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Archaeologists unearth oldest written document found in Jerusalem's Old City

07-13-2010 08:38 BJT

JERUSALEM, July 12 (Xinhua) -- A tiny clay fragment dating back to the 14th century B.C., which was found recently in excavations outside Jerusalem's Old City walls, constitutes the oldest written document ever found in the city, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem said on Monday in a statement.

"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 read.

The clay fragment was uncovered during sifting of fill excavated from beneath a 10th century B.C. tower dating back to the period of King Solomon in the Ophel area, located between the southern wall of the Old City and the City of David to its south.

It is 2 cm by 2.8 cm in size and 1 cm thick and contains script markings of Ancient Mesopotamia and cuneiform symbols in Akkadian, the lingua franca of that era, mainly used for diplomatic correspondence between kingdoms.

Tablets bearing diplomatic messages were routinely exchanged between kings in the ancient Near East, and it is most likely that the fragment was part of such a "royal missive," Wayne Horowitz, a scholar of Assyriology at the Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology, said in the issued statement.

Horowitz and Dr. Takayoshi Oshima, a researcher at the University of Leipzig, deciphered the script etched on the 3,400- year-old fragment, which comprised the central left border of a rectangular tablet. Both interpreted the symbols to include the words "you," "you were," "later," "to do" and "them." Full details of the find were published on Monday in the Israel Exploration Journal.

The archaeological team's members, headed by Dr. Eilat Mazar of Hebrew University, were elated to stumble upon the tiny fragment.

The oldest known written document 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 today exhibited in a museum in Istanbul. The latest find predates the Hezekiah tablet by approximately 600 years.

The fragment found in Jerusalem is believed to be contemporary with some 380 tablets discovered in the 19th century at Amarna in Egypt, part of the archives of Pharaoh Amenhotep IV, or Akhenaten, who lived in the 14th century B.C.

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