An alphabetic inscription written on a jar fragment found at the site of Tel Lachish in Israel and dating back around 3,450 years may provide a “missing link” in the history of the alphabet, a team of researchers said.
“Dating to the fifteenth century B.C., this inscription is currently the oldest securely dated alphabetic inscription from the Southern Levant,” wrote the researchers led by Felix Höflmayer, an archaeologist at the Austrian Archaeological Institute, in a paper published April 14 in the journal Antiquity.
The earliest evidence of writing that uses a system of letters to represent sounds — an alphabet — was found in Egypt and dates to the 12th dynasty (around 1981 B.C. to 1802 B.C.), with more examples being found from around 1300 B.C. in the Levant (an area that includes modern-day Israel), Höflmayer’s team wrote in their paper. In later times, the Greeks adopted the use of an alphabet system, followed by the Romans (with their Latin writing system) who also used one. The use of an alphabet system was gradually adopted by more and more cultures.
The recently discovered inscription, dating to around 1450 B.C., is being called a “missing link,” because it fills a gap between early examples of alphabetic writing from Egypt and later examples found in the Levant, wrote Höflmayer’s team. The inscription also provides clues about how the alphabet may have been transmitted to the Levant, with the team suggesting that the Hyksos, a group from the Levant that ruled northern Egypt until around 1550 B.C., may have helped to bring the alphabet from Egypt to the Levant. Their reasoning is based on the fact that, for a time, the Hyksos controlled territory in both the Levant and northern Egypt. It is also based on the fact that hieroglyphic symbols were used to symbolize letters on this jar.
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