk

This Minoan clay disc dating from the beginning of the New Palace Period (c.1600 B.C.) was found on July 5, 1908 at the Palace of Phaistos on Crete, which stands on a hill rising up from the Messara Plain. The disc is now in the Museum of Iraklion.

The disc is round with a diameter varying between 15.8 and 16.5 centimetres (6.2 to 6.5 inches). The clay it is made from is high quality and its purity and fine-grained consistence resembles Minoan eggshell ware.

Both sides of the disc carry hieroglyphic signs arranged in a spiral from the outer edge to the centre. There are 45 symbols on the disk, arranged in groups separated by incised vertical lines. The symbols were impressed with seal-stones while the clay was still wet. This makes it the earliest known example of printing text by impression with the aid of letter stamps.

The script is in an unknown language which has not so far been decoded; It is therefore unclear whether the symbols are phonetics represent sounds or pictures representing ideas; they may be a mixture of the two as with Egyptian Hieroglyphics. However, there is no doubt that it is in the lost language of the Minoans. This is known because the same script was found inscribed on an axe from Arkalochori, discovered in the 1930s.

All attempts to decipher the disk have failed and the disk remains an enigma.