Oldest written document ever found in J'lem
By BEN HARTMAN
Archeologists unearth 14th century BCE fragment.
Hebrew University excavations recently unearthed a clay fragment dating back to
the 14th century BCE, said to be the oldest written document ever found in
The tiny fragment is only 2 cm. by 2.8 cm. in surface area and
1 cm. thick and appears to have once been part of a larger tablet. Researchers
say the ancient fragment testifies to Jerusalem’s importance as a major city
late in the Bronze Age, long before it was conquered by King David.
minuscule fragment contains Akkadian words written in ancient cuneiform symbols.
Researchers say that while the symbols appear to be insignificant, containing
simply the words “you,” “you were,” “them,” “to do,” and “later,” the high
quality of the writing indicates that it was written by a highly skilled scribe.
Such a revelation would mean that the piece was likely written for tablets that
were part of a royal household.
The find was uncovered in a fill taken
from the Ophel area, which lies between the Old City’s southern wall and the
City of David. The Ophel digs are being carried out by Dr. Eilat Mazar of the
Hebrew University Institute of Archeology, through funding from US donors Daniel
Mintz and Meredith Berkman of New York.
According to Mazar, the fragment
was discovered over a month and a half ago during wet sifting of the Ophel
excavations, but was only released to the press this week because researchers
wanted to wait until analysis of the piece was complete so as to be absolutely
certain of the details of the find.
The most ancient piece of writing
found in Jerusalem before the Ophel fragment was a tablet unearthed in the
Shiloah water in the City of David, dating back to the eighth century BCE –
nearly 600 years “younger” than the Ophel find.
Hebrew University Prof.
Wayne Horowitz, a scholar of Assyriology, deciphered the script with the
assistance of his former graduate student Dr.
Takayoshi Oshima. Horowitz
said thatwhile the script was too broken to get context out of it, the quality of the
writing gave some indication of the creator’s pedigree.
“What we can see
is that the piece was written in very good script and the tablet was constructed
very well. This indicates that the person responsible for creating the tablet
was a first-class scribe.
In those days, you would expect to find a
first-class scribe only in a large, important place,” he said.
to Horowitz, the high quality of the tablet piece indicates that it was
likely part of a message sent from a then-king of Jerusalem to the
Horowitz said that the fragment, which is made of Jerusalem clay,
indicated that Jerusalem was one of the central cities of the area at
“This shows Jerusalem was not a provincial backwater, [but] one of
the main cities of the area,” he said.
Mazar called the fragment “one of
the most important finds we’ve ever had” and said she hoped it would
further big discoveries.
“A piece this small wouldn’t have been sitting
there all by itself; there have to be more pieces like it,” she said.
February, Hebrew University excavations led by Mazar in the Ophel area
ancient stone fortifications dating back some 3,000 years to the time of
Solomon and the First Temple.
Archeologists said that the 70-meterlong
and 6-m.-high wall indicated that there had been a strong central
Jerusalem at the time, which had the manpower and resources to construct