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It was in July 1952 that Mr Michael Ventris announced his solution of the fifty-year-old puzzle of the Minoan Linear B script. The announcement was at first received with proper scepticism, for many ‘solutions’ had already been published, none of which had proved convincing upon closer inspection. Most of them had been based upon quite inadequate collections of material, for it was not until the spring of 1952 that all the inscriptions in that script then known were published. Mr Ventris' theory, the first to be built upon broad enough foundations, has now withstood more than a year's testing, and its essential correctness has been vindicated by its successful application to new and unpublished material. Mr Ventris has generously made his work available to interested scholars, and an international group is now collaborating with him in pressing forward the decipherment of the tablets along the lines he has laid down. Although much remains to be done, the basis of the solution is no longer in doubt, and we can now offer a preliminary summary of the results of this remarkable discovery.
The Victorians were great collectors. They fortified themselves by collecting other men's land and its products ; glorified themselves with collections of children, relations and pompous civic buildings ; and justified it all with a series of facts collected from the Family Bible, and from accounts of primitive men and Evolution. Their attitude to everything was captative ; and only in moments of extreme distraction were they oblative. Those who had recently ‘ arrived ’ loaded glass-fronted cabinets with sets of china—never used, for fear that they would be broken. They could fill their drawing-rooms with hideous statuettes, and cover their mantelpieces with stupid bric-àbrac and an occasional palaeolith—because there was at least one parlourmaid to dust them. Even more intelligent men, less anxious to impress their families and friends, were afflicted with the same disease : their motives were acquisitive rather than artistic or truly scientific; and if there was any philosophy other than that of mere gain, underlying their systematic collection of curios, it was the philosophy of Evolution, and with it the complacent belief in progress from Palaeolithic Man with his pathetic flint scrapers, to the Victorian Superman, with his eighty-bladed Sportsman's knife.
Since 1947 there has been a considerable advance in East African Archaeology. The preliminary archaeological survey of the East African coastline and islands has been almost completed. The area covered has stretched from the coast of British Somaliland to the frontiers of Portuguese East Africa ; two stretches of the Tanganyika coast and the Mafia group of islands off the mouth of the Rufiji still remain unsurveyed, but it is hoped that these may be covered by the close of 1954. It has been essentially a surface survey, a fairly complete photographic record has been made of the principal sites, and plans have been made of some of the chief monuments. During the same period Mr Kirkman has carried out excavations at the very representative Gedi site, and his detailed report is about to be published by the Oxford University Press. At seven other sites there have been preliminary excavations. It is at last possible to suggest a few tentative conclusions.
During the 19th century students of Scottish archaeology were fascinated by souterrains or earth-houses. In 1877 Joseph Anderson declared that ‘no class of structural remains has been more fully illustrated’, and his statement is supported by an abundance of papers and reports published in the first twelve volumes (1851-78) of the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. As the century drew to its close the earth-house gradually lost its hold on archaeological imagination. There were occasional papers and a few notable discoveries, but on the Whole the first half of the 20th century was a period of stagnation in this not unrewarding field. French scholars peered with organized enthusiasm into their souterrains-refuges, but in Scotland it was the close season for earth-houses. A little of the old interest has lately revived, and this may be an opportune moment to consider some of the more obvious problems that surround these curious structures.