The Riddle in the Labyrinth by Margalit Fox. ★★★★
The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code is an appealing non-fiction account of the deciphering of the script Linear B and in particular the woman who was vital to its solution.
In 1900 archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans uncovered a catch of fired clay tablets in Crete, the earliest writing ever discovered in Europe. These tablets were inscribed with two unknown writing systems – Linear A and Linear B. There were not enough samples of Linear A for it to be decoded (it still hasn’t to this day), but there were over 2,000 tablets containing Linear B. If these tablets could be translated, they would provide a wealth of information about a complex civilization that predated Homer. The catch? They were written in an unknown writing system encoding an unknown language, and there was nothing like the Rosetta Stone to help archaeologists out. Linear B was the great puzzle of the 20th century.
Linear B was eventually cracked by an amateur, an architect named Michael Ventris, but Ventris was building upon the intensive work of Alice Kobar, a classics professor who’s contributions to the solving of Linear B has gone almost unnoticed.
Fox divides The Riddle of the Labyrinth into three sections, telling the stories of Evans, Kobar and Ventris. She clearly explains the science of the linguistics and cryptology involved, making a complex subject generally accessible, and crafts a fascinating book.
I highly recommend The Riddle of the Labyrinth to anyone with a passing interest in history, linguistics, or archaeology.