Alice Kober: Unsung heroine who helped decode Linear B

Linear B is an ancient European Bronze Age script, dating back 3,500 years. When a British architect finally cracked it in the 1950s, he was hailed as a genius – but he may never have succeeded had it not been for a woman on the other side of the Atlantic. For years, Linear B was seen as the Mount Everest of linguistic riddles.

First discovered on clay tablets at the palace of Knossos in Crete in 1900, it was an unknown script, writing an unknown language. “It really was the linguistic equivalent of the locked room mystery in a detective novel,” says Margalit Fox, author of a new book on Linear B, The Riddle of the Labyrinth.

How do you ever find your way into a seemingly closed system like that? A solution took more than half a century to arrive. In 1952, a young British architect, Michael Ventris, did discover the meaning of Linear B. Frescos at the palace of Knossos in Crete where the Linear B script was found.

The palace at Knossos was excavated by British archaeologist Arthur Evans (above) in 1900 – it’s bigger than Buckingham Palace
He discovered thousands of clay tablets inscribed with an unknown script – he called it Linear B
Evans also found tablets showing an older script, which he termed Linear A

Ventris was the very model of a solitary, tortured genius – so much so that the deciphering of Linear B has often been portrayed as his accomplishment alone. But some experts now argue that Ventris would never have been able to crack the code, had it not been for an American classicist, Alice Kober.

The importance of her contribution has only come to light now that her archives – held at the University of Texas at Austin – have been catalogued.

“Alice Kober is the great unsung heroine of the Linear B decipherment,” says Fox. “She built the methodological bridge that Ventris triumphantly crossed. “As is so often the case in women’s history, behind this great achievement lay these hours and hours of unseen labour by this unheralded woman,” she says.

Read the whole interesting story here  Alice Kober: Unsung heroine who helped decode Linear B.

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