Daily Archives: July 12, 2010

Fragment of Cuneiform tablet found in Jerusalem

The Jerusalem Post reports here the discovery of a fragment of a cuneiform tablet in Jerusalem.

Cuneiform fragment. Photo: Jer.Post.

Cuneiform fragment. Photo: Jerusalem Post.

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 Jerusalem.

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.

The 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 cuneiform fragment was discovered during wet sifting of the excavation. Prof. Eilat Mazar, director of the dig, said information was not released until last 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.”

Duane Smith reports that the fragment is published in the current Israel Exploration Journal by Mazar, Horowitz, Oshima, and Goren. The fragment has been dubbed “Jerusalem 1.” The suggestion is made that this fragment may be related to the Amarna tablets sent by rulers of ancient Canaan to the Pharaoh of Egypt in the 14th century B.C.. Smith discusses the fragment in relation to the scribes of the Late Bronze Age Jerusalem here.

Several museums have examples of the Amarna tablets on display. Here is a photo of the letter from Yapahu, king of Gezer. In it he “begs pharaoh for help in defending his city against raids by the Hapiru.”

Amarna Tablet from Gezer. British Museum. Photo: F. Jenkins.

Amarna Tablet from Gezer. British Museum. Photo: F. Jenkins.

We discussed Mazar’s Ophel Excavation February 23 here. Since that time I have visited Jerusalem and am delighted to share a photo of the area under consideration. Click on the photo for a larger image.

Mazar's Ophel Excavation Area. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Mazar's Ophel Excavation Area. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

HT: Joseph I. Lauer; See the Bible Places Blog for more analysis.