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 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.
According to Horowitz, the high quality of the tablet piece indicates that it was most likely part of a message sent from a then-king of Jerusalem to the pharaoh in Egypt.
Horowitz said that the fragment, which is made of Jerusalem clay, indicated that Jerusalem was one of the central cities of the area at the time.
“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 lead to 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.
In February, Hebrew University excavations led by Mazar in the Ophel area found ancient stone fortifications dating back some 3,000 years to the time of King Solomon and the First Temple.
Archeologists said that the 70-meterlong and 6-m.-high wall indicated that there had been a strong central government in Jerusalem at the time, which had the manpower and resources to construct large-scale fortifications.