A Canaanite inscription said to be the earliest alphabetical text ever found in Jerusalem has been discovered at the Ophel, the City of David national park adjacent to the southern wall of the Temple Mount.
Carved near the lip of a clay pitcher, the inscription dates from the 10th century B.C.E. It is 250 years older than the Siloam inscription, the earliest known Hebrew inscription in Jerusalem, which has been dated to the days of King Hezekiah at the end of the 8th century B.C.E.
The excavations at the Ophel are being led by Dr. Eilat Mazar on behalf of the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, in conjunction with the Antiquities Authority, the Nature and Parks Authority and East Jerusalem Development Ltd.
The inscription, discovered in December 2012, is being publicized now after initial study by Mazar, Professor Shmuel Ahituv from Ben-Gurion University and Dr. David Ben-Shlomo from the Hebrew University.
Mazar said the writing was the earliest "alphabetical inscription to have been found in Jerusalem, and it reinforces the picture that emerges from the Bible that there were members of Jerusalem's non-Jewish population working in the government."
Ahituv said the inscription was incomplete.
"The piece that was discovered is the end of the inscription and one letter from its beginning. The writing is characteristic of the 10th and 11th centuries B.C.E. It resembles what is known as proto-Canaanite script, that is, writing that existed in the land of Israel prior to the strengthening of Israelite rule and Hebrew writing," Ahituv said.
"The inscription is written from left to right, and only some of the letters are legible, while others are broken. We can assume that the inscription indicates the jug owner's name, or the address where the jug came from or the address where it was being sent. The inscription may also indicate the contents of the jog. In addition, it may have been written by one of the non-Israelite residents of the city, who lived there during the reigns of David and Solomon."
This historic discovery came in the wake of a Palestinian-Jordanian resolution harshly criticizing Israeli excavation and construction in the Old City that was passed in late June during the World Heritage Committee's 37th session in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The resolution "deplored" Israel's failure to cooperate on a reactive monitoring mission to the Old City and its walls by the committee's International Center for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property and the International Council on Monuments and Sites. However, Israeli officials claimed that their failure to cooperate was based on the Palestinian delegation's gratuitous politicization of the Old City as a world heritage site.
Despite the Israel Antiquities Authority's persistent claims that excavations in the area have the potential to unearth important finds and do not encroach on Islamic holy sites, the resolution "deeply deplore[d] the persistence of Israeli archaeological excavations and works in the Old City of Jerusalem and on both sides of its walls ... and requests the Israeli authorities to prohibit all such excavations and works."