The Decipherment of Linear C: ICS 219

· Linear C Decipherments

ICS 219, British Museum

ICS 219.1

ICS 219 detail

Scalpel inscription

Line drawing after R.H. Lang in Schmidt, 1876

ICS 219.Masson

Line drawing after O. Masson, 1961

A surgeon’s cautery

7.125”  (18 cm)
19 characters, sinistroverse
Relative date:  6th cent. BCE

.1  a-mu-se-ka-te-te-ke-ta-i-ti-o-i-ta-i-ko-lo-ki-a-I

Proposed syntax:
.1  a-mu-se , ka-te-te , ke-ta-i , ti-o , i-ta-i , ko-lo , ki-a-i

1. a-mu-se |  ἄμυξι(ς) (amucis) | scarification
2. i-ta-i | ἱ(σ)τᾷ (istai) | he lies [in repose]
3. ka-te-te | καθετή(ρ) (kateter) | that which is let down [e.g. an instrument such as a cautery]
4. ke-ta-i | κεῖται | to lie wounded
5. ki-a-i | κεῖαι (keiai) | to cauterize
5. ki-a-i | κῆαι (kiai) | to cauterize
6. ko-lo | κόλο(ς) (kolos) | amputated
6. ko-lo | κῶλο(ν) (kolon) | a limb
7. ti-o | τεο | anyone, someone

.1  ἄμυξι καθετή κεῖται τεο ἱτᾷ κόλο κεῖαι

  • a scarification instrument [a cautery] to cauterize the amputated limb of he who lies wounded

Annotation: Note that ICS 219 shows a diagonal mark just left of the upper-right arm of the seventh sign (from left).  Whereas Masson [1961:219, Fig. 64] includes this mark to render /ke/, Lang [Schmidt 1876:pl. VII] omits this mark to render /i/; it is probable that Lang construed this as a stray mark, perhaps because it did not quite meet the upper end of the right arm.

Consequently, Lang’s line drawing may be read as


and Masson’s line drawing may be read as


Some readers may alternately construe the seventeenth sign, /ki/, as /la/;  however, in Masson’s Idalion syllabary [1961:Fig. 2], /ki/ resembles /la/ as it appears in the common syllabary [1961:Fig. 1], with the addition of a horizontal stroke above the main sign.   It is possible that the similarities between /ki/ and /la/ result from different names for the same object.

ICS 219, which Lang purchased from a Dhali farmer, is popularly attested as a broken spoon after Masson [1961:245]: “Cuiller à libations en argent” (silver spoon with libation). However, context suggests a broken cautery, which, perhaps, resembles a spoon.  A cautery is an instrument, often comprising metal, that ancient surgeons heated and applied to wounds to promote scarification, a practice which was used to stop bleeding and to close amputations [“Cauterization”].

Ancient surgical instruments


  1. British Museum. Collection Online: #1872,0816.991872,0816.99. Ret. on 09 Apr 2015 <British>.
  2. Cauterization. Ret. on 10 Apr. 2015.
  3. Masson, Olivier.  1961.  Inscriptions Chypriotes Syllabiques. Paris: E. de Boccard.
  4. Schmidt, M. 1876. Sammlung kyprischer Inschriften in epichorischer Schrift. Jena: Hermann Dufft.

Special thanks to Dr. Anna Cannavò for providing clarification regarding the disparities among the images and the transcriptions.  Dr. Cannavò oversees writing systems from Cyprus on Mnamon: Ancient Writing Systems in the Mediterranean, a website of the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa in collaboration with the French School of Athens. 

Updated on April 14, 2015

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