Archaeologists Uncover 3,350-Year-Old Document Near Jerusalem’s City Wall
A tiny clay fragment dating from the 14th century B.C., which was discovered outside Jerusalem’s Old City walls, contains the oldest written document found in the city, researchers say.
The 3,350-year-old clay fragment was uncovered during sifting of fill excavated from beneath a 10th century B.C. tower, dating from the period of King Solomon in an area near the southern wall of the Old City, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem said today in an e-mailed statement. Details of the find appear in the current Israel Exploration Journal.
Wayne Horowitz, scholar of Assyriology at the Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology, with the excavated clay document. Source: Hebrew University of Jerusalem via Bloomberg
A clay fragment found by Hebrew University archaeologists in excavations outside Jerusalem’s Old City walls. Source: Hebrew University of Jerusalem via Bloomberg
“The find, believed to be part of a tablet from a royal archive, further testifies to the importance of Jerusalem as a major city in the Late Bronze Age, long before its conquest by King David,” the statement said.
The fragment, which is 2 centimeters (less than 1 inch) by 2.8 centimeters in size and 1 centimeter thick, contains cuneiform, or wedge-shaped, symbols in ancient Akkadian. The fragment was likely part of a “royal missive,” according to Wayne Horowitz, a scholar of Assyriology at the Hebrew UniversityInstitute of Archaeology.
Tablets with diplomatic messages were routinely exchanged between kings in the ancient Near East, and it is likely that the fragment was part of such a message, Horowitz said in the statement. The symbols on the fragment include the words “you” “you were,” “later,” “to do” and “them,” according to the statement.
City of David
The oldest known written record previously found in Jerusalem was a tablet found in the Shiloah water tunnel in the City of David area from the 8th century B.C. reign of King Hezekiah. That tablet, celebrating the completion of the tunnel, is in a museum in Istanbul. The latest find predates the Hezekiah tablet by about 600 years.
Excavations in the area were conducted by Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology. Funding for the project was provided by Daniel Mintz and Meredith Berkman of New York.
The fragment found in Jerusalem is believed to be contemporary with some 380 tablets discovered in the 19th century at Amarna in Egypt in the archives of Pharaoh Amenhotep IV, or Akhenaten, who lived in the 14th century B.C. The archives include tablets sent to him by the kings who were subservient to him in Canaan and Syria. Among these are six that are addressed from Abdi-Heba, the Canaanite ruler of Jerusalem.
The table fragment in Jerusalem is most likely part of a message from the king of Jerusalem, possibly Abdi-Heba, back to Egypt, Mazar said.