7270-year-old Tablet Found in Kastoria Calls into Question History of Writing

    Back in 1993, in a Neolithic lakeshore settlement that occupied an artificial island near the modern village of Dispilio on Lake Kastoria in the Kastoria Prefecture, professor George Hourmouziadis and his team unearthed the Dispilio Tablet (also known as the Dispilio Scripture or the Dispilio Disk), a wooden tablet bearing inscribed markings (charagmata) that has been carbon 14-dated to about 7300 BP (5260 BC).

    In February 2004, during the announcement of the Tablet’s discovery to the world, Hourmouziadis claimed that the text with the markings could not be easily publicized because it would ultimately change the current historical background concerning the origins of writing and articulate speech depicted with letters instead of ideograms within the borders of the ancient Greek world and by extension, the broader European one.

    According to the Professor of Prehistoric Archaeology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, the markings suggested that the current theory proposing that the ancient Greeks received their alphabet from the ancient civilizations of the Middle East (Babylonians, Sumerians and Phoenicians etc) fails to close the historic gap of some 4,000 years. This gap translates into the following facts:  while ancient eastern civilizations would use ideograms to express themselves, the ancient Greeks were using syllables in a similar manner like we use today.

    The currently accepted historic theory taught around the world suggests that the ancient Greeks learned to write around 800 BC from the Phoenicians. However, a question emerges among scholars: how is it possible for the Greek language to have 800,000 word entries, ranking first among all known languages in the world, while the second next has only 250,000 word entries? How is it possible for the Homeric Poems to have been produced at about 800 BC, which is just when the ancient Greeks learned to write? It would be impossible for the ancient Greeks to write these poetic works without having had a history of writing of at least 10,000 years back, according to a US linguistic research.

    The tablet is 2,000 years older than the written findings from the Sumerian era and 4,000 years older than the Cretan-Mycenean linear types of writing.

    According to Hourmouziadis’ statements back in 1994, the markings on the tablet did not resemble the human figures, the sun and moon or other figures ideograms usually depict. They actually showed signs of advanced apheresis, which indicates they are the result of cognitive processes.

    The tablet was partially damaged when it was exposed to the oxygen-rich environment outside of the mud and water in which it was immersed for a long period of time, and it is now under conservation. The full academic publication of the tablet apparently awaits the completion of the work of conservation.


    1. A fascinating discovery and I have no idea the course that research will take, so as an Egyptologist who has published on ancient Egyptian language and writing and who taught about ancient writing in the Near East/Mediterranean for many years I will follow it with interest.  But I have to point out some misconceptions in the article.  It is not correct to say that the Near Eastern civilizations were using ideograms while the Greeks were using syllables.  Sumerian, Akkadian, Eblaite, Hittite and Elamite are all logo-syllabic while Egyptian uses a mixed logo-phonetic system (including single-consonant or alphabetic signs) even in the “Dynasty 0” period, and the earliest known Egyptian writing (labels found at Abydos in Upper Egypt) seems to be rebus not ideograms.  Altogether the concept of “ideograms” has been greatly overdone in widespread ideas about ancient writing, a point which was clarified by Peter A. Boodberg in studies of Chinese writing many decades ago.  Other comments in the article seem to confuse the distinction between language and writing.  Oral epic is a feature of many cultures and language can and often does attain highly sophisticated forms without writing, such as Split-Ergative languages of Australian Aborigines or the system of four verbal aspects in Navaho.  On the other hand, it can equally be observed that there are ideograms on Linear B tablets in Mycenaean Greek (illustrated for instance by J. V. Luce, Homer and the Heroic Age [1975] pp. 87, 111-112).  I’m not sure what is being cited as the American linguistic research positing a background of 10,000 years of writing.  There was a study of the decay of irregular verbs which dealt with huge time depths of language, not specifically writing.  I found that discussion (if it is the same one) extremely strange because it did not even accurately correspond to recorded English usage of the past 300 years, and I suspected that it was reported in the April issue of Discover magazine a year or two ago as an April Fools joke.  Finally the point should be made that ALL writing involves cognitive processes, not only writing that is aniconic in its appearance.

      Best wishes,

      Edmund S. Meltzer PhD

    2. Who is the present expert in charge of this artifact? I have some ideas that I would like to share or discuss. 

    3. Dr. Meltzer
      It appears it is YOU who, in a cunning way, is trying to confuse people with your biased and unrelated comments. I am sure you too as many other “specialists” just implement your agenda and hide the obvious.
      What you are trying to say is that Ancient Hellines did not know how to write in the 800BC but in the Minoan settlements they lived in 2 storey buildings, when everyone else in the areas you mention was living in caves…
      A language of 800,000 entries does not suddenly appear.. or is that what you teach?

      Your Jewish propaganda is skewing reality and people should know the truth. Do us a favor and STAY AWAY from commenting on the Greek civilization. You have no clue…!

    4. ELLHN, Your comments seem less thought out and less intelligent. Please stay away from representing Greeks in this way. You belong in a Big Fat Greek Wedding version of modern Greeks.

      Edmundmeltzer unlike you, is open to discovering something new. He wrote: I have no idea the course that research will take, so as an Egyptologist who has published on ancient Egyptian language and writing and who taught about ancient writing in the Near East/Mediterranean for many years I will follow it with interest. 

    5. Dr Meltzer

      As a candidate for phd i will ask you to ignore the very “slow” Nationalists that have no academic education to comprehend subtle issues of linguistic evolution.

      Also wouldn’t you think that if the 5260 BC date of this kind of writing on greek lands is accurate, wouldn’t it have influenced the Cretan Civilisation which in 1850 BC still used the Symbols on Faistos Disk?