Israeli archaeologists have discovered what they believe is the earliest alphabetical written text ever found in Jerusalem.
Dr Eilat Mazar from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and her colleagues have unearthed six large pithoi (pithos – a container used for shipping and bulk storage) at the Ophel excavation site near the Temple Mount. One of the artifacts dating from the 10th century BC bears an inscription in the Canaanite language.
“The artifact predates by two hundred and fifty years the earliest known Hebrew inscription from Jerusalem, which is from the period of King Hezekiah at the end of the eighth century BC,” said Dr Mazar, who with colleagues describes the find in a paper accepted for publication in the Israel Exploration Journal.
“The inscription was engraved near the edge of the jar before it was fired, and only a fragment of it has been found, along with fragments of six large jars of the same type.”
“The fragments were used to stabilize the earth fill under the second floor of the building they were discovered in, which dates to the Early Iron IIA period – 10th century BC. An analysis of the jars’ clay composition indicates that they are all of a similar make, and probably originate in the central hill country near Jerusalem.”
Reading from left to right, the text contains a combination of letters – m, q, p, h, n, (possibly) l, and n. All letters are about 2.5 cm tall. “Since this combination of letters has no meaning in known west-Semitic languages, the inscription’s meaning is unknown.”
“The inscription is not complete and probably wound around the jar’s shoulder, while the remaining portion is just the end of the inscription and one letter from the beginning. The inscription is engraved in a proto-Canaanite / early Canaanite script of the eleventh-to-tenth centuries BC, which pre-dates the Israelite rule and the prevalence of Hebrew script,” explained co-author Prof Shmuel Ahituv from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
The archaeologists believe the inscription mentions the jar’s contents or the name of its owner.
“Because the inscription is not in Hebrew, it is likely to have been written by one of the non-Israeli residents of Jerusalem, perhaps Jebusites, who were part of the city population in the time of Kings David and Solomon.”
Bibliographic information: Eilat Mazar, Shmuel Ahituv, David Ben-Shlomo. 2013. An Inscribed Pithos From the Ophel. Israel Exploration Journal 63/1