Thursday, April 15, 2021

A Canaanite "missing link?"

PALEOGRAPHY: Canaanite Inscription Found in Israel Is ‘Missing Link’ in Alphabet’s History. The tiny inscribed pottery shard unearthed at Lachish dates to 3,500 years ago and is the oldest text from the Southern Levant to use alphabetic writing, rather than pictographic, archaeologists say (Ariel David, Haaretz). Cross-file under Northwest Semitic Epigraphy.

The story has received a lot of attention. The Daily Mail has coverage with some background on the earliest alphabetic Canaanite inscriptions, discovered in a turquoise mine in the Sinai: Has the 'missing link' in the history of the ALPHABET been discovered? Archaeologists find evidence of an early example in Israel from 1450 BC that could explain how the alphabet arrived in the Levant from Egypt (Jonathan Chadwick).

Both articles note the underlying open-access article in the journal Antiquity:

Early alphabetic writing in the ancient Near East: the ‘missing link’ from Tel Lachish

Published online by Cambridge University Press: 15 April 2021

Felix Höflmayer, Haggai Misgav, Lyndelle Webster and Katharina Streit


The origin of alphabetic script lies in second-millennium BC Bronze Age Levantine societies. A chronological gap, however, divides the earliest evidence from the Sinai and Egypt—dated to the nineteenth century BC—and from the thirteenth-century BC corpus in Palestine. Here, the authors report a newly discovered Late Bronze Age alphabetic inscription from Tel Lachish, Israel. Dating to the fifteenth century BC, this inscription is currently the oldest securely dated alphabetic inscription from the Southern Levant, and may therefore be regarded as the ‘missing link’. The proliferation of early alphabetic writing in the Southern Levant should be considered a product of Levantine-Egyptian interaction during the mid second millennium BC, rather than of later Egyptian domination.

I noted the discovery of the other early inscribed ostracon at Lachish here in 2015. For posts on the earliest Hebrew and Hebrew-ish inscriptions, see the links collected here. Other relevant posts are here, here, here, and here.

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