Jerusalem’s Earliest Alphabetic Text

Mazar’s excavations reveal another piece of the Jerusalem puzzle

Dating to the tenth century B.C., this alphabetical text is the earliest ever found in Jerusalem. Read from left to right, the letters on it—m, q, p, h, n, possibly l, and n—likely identify the contents of the vessel or the name of its owner. Photo courtesy Eilat Mazar; photograph by Ouria Tadmor.

Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has uncovered an inscribed jar fragment from her excavations near the Temple Mount. Dating to the tenth century B.C., the inscription is the earliest alphabetic text ever found in Jerusalem. The inscribed fragment is part of the shoulder of a pithos, a large neckless ceramic jar. Written in the proto-Canaanite script and reading from left to right, the text consists of a series of letters—m, q, p, h, n, possibly l, and n.

Not only is the inscription incomplete, but its meaning is also a mystery since this combination of letters does not signify anything in known West Semitic languages. Nevertheless, the excavators believe that it likely identified the contents of the vessel or its owner’s name and that it might have been written by a non-Israelite living in Jerusalem during the reigns of David and Solomon. The inscription—along with six other fragments of similar jars—was used as fill to support the second floor of a tenth-century B.C. building (the early Iron IIA period).

Eilat Mazar, David Ben-Shlomo and Shmuel Ahituv are publishing the inscription in the latest edition of the Israel Exploration Journal (IEJ 63.1, 2013).

To learn about the significance of this inscription, read “Precursor to Paleo-Hebrew Script Discovered in Jerusalem” in Bible History Daily.

Jerusalem lies at the heart of Biblical archaeology. In the free eBook Jerusalem Archaeology: Exposing the Biblical City, learn about the latest finds in the Biblical world’s most vibrant city.

BAS Library Members: Learn more about Eilat Mazar’s important excavations at the base of the Temple Mount and in the City of David.

Hershel Shanks, “Jerusalem Roundup,” Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 2011.

Eilat Mazar, “The Wall That Nehemiah Built,” Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 2009.

Eilat Mazar, “Did I Find King David’s Palace?” Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 2006.

Not a library member yet? Sign up today.

Posted in Inscriptions, Jerusalem, News.

Tagged with , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Add Your Comments

7 Responses

Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.

  1. Troy says

    that area was a cross will find things there..but if you want king Solomon’s look somewhere else.. this is why you can’t find it there..listen for once…go now and see the Temple and you will see the 15th emperior of rome on the real west wall..see the porch of solomon..also his house and outdoor throne room…solid scientific evidence…this is all I can do for you is point to all my took me years to challenge it..but you can’t…no theory in a map..period

  2. A. says

    The inscription is indeed very odd and difficult to discern from the photograph. Perhaps if they release a higher resolution or representative version it would be easier to resolve. The letters don’t appear to be Proto-Sinaic, Phoenician, Early Hebrew, etc. Hopefully, we’ll learn a bit more as the inscription is studied further.

  3. Valerie says

    Try welsh!

  4. JAllan says

    Good joke, Valerie, but it certainly would not be MODERN Welsh, although an ancient Celtic dialect might be a reasonable guess if not for the age of the ostracon. A branch of the Gauls, after getting tribute from Rome, and before Rome re-armed to go after them, settled in Anatolia, the central part of modern Turkey (near the modern capital, Ankara) and became the kingdom of Galatia, but that was about 7 centuries later than this find, and other than single individuals or nuclear families, which would leave very little archeological evidence, there is no historical record of Celts moving into Palestine in Greco-Roman times, not to mention centuries before their encounter with the Romans. Do you have any suggestions as to what those letters may spell in Welsh or any other Celtic dialect?

    It is unfortunate that the video was removed from YouTube before this post. There is probably information in the video that explains the find more completely than the text of this article.

  5. JAllan says

    On second thought, maybe the letters are the password to an ancient Twitter account. Or a future login password reminder left by time traveling pranksters. Maybe ALL apparently “misplaced” archeological finds, such as Templars in Arizona, Viking Masons in Minnesota, and Mayans in north Georgia, are the result of pranks or lost personal items by future time travelers!

    ROFLMAO of course!

  6. Ariel says

    Two starting points: 1. linguistic 2. Historical/legendary. I picked up both. From Abram’s route list. And came up with a convincing theory where Ugarit or Damascus…or North Canaan up to Turkey occupy a very special place. Yep, Abram-Ibiranu-Eber, forefather of Hebrews was moving from North down South and not vice versa. As for your Celtic joke don’t be so sure: Galil (Galilee) is a strange toponymic and their Wheel Symbol is very much Celtic….How can we be so sure about the events 4000 years BCE if we don’t actually know what happened yesterday?

Continuing the Discussion

Some HTML is OK

or, reply to this post via trackback.

Send this to friend

Hello! You friend thought you might be interested in reading this post from
Jerusalem’s Earliest Alphabetic Text!
Here is the link:
Enter Your Log In Credentials

Change Password