Levantine hieroglyphs in the Early Bronze Age

A 4cm fragment of a carved stone plaque (photo here) has been found in northern Israel at the site of Tel Bet Yerah, depicting an arm bearing a scepter and an early form of the Egyptian ankh symbol. It appears to date to the First Dynasty of Egypt (ca. 3000 BCE) – by some centuries, this is the earliest evidence of Egyptian writing outside of Egypt proper – although it isn’t a text that could be understood linguistically, and in fact is very small. The press release from Tel Aviv University isn’t clear how it was dated (whether contextually by association with other material, or paleographically/iconographically from the style of the inscription), but notes that it is “the first artifact of its type ever found in an archaeological context outside Egypt”, whatever ‘of its type’ means. Either way, this is strong evidence that Egyptian representational traditions were known in the Levant in the Early Bronze Age, 1500 years before the New Kingdom, when Egypt first exercised direct political authority in the region.

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5 Comments

    • Thanks very much, Dan. That tells me a couple of things: first, that assertions that it represents writing are a wee bit overblown (although no one is making too much of this) but that it is nonetheless really obviously Egyptian and really obviously an ankh, and the craftsmanship appears excellent and typical Early Dynastic Egypt – which suggests to me that it was made in Egypt by Egyptians and traded, rather than being an imitation of Egyptian work done in the Levant. Of course I’m eager to see it published in the near future..

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