Alice E. Kober, 43; Lost to History No More
Margalit Fox, The New York Times, 11-05-2013
The woman was Alice Kober, an overworked, underpaid classics professor at Brooklyn College. In the mid-20th century, though hardly anyone knew it, Dr. Kober, working quietly and methodically at her dining table in Flatbush, helped solve one of the most tantalizing mysteries of the modern age. The mystery centered on a long-lost script from Aegean antiquity known as Linear B. Inscribed on clay tablets around 1450 B.C., Linear B was unearthed in 1900 on Crete, amid the ruins of a lavish Bronze Age palace. The script, which teemed with pictograms in the shape of arrows, chariots and horses’ heads, resembled no writing ever seen. No one knew what language it recorded, much less what it said.
An unknown language in an unknown script is the linguistic equivalent of a locked-room mystery, and despite the efforts of investigators around the globe, Linear B endured for more than 50 years as one of the world’s great unsolved puzzles. Then, in 1952, against all odds, the script was deciphered — seemingly in a single stroke. The decipherer was an amateur, Michael Ventris, a brilliant, melancholic English architect who had been obsessed with Linear B since he was a boy. He discovered that the script was used to write a very early dialect of Greek; set down in wet clay centuries before the advent of the Greek alphabet, it recorded the day-to-day workings of the first Greek civilization.
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