Hebrew University archaeologists have found the oldest known alphabetical inscription from Jerusalem, dating back to the period of Kings David or Solomon, 250 years before the previously oldest known written text.
The inscription was found near the Temple Mount but is not in Hebrew and was from the pre-Temple period, in the language of one of the peoples who occupied Israel at the time, according to the archaeologists.
Reading from left to right, the text contains a combination of letters approximately 2.5 cm tall, which translate to m, q, p, h, n, (possibly) l, and n. Since this combination of letters has no meaning in known west-Semitic languages, the inscription’s meaning is unknown.
The archaeologists suspect the inscription specifies 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.
Hebrew University of Jerusalem archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar unearthed the artifact, in the Canaanite language and engraved on a large pithos, a neckless ceramic jar found with six others at the Ophel excavation site. He said it is the only one of its kind discovered in Jerusalem and is an important addition to the city’s history.
The previously oldest known script, in Hebrew, was from the period of King Hezekiah at the end of the 8th century BCE.
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.
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.
According to Prof. Ahituv, 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.