Archaeologists discover oldest written document ever found in Jerusalem

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Washington, July 13 (ANI): Researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have discovered a tiny clay fragment dating from the 14th century B.C.E. Found in excavations outside Jerusalem's Old City walls, the tablet contains the oldest written document ever found in the Israeli capital.

The find further testifies to the importance of Jerusalem as a major city in the Late Bronze Age, long before its conquest by King David, according to the research group.

The clay fragment was uncovered recently during sifting of fill excavated from beneath a 10th century B.C.E. tower dating from the period of King Solomon in the Ophel area, located between the southern wall of the Old City of Jerusalem and the City of David to its south.

Excavations in the Ophel have been conducted by Dr. Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology. The sifting work was led by Dr.Gabriel Barkay and Zachi Zweig at the Emek Zurim wet-sieving facility site.

The fragment that has been found is 2x2.8 centimetres in size and one centimetre thick. Dated to the 14th century B.C.E., it appears to have been part of a tablet and contains cuneiform symbols in ancient Akkadian (the lingua franca of that era).

The words the symbols form are not significant in themselves, but what is significant is that the script is of a very high level, testifying to the fact that it was written by a highly skilled scribe that in all likelihood prepared tablets for the royal household of the time, said Prof. Wayne Horowitz, a scholar of Assyriology at the Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology. Horowitz deciphered the script along with his former graduate student Dr. Takayoshi Oshima, now of the University of Leipzig, Germany.

Tablets with diplomatic messages were routinely exchanged between kings in the ancient Near East, Horowitz said, and there is a great likelihood, because of its fine script and the fact it was discovered adjacent to in the acropolis area of the ancient city, that the fragment was part of such a "royal missive." Horowitz has interpreted the symbols on the fragment to include the words "you," "you were," "later," "to do" and "them."

The most ancient known written record previously found in Jerusalem was the tablet found in the Shiloah water tunnel in the City of David area during the 8th century B.C.E. reign of King Hezekiah. That tablet, celebrating the completion of the tunnel, is in a museum in Istanbul. This latest find predates the Hezekiah tablet by about 600 years.

Examination of the material of the fragment by Prof. Yuval Goren of Tel Aviv University, shows that it is from the soil of the Jerusalem area and not similar to materials from other areas, further testifying to the likelihood that it was part of a tablet from a royal archive in Jerusalem containing copies of tablets sent by the king of Jerusalem to Pharaoh Akhenaten in Egypt.

Mazar said this new discovery, providing solid evidence of the importance of Jerusalem during the Late Bronze Age (the second half of the second century B.C.E.), acts as a counterpoint to some who have used the lack of substantial archaeological findings from that period until now to argue that Jerusalem was not a major centre during that period. It also lends weight to the importance that accrued to the city in later times, leading up to its conquest by King David in the 10th century B.C.E., she said.

Details of the discovery appear in the current issue of the Israel Exploration Journal. (ANI)

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