‘Missing Link’

Canaanite Inscription Found in Israel Is ‘Missing Link’ in Alphabet’s History

Canaanite Inscription Found in Israel Is ‘Missing Link’ in Alphabet’s History

‘Missing Link’

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Archaeologists excavating in the ancient Canaanite settlement of Lachish discovered a 3,500-year-old pottery shard engraved with what they assume is the oldest alphabetic text ever discovered in Israel. There are earlier Canaanite texts that were written in hieroglyphs or cuneiform characters.

 


The discovery of alphabetic writing fills a void in the early history of a script that was apparently created in ancient Egypt by Canaanite migrants.

The writing system spread from the Levant to the rest of the world, ultimately becoming the most widely used writing system in the world.

 


The tiny shard in Lachish is the shard of a clay pot that was shipped from Cyprus and written on with ink in Canaan. The fragment, which measures just 4 by 3.5 centimeters and is divided into two lines, contains just a few characters. It was found by an Austrian expedition digging at Lachish in 2018, and it was published in the journal Antiquity on Thursday.

 


Though scholars are still deciphering the short text (more on that below), they are adamant that it dates from about 1450 B.C.E., at the start of the Late Bronze Age. According to Felix Hoflmayer, a historian, this provides a "missing connection" in the development of the alphabet, linking earlier alphabetic inscriptions discovered in Egypt and Sinai to later texts uncovered in Canaan.

 


This proto-Canaanite script would evolve into the writing systems used by the inhabitants of the Levant during the Iron Age. It was used by the ancient Israelites to write the Hebrew Bible, and traders spread the Phoenician variant of the script across the Mediterranean, to Greece, and then Rome, finally becoming the Latin alphabet that you are reading right now.

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