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American Woman Key to Cracking Ancient Code

Michael Ventris built off Alice Kober's notes to crack Linear B
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 7, 2013 12:15 PM CDT

(Newser) – The British genius known for decoding a then-unknown 3,500-year-old language may not have been all he was cracked up to be. According to newly catalogued archives, Michael Ventris, who decoded Linear B in 1952, owes much of his praise to an American woman. "Alice Kober is the great unsung heroine of the Linear B decipherment," Margalit Fox, author of a new book on Linear B, tells the BBC. "She built the methodological bridge that Ventris triumphantly crossed."

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Kober dedicated her life to unraveling the Bronze Age script, which was discovered on clay tablets in Crete in 1900; she recorded her detailed analysis on 180,000 tiny index cards. She eventually found a pattern, and deciphered about a third of the characters before she died suddenly in 1950. Two years later, Ventris finished what Kober had started, and while he did credit the woman he once met, the history books largely forgot about her. Says Fox, "As is so often the case in women's history, behind this great achievement lay these hours and hours of unseen labor by this unheralded woman." (Read more code stories.)

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