Harman Patil

Cretan hieroglyphs

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Languages  'Minoan' (unknown)
Sister systems  Linear A
Status  Extinct
Cretan hieroglyphs
Type  Undeciphered (presumed ideographic, possibly with a syllabic component)
Time period  MM I to MM III 2100–1700 BC
Parent systems  Proto-writing Cretan hieroglyphs

Cretan hieroglyphs are undeciphered hieroglyphs found on artefacts of early Bronze Age Crete, during the Minoan era. It predates Linear A by about a century, but the two writing systems continued to be used in parallel for most of their history.



In 1989, Jean-Pierre Olivier described the state of the Cretan hieroglyphs corpus as follows,

In short, our Corpus is composed of two distinct parts:

  1. Seals and sealings (ca. 150 documents)
  2. Other documents (mainly archival inscriptions) inscribed on clay (ca. 120 documents).

The seals and sealings represent about 307 distinct sign-groups, consisting all together of ± 832 signs. The other inscriptions represent about 274 distinct sign-groups, consisting all together of ± 723 signs.

More documents have been published since then, such as, for example, from the Petras deposit.

The known corpus has been edited in 1996 as CHIC (Olivier/Godard 1996), mainly excavated at four locations:

  • "Quartier Mu" at Malia (MM II)
  • the hieroglyphic deposit at Malia palace (MM III)
  • the hieroglyphic deposit at Knossos (MM II or III)
  • the Petras deposit (MM IIB): a hieroglyphic archive excavated starting in 1995. Definitive edition was published in 2010.
  • The corpus consists of:

  • clay documents with incised inscriptions (CHIC H: 1-122)
  • sealstone impressions (CHIC I: 123-179)
  • sealstones (CHIC S: 180-314)
  • the Malia altar stone
  • the Phaistos Disk
  • the Arkalochori Axe
  • seal fragment HM 992, showing a single symbol, identical to Phaistos Disk glyph 21.
  • The relation of the last three items with the script of the main corpus is uncertain.

    Some Cretan Hieroglyphic (as well as Linear A) inscriptions were also found on the island of Samothrace in the northeastern Aegean.

    It has been suggested that there was an evolution of the hieroglyphs into the linear scripts. Also, some relations to Anatolian hieroglyphs have been suggested.

    The overlaps between the Cretan script and other scripts, such as the hieroglyphic scripts of Cyprus and the Hittite lands of Anatolia, may suggest ... that they all evolved from a common ancestor, a now-lost script perhaps originating in Syria.


    Symbol inventories have been compiled by Evans (1909), Meijer (1982), Olivier/Godart (1996). The known corpus has been edited in 1996 as CHIC (Olivier/Godard 1996), listing a total of 314 items (documents).

    The glyph inventory as presented by CHIC includes 96 syllabograms (representing sounds), ten of which double as logograms (representing words or morphemes).

    There are also 23 logograms representing four levels of numerals (units, tens, hundreds, thousands), numerical fractions, and two types of punctuation.

    Many symbols have apparent Linear A counterparts, so that it is tempting to insert Linear B sound values.


    The sequence and the geographical spread of Cretan hieroglyphs, Linear A, and Linear B, the three overlapping, but distinct writing systems on Bronze Age Crete and the Greek mainland can be summarized as follows:


    Fonts Aegean and Cretan support Cretan hieroglyphs.


    Cretan hieroglyphs Wikipedia

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