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Researchers Discover Tenth Century BCE Inscription Near Temple Mount

July 11, 2013
Image Caption: This jar fragment from the time of Kings David and Solomon is the earliest alphabetical written text ever discovered in Jerusalem. Unearthed near Jerusalem's Temple Mount by Hebrew University archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar, it is dated to the tenth century BCE and bears an inscription in the Canaanite language. The text contains a combination of letters approximately 2.5 cm tall, which from left to right translate to m, q, p, h, n, (possibly) l, and n. The archaeologists suspect the inscription could specify the jar's contents or the name of its owner. Credit: Photo courtesy of Dr. Eilat Mazar; photographed by Ouria Tadmor.

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A team of researchers, led by Hebrew University archaeologist Dr. Eliat Mazar, has unearthed the earliest alphabetical written text ever found in the city, near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Found with six others at the Ophel excavation site, the inscription is engraved on a large pithos, or neckless ceramic jar. The inscription is in Canaanite and, according to Dr. Mazar, it is the only one of its kind discovered in Jerusalem. She says it is an important addition to the city’s history.

The pithos dates to the tenth century BCE, predating the earliest known Hebrew inscription from Jerusalem by 250 years. The Hebrew inscription is from the period of King Hezekiah at the end of the eighth century BCE.

Dr. Mazar is a third generation archaeologist working at Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology. She directs archaeological excavations on the summit of the City of David and at the southern wall of the Temple Mount.

To study the artifact, Dr. Mazar was joined by Prof. Shmuel Ahituv of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, who studied the inscription, and Dr. David Ben-Shlomo of the Hebrew University, who studied the composition of the ceramic materials. The results of their examination appear in the Israel Exploration Journal.

Before the jar was fired, the inscription was engraved near the edge. So far, only a fragment of the jar has been found, along with fragments of six large jars of the same time. These fragments were used to stabilize the earth under the second floor of the building they were discovered in. The building dates to the Early Iron IIA period, approximately 10th century BCE. The research team analyzed the jars composition, finding they are all of a similar make and probably originate in the central hill country near Jerusalem.

The inscription is incomplete, according to Prof. Ahituv. The whole inscription probably wound around the jar’s shoulder; what remains, however, is just the end of the inscription and one letter from the beginning. The script is a proto-Canaanite / early Canaanite dialect of the eleventh-to-tenth century BCE, which pre-dates the Israelite rule and the prevalence of Hebrew script.

The text reads from left to right, containing a combination of letters approximately one inch tall, which translate to m, q, p, h, n, (possibly) l, and n. The inscription’s meaning is unknown, as this combination of letters has no meaning in known west-Semitic languages.

The team suspects the inscription signifies the jar’s contents or the name of its owner. The non-Hebrew language indicates it was likely 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.


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