Imagine this for a minute: You're an archaeologist on an expedition in the countryside in Crete when you come across a tablet that looks like the image below. What is the first impression you get? It is obviously writing. The unmistakable signs of communication are there, but it is not in any alphabet you recognize. What exactly is it trying to tell you?
Answers to questions like these are endlessly fascinating because they trigger our infinite capacity for curiosity. You want to know because you want to know. The drive to solve this particular mystery forms the backbone of Margalit Fox's The Riddle of the Labyrinth
. The book is a fascinating insight into the race for decipherment of...
Beyond the Book
In The Riddle of the Labyrinth
, Margalit Fox describes the challenge of decoding Linear B: "An unknown script used to write an unknown language is a locked-room mystery: Somehow, the decipherer must finesse his way into a tightly closed system that offers few external clues. If he is very lucky, he will have the help of a bilingual inscription like the Rosetta Stone, which furnished the key to deciphering the hieroglyphs of ancient Egypt. Without such an inscription, his task is all but impossible."
In 1799, in the small village of el-Rashid in the Egyptian delta, soldiers from Napoleon's...