Pylos Linear B Tablets

Pylos, a small seaside town on the western coast of The Peloponnese in western Greece, is close to the Palace of Nestor. The Mycenaean palace was destroyed by fire in approximately 1200 BCE. This destruction permanently preserved a large number of clay tablets and sealings. The writing on the tablets is Linear B.

There are three primary types of administrative documents found at the palace: the page-shaped tablets, the leaf-shaped tablets, and the sealings. Sealings are the lowest level of recorded administration. The leaf-shaped tablets generally have one line of writing (one entry). The information on the leaf-shaped tablets is combined with information from others of similar content onto page-shaped tablets.

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Two rooms at the palace named the Archives Complex contained the majority of the tablets. This is where information of the material wealth of the kingdom was stored. Scribes, or more accurately literate high-level officials, have been labeled by their handwriting.

After taking a Directed Individual Study learning portable X-Ray Fluorescence Spectrometer (pXRF) operation, it was time to put that knowledge to use. I spent almost three weeks working in the Archaeological Museum in Athens analyzing the tablets and sealings. The chemical analyses generated by the pXRF will be compared in an effort to identify similar groups of tablets and sealings.

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There are a number of questions that these analyses may help us answer:

  • Did the sealings travel with material goods, or were they manufactured at the palace as materials arrived?
  • When inscribed sealings are related to tablets, do they use the same or different clays?
  • Does one scribe use more than one clay for sealings and tablets, or are the clays the same?
  • Do the tablet manufacturers use different clays, and can it be determined if these manufacturers are at the palace or located in a remote area?

These questions, and others, can help us understand the controls on material wealth headed to the palace, how the tablet-writers interacted with goods entering the palace, how information made its way to the official record, etc. It is expected that clay sourcing can answer many questions that are as of yet unanswerable.

The other members of the team working on the tablets and sealings were Dr. Kevin Pluta and Dr. Joann Gulizio of the University of Texas, and Dr. James Newhard of the College of Charleston. Each morning we were escorted into the basement work area. A museum security person stayed with us until the end of the workday when we were escorted out to the front door of the museum. A conservator unlocked a steel door into a storeroom, unlocked a cabinet, and brought us trays of tablets or sealings for us to work on. When we were through with each tray, our security person called for the conservator to replace that tray and bring us another. These are very precious artifacts, and we treated them as such.

4From left: Dr. Gulizio, Dr. Pluta, Dr. Newhard, Billy Wilemon

5No visit to Athens would be complete without a photo of the Parthenon!

In addition, I was able to visit The Peloponnese and see the ruins at Mycenae and Tiryns:

6 At the Lion Gate of Mycenae

7Tiryns

The Palace of Nestor at Pylos was closed, because a new cover was being built. However, I was able to visit the museum nearby. Mycenaean tholos tombs were accessible only by driving through an olive grove.

On my way to Athens, I was able to spend 10 days in Israel at the Kibbutz Ruhama working with Dr. Jimmy Hardin and his group. This project involved drone photography and surveys looking for Neolithic sites.

8No project is complete without Maroon Friday. L-R: Ryan King, Billy Wilemon, Dr. Jimmy Hardin, Dylan Karges, Lydia Buckner

Billy Wilemon

Archaeology Graduate Student

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