A ceramic jar with Canaanite language inscriptions believed to be from 10th Century B.C. or the time of King David and King Solomon, and discovered near Jerusalem's Temple Mount, has researchers puzzled in their efforts to discover its meaning.
"The piece that was discovered is the end of the inscription and one letter from its beginning. The writing is characteristic of the 10th and 11th centuries B.C.E. It resembles what is known as proto-Canaanite script, that is, writing that existed in the land of Israel prior to the strengthening of Israelite rule and Hebrew writing," Professor Shmuel Ahituv from Ben-Gurion University said, according to Israel Hayom. The discovery has been documented in the Israel Exploration Journal, written by Ahituv and Hebrew University's David Ben-Shlomo.
According to the Bible, the Canaanites were people who lived in present-day Israel.
The Canaanite markings on the jar translate to the letters M, Q, P, H, N, possibly L, and N, and are the earliest alphabetical written text ever found in Jerusalem. Eilat Mazar of Hebrew University said, however, that that combination of letters does not correspond to any known word in west-Semitic languages, and researchers have so far been unable to decipher its meaning. Some speculate that the word might be name of the owner or the contents of the jar, as reported by NBC News.
"The inscription is written from left to right, and only some of the letters are legible, while others are broken," Ahituv noted. "We can assume that the inscription indicates the jug owner's name, or the address where the jug came from or the address where it was being sent. The inscription may also indicate the contents of the jug. In addition, it may have been written by one of the non-Israelite residents of the city, who lived there during the reigns of David and Solomon."
Mazar noted that the finding correlates to stories in the Bible suggesting that there were non-Jewish members in Jerusalem that had been working for the government. The jar with the inscription was found along with pieces from six other large jars, but Ahituv suggested that the full text is missing.
The 3,000-year-old piece is around 250 years older than the Siloam inscription, the earliest Hebrew inscription found in Jerusalem dating back to King Hezekiah in 8th century B.C.