Updated on April 29, 2012
[This article presumes knowledge about both the Minoan civilization and the Linear A transcriptions.]
A hallmark of Minoan architecture is ashlar masonry, which refers to stone that has been cut and finished (dressed). Ashlar masonry is common throughout prehistoric Crete and Greece. The width of large ashlar, as used on Crete, is generally larger than the 14″ (35 cm) that is used in European masonry. Comparatively, the width of small ashlar is less than 12″ (30.48 cm) [“Ashlar”]. Costis Davaras states that the basis of Minoan measurement was the Minoan “foot”, which was 30.36 (.996 ft) [Davaras 19]. Compare the Japanese shaku (尺), which “is almost indistinguishable from the Minoan foot” [Knight and Butler] and may exhibit symbolic similarity.
The basis of the archaic, Japanese shaku is 30.30 cm (.994 ft) [“Shaku”]. However, the shaku, as the kane-jaku (曲尺), is still used in Japanese architecture. The kane-jaku is decimally based and may be divided into 10 sun, 100 bun, and 1,000 rin [“Measure”]. When multiplied, 10 kane-jaku equal 1 jo [“Shaku (unit)”]. Note that kane-jaku has been defined as metal jaku to distinguish it from the kujira-jaku that is used in tailoring [“Shaku (unit)”].
However, there are two definitions for kane. The first uses the kanji for gold (kin) and means metal. The second is an archaic term and uses the kanji for carpenter’s square. Alternate definitions in this latter sense are perpendicularity or straightness, on the one hand, and model or standard, on the other hand. Consequently, the kane-jaku may also be called the standard, or common, jaku, while metal jaku appears to be a reanalysis of the original term, since carpenter’s squares typically comprise metal.
The sinistroverse and the dextroverse LinA symbols are identical to the dextroverse Japanese symbol, which may be read as either seki or shaku. Neither of these Japanese readings provides a phonetic value for *301 as it appears in LinA texts. Nevertheless, it should be noted that seki and shaku mean stone. It should also be noted that an alternate word for stone is ishi and that the Japanese word for ashlar is kiriishi, from kiri “to cut” + ishi “stone”. Compare ki.ri.si (kirishi) (TY 4). Consequently, the kane-jaku may be defined as a square for cutting stone.
The kane-jaku may be distinguished from the korai-jaku [“Shaku (unit)”], or ancient jaku. The korai-jaku, while no longer used, measured 35.50 cm, which is slightly less than 14” (35.56 cm). It is no small coincidence that the kane-jaku and the korai-jaku respectively correspond to the measurements of small and large ashlar.
In a comparison between the Minoan foot and the Japanese kane-jaku, the difference, after 3,500 years, is .06 cm (.002 ft)! Nevertheless, this .06 cm difference proves significant when multiplied 1,000 times. Alexander Thom is credited with the discovery of the neolithic standard of measurement, which he called the “megalithic yard” and which measures 82.96656 cm (2.722 ft). Consequently, the megalithic yard, when multiplied by 366 [Knight and Butler], equals 1,000.18 Minoan feet, 1,002.17 kane-jaku, and 996.25 English feet, with fit accuracies of .9998 (Minoan), .9978 (Japanese), and 1.0038 (English). The order of these tolerances suggests that the English foot may have been an “inaccurate” derivation of the Minoan foot.
The shaku is said to have originated in China during the Shang Dynasty in the 13th century BCE [“Japanese”]. However, the shaku’s Chinese origin is problematic for at least three reasons.
Firstly, since the Shang Dynasty, the Mandarin chi, as the shaku is known, has steadily grown from 16.75 cm to the present length of 33.33 cm. Over the centuries, the length has changed approximately 11 times and has included at least two regressions (see tables) [“Chinese Units”]. The period during which the chi and the kane-jaku were approximately identical briefly occurred during the Ming Dynasty. Consequently, it is not feasible that the kane-jaku, which is nearly identical to the ancient Minoan foot, is inspired by the Mandarin chi, which was variously applied to astronomy, customs and trade, engineering, and surveying [“Shaku (unit)”].
Secondly, modern China recognizes three disparate modern units:
- the Mandarin (Chinese) chi (尺), which measures 33.33 cm,
- the Hong Kong (Cantonese) chek (呎), which measures 37.15 cm, and
- the Taiwanese chi, which measures 30.30 cm [“Shaku”].
The megalithic yard, when multiplied by 366, equals 911.06 Chinese chi, 817.38 Cantonese chek, and 1002.17 Taiwanese chi. The fit accuracies for these values are 1.0976 (Chinese), 1.2234 (Cantonese), and .9978 (Taiwanese). Moreover, the Cantonese chek suggests a borrowed term, since, linguistically, it is closer to shaku than to chi.
Thirdly, while only the Taiwanese chi is identical to the Japanese shaku, China did not recognize Taiwan until the 17th century CE [“Taiwan”]. More than likely, the Minoan foot, via the Japanese shaku, influenced the Taiwanese chi, rather than vice versa.
Given the correspondences of the Japanese shaku to Minoan architecture, to the megalithic yard, and to LinA, it is highly unlikely that Japan borrowed from China, as is commonly believed. It is highly likely, however, that China adapted the Japanese system to a multitude of very different applications and that historians gave to China undeserved credit.
Consistent with research findings and with the information provided by Roland A. Boucher (see comments), I am assigning the phonetic value, RI, to AB *188. In ancient times, the ri was considered equal to the length of a village [“Li”]. Consequently, the modern Japanese kanji has a Chinese on reading of RI and a Japanese kun reading of sato. The latter reading is found in furosato, which means ancient village (see Naru Kanashi: The Paradise Across the Ocean).
Added on 24 Apr 2012.
- Leonhardt, Gretchen E. The Minoan “Seki”. Naru Kanashi. 25 Dec 2011. Ret. on [date]. <geleonhardt.wordpress.com>.
- Ashlar. Golden Map. goldenmap.com. Ret. on 25 Sep 2011.
- Chinese Units of Measurement. Wikipedia.org. Ret. on 28 Dec 2011.
- Davaras, Costis. A Guide to Cretan Antiquities. Park Ridge, NJ: Noyes Press, 1976.
- Japanese Units of Measurement. Global Oneness. ExperienceFestival.com. Ret. on 25 Dec 2011.
- Knight, Christopher, and Butler, Alan. Megalithic pint, anyone? Red Ice Creations. 2008. Ret. on 25 Dec 2011. <redicecreations.com>.
- Linear A and Linear B. Aegean 600: Unicode Fonts for Ancient Scripts. (PDF) Edited by George Douros. 2011. Downloaded on 03 Aug 2011.
- Li (unit). Wikipedia.org. Ret. on 17 Mar 2012.
- Measure: Shaku / Sun / Bu / Rin. chibabudogu.com. Ret. on 25 Dec 2011.
- Shaku. Fact-Index.com. Ret. on 11 Nov 2011.
- Shaku (unit). Wikipedia.org. Ret. on 11 Nov 2011.
- Taiwan. Wikipedia.org. Ret. on 25 Dec 2011.