Dating proto-alphabetic inscriptions
- Aren Meir says:
"no MB finds in Timnah.... support for an LB dating of [the Sinai]
inscriptions.... as opposed to common opinion dating them to the MB/
Yes indeed, I have a few pointers in my collection that make me doubt
that the proto-alphabet has a place in MBA/MK, including the Wadi el-
Hol graffito (in a context that extends over hundreds and thousands of
years, how do you pick which year or century to put it in?).
The West Semitic syllabary was certainly invented in the MBA (2300 or
earlier), and the consonantary (proto-alphabet) came later.
I have drawings of a set of inscriptions on 3 lamps and 2 figurines
(the 3 lamps published in Abr-Nahrain, all have the word niru) from
the Nile Delta: most syllabic, one of the figurines is consonantal,
all presumably Hyksos.
The Timna mining activity seems to be in the Ramesside era; I have
noted several pieces of inscriptional evidence (cartouches) relating
to Ramesses II, and others of his dynasty, and this new WS inscription
has two cartouches like a pharaoh's calling card.
However, there were some Middle Kingdom mineral expeditions, and
given that some of the Sinai mines have inscriptions saying the same
thing or similar (an indication of separate expeditions at different
times) I have always left the possibility open that some or one of
the texts could be MK; but I always feel I am in the time of such
rulers as Hatshepsut and Thutmose (but not Akhenaten or Ramesses?).
So, I don't see that evidence from LBA Timnah gives "strong support"
to dating LBA inscriptions from Sinai, which seem to be earlier, and
maybe stretching back into MBA.
My argument for putting the consonantal inscriptions in the New
Kingdom is that some of the letters use forms that are based on
hieroglyphs that first appear in the NK (but as these are Sh 'sun' and
Q qaw, string on stick, which have only been recognized by myself, as
also Th thad 'breast', which does not have an Egyptian original; so I
am up against the authority of Albright, which still rules in this
Gordon Hamilton (2006) assigns dates of "probably" 1850 - 1700 to the
Hol example and many of the Sinai texts, and 1700-1500 to some of them
(including the bilingual sphinx statuette). But some of his 1850 -1700
examples have the Sh sign(sun with uraeus) including the vertical Hol
At the moment, that is quandary I am in : on the dating side of the
argument I am still clinging to Albright (who impressed me mightily in
my younger years) but on the recognition of the letters I have left
him behind; but others have done the opposite in the two areas (date
Again I say (and I have the backing of Gordon Hamilton in this, and
presumably also his mentor Frank Cross): please remember not to apply
"Proto-Sinaitic" to any inscription that was not found in the Sinai
Peninsula. The overall term is "Proto-Canaanite", covering
pictographic proto-alphabetic (logo-)consonantal inscriptions from
various parts of the ANE.
The next stage would be Paleo-Canaanite (when the letters are too
stylized for readers to recognize the original pictures), preceding
the "national' scripts" (Phoenician, Moabite ....).
[A note of clarification about Australia's national broadcaster
because of something I saw on Aren's website: ABC in my time as an
Australian resident (1936-1970) stood for Australian Broadcasting
Commission, but I have just learned from Wiki that it is now the AB
CORPORATION (since 1982), though it was founded as the AB Company.]
On 28/08/2009, at 4:44 PM, arenmaeir wrote:
> Of interest to the discovery of the so-called "Proto-Sinaitic"
> inscription in Timnah is that there are, to the best of my
> knowledge, no MB finds in Timnah, and if so, perhaps provides strong
> support for an LB dating of these inscriptions (as originally
> argued, e.g., by Albright, and most recently by Sass) as opposed to
> common opinion dating them to the MB/MK.
> Aren Maeir
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