Earliest Known Alphabet Chart Deciphered

Limestone ostracon with Egyptian hieratic script dating to the 15th C. BCE, initially discovered in Luxor, Egypt. 3.54 in. high, 3.34 in. wide, 0.9 in. thick. Photo: Nigel Strudwick/Cambridge Theban Mission.

Limestone ostracon with Egyptian hieratic script dating to the 15th C. BCE, initially discovered in Luxor, Egypt. 3.54 in. high, 3.34 in. wide, 0.9 in. thick. Photo: Nigel Strudwick/Cambridge Theban Mission.

This is a fascinating discovery!

The latest issue of Archaeology magazine highlights the deciphering of the oldest known alphabet table. Egyptologist Ben Haring (University of Leiden) discovered a 15th C. BCE abecedary or abjad (a written alphabet table used by scribes to learn and practice letters similar to the alphabet charts above elementary school chalk boards) that predates the previous earliest known abecedaries by two centuries. The undeciphered ostracon was initially found in a tomb at Luxor by Nigel Strudwick and his team from the Cambridge Theban Mission.

The initial press release from Leiden can be read here.

To read more about the origins of the alphabet, see pgs. 18-21 in my book, THE CITIES THAT BUILT THE BIBLE. Note especially note #5 for Chap. 1 on pgs. 269-70. I am also posting my chart from the top of page 20 here, so you can see the development of the alphabet.

The chart above demonstrates how the Phoenician alphabet provided the foundational shapes of the letters that would become the Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin, and ultimately English alphabets. From pg. 20 of "The Cities that Built the Bible" by Robert R. Cargill (HarperOne). © 2016 Robert R. Cargill

The chart above demonstrates how the Phoenician alphabet provided the foundational shapes of the letters that would become the Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin, and ultimately English alphabets. From pg. 20 of “The Cities that Built the Bible” by Robert R. Cargill (HarperOne). © 2016 Robert R. Cargill

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cna u raed tihs? a brief thought on ancient orthography

Can You Read This Sentence?I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae and in conxtet. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? Yaeh, and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

(i geuss i cuold say the smae thnig abuot catipalziatoin, but we alerady konw tihs. the acnient grekes uesd all lwoer csae or all upepr csae ltetres, and neevr btohreed to mix tehm. lkiewsie, hberew and arbaic olny use a snigle csae, and tehy udenrsotod ecah ohter pereftcly. but i degrsis…)

The frist pragaarph* avobe is ipmortnat bceuase whtheer tehy siad so or not, ancinet scriebs aslo kenw taht wrods wtih exrta ‘plnee‘ vewols wree the smae as ohter wrods wihtuot tehm. Jsut beaucse a wrod cnotanis ‘plnee‘ vwoles in one plcae in a sneetnce and lakcs tehm in antheor deons’t ncessareliy maen taht the txet was the rselut of two difefrnet ahtours. It jsut maent taht orhtogrpahy and wittren vweols wree not as menaignufl in eraly srcibal sstyems, and it was olny witihn eltie srciabl cmomutniies taht othrgorphay was uesd to dstingiusih bteewen ‘prporely edcuaetd’ inviddiauls and ‘lseser’ educated idinviudals (and eevn tehn olny in wrtietn cnotxets, not vrebal oens). Of crouse, as letiracy bcaeme icnraesinlgy coommn thrugohuot a regoin, spllenig bcaeme an incraeisnlgy pravelnet idnicotar of an idnivdiaul’s itellingnece.

Add tihs to the fcat taht vwoles are amolst unencsseray for wrttein letirautre (voclaiaztoin, yes, but not for wrettin cmomnuciatoin), and we udernsatnd why presnolaiezd lecisne plteas rguelraly dorp volews frsit to fit big wrdos itno 6- and 7-ltteer sapces. The smae phenomenon is apparent in Tiwettr, wehre we are lemiitd to 140 chraactres. Hree aslo, lkie in acninet epagripihc isncpritoins and letirtaure wtriten on exnpesvie pypaurs, sacpe is vlaualbe, and so satdnard othrograhpy is abondaend in fvaor of an eocnmoy of csnonoants. If we rleazie taht a ferthur eocnmoy of chraecatrs can be ahceievd by eilimiantnig dpithogns, dirgahps, and silnet ltteres, we can udrenstnad the ircnaesignly chraactreisitc lnagague taht dsitignushies, imho, kewl twttr ppl frm all othrz, that alloz thm 2 b all lol @ us b/c we insist on spllng out gr8 wurds instd of jst makin em smallr. w00t!

Wihle tihs deos not awlyas hlod ture for prpoer nmaes lkie Steh Sandres, Chirs Rlolsotn, or Wlilaim Schneidiwend (the lttaer of whcih few can sepll crroetcly eevn tdoay ;-), the uncovenntioanl natrue of nmaes exlpians why so mnay proepr naems wree splleed in vraaint wyas (epsecillay with rgerad to veowls). The tutrh is, we can cumomuictae rtaher wlel witohut preopr spllenig, wichh porbbaly expialns why mispsillnegs and abbiveratoins wree mroe acectbaple in aceinnt witring. (and taht catipalziatoin is stlil unenecssray!)

-rboret craglil


*Note: The first paragraph made its way around the internet beginning in 2003. The urban legend portion of this paragraph is that ‘research at Cambridge’ produced the study. This has not conclusively been determined. Read more at Snopes.com here.

writing the dead sea scrolls to air july 27, 2010 at 9:00 pm on national geographic

Writing the Dead Sea Scrolls on Nat GeoWriting the Dead Sea Scrolls” will air on Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 9:00 PM on the National Geographic Channel. The NatGeo website has complete details of the show, including a synopsis of the program, photos, quick facts, and video clips from the beginning and the end of the show.

I mentioned my trip to Israel and the West Bank earlier this year to make this program in a previous post.

National Geographic Israel previously featured the UCLA Qumran Visualization Project in 2008. The QVP resulted in the digital model of Qumran, a 3D virtual reconstruction of Qumran that was a central component of my doctoral research at UCLA. The UCLA Experiential Technologies Center website has a description of the Qumran project, complete with a video introducing the project, which can be viewed in the virtual reality visualization portal on UCLA’s campus.

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