Pottery Shard Could Be a ‘Missing Link’ in Alphabet Development | Smart News

The letters used in the ancient alphabet bear a clear resemblance to Egyptian hieroglyphics.
Austrian Archaeological Institute of the Austrian Academy of Sciences

3,500-year-old inscription on pottery shard found in Israel offers researchers new clues to the alphabet development which formed the basis of many modern writing systems.

The find appears to be the oldest writing ever recorded in Israel, reports Rossella Tercatin for the Jerusalem Post. Archaeologists found the fragment during excavations at Tel Lachish in south-central Israel in 2018. Using radiocarbon dating of barley grains found next to the shard, they were able to date it fairly accurately to around 1450 BC. Canaanite company. The team published their findings in the journal antiquity.

Inscribed on a tiny fragment of a clay pot, the writing consists of six letters on two lines. As co-author of the study Haggai Misgav, epigraphist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, recounts Haaretz‘s Ariel David, the first three letters can spell the word ebb, meaning “slave” or “servant”.

The inscription was probably part of a person’s name: Per Haaretz, a naming convention popular at the time combined “servant” with the name of a local god to symbolize devotion. The second line on the fragment could read nophet, meaning “nectar” or “honey”.

Tel Lachish

The site of Tel Lachish housed a large Canaanite city.

Austrian Archaeological Institute of the Austrian Academy of Sciences

Because the text is short and incomplete, researchers have not definitively determined what the inscription says. It is also unclear whether the handwriting was meant to be read left to right or right to left.

In one declaration, researchers argue that the script represents a “missing link” connecting the alphabetic inscriptions found in Egypt and Sinai to later writings from Canaan. The writing uses an early version of the alphabet in which the letters resemble the Egyptian hieroglyphics they evolved from.

The discovery appears to reverse a previous hypothesis that the alphabet only came to Canaan when Egypt reigned The area.

“At the end of the Bronze Age, between 1550 and 1200 BC, the region was under the Egyptian Empire”, main author Felix Höflmayer, archaeologist at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, tells Jerusalem Post. “The Egyptians imposed their administrative system and their own writing and many experts believed that the early alphabet could have been introduced in this context, but we can now see that it was already in use at least in the 15th century BC, when there was no such large-scale Egyptian domination.

Thanks to its abundant water sources and fertile land, Tel Lachish was home to a great city for much of ancient history, notes the Jewish virtual library. The Canaanites established a fortified center of power there around 2000 BC. AD A fire destroyed the city towards the end of the 12th century BC. armed forces in 701 BC. AD Archaeologists have studied the site since the 1930s.

View of the excavation site

Researchers found the pottery shard in 2018.

Austrian Archaeological Institute of the Austrian Academy of Sciences

Talk to Owen Jarus about Live Science, Benjamin sass, an archaeologist at Tel Aviv University who was not involved in the new study, points out that dating the barley found with the pottery fragment may not have given a precise date for the inscription itself, as the grain could have been harvested after the ship was created.

“The data published so far show [the team’s timeline] a possibility, but by no means a certainty, ”he maintains.

Canaanite writing eventually split into the alphabet that the ancient Israelites used to write the Hebrew Bible and a version used by Phoenicians. As Lydia Wilson wrote for Smithsonian magazine earlier this year, the evolution of alphabetic writing progressed after the late bronze age collapse, circa 1200 BC With the collapse of the major Mediterranean empires, rulers of small city-states began to use local languages. Variations of the alphabet used in Canaan spread from Turkey to Spain and eventually gave rise to the Latin alphabet used in written English today.

“All alphabets have evolved somewhat from hieroglyphics, Phoenician, Hebrew, Greek, Latin and so on,” Höflmayer says in Jerusalem post. “… Now we know that the alphabet was not brought to the Levant by Egyptian rule. While we can’t really explain how this happened yet, we can say that it was much earlier and under different social circumstances.

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