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Sinai Turquoise inscription (S375a) PART 5

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  • Brian Colless
    PART 5 : Pure Turquoise Note that Parts 1-4 are appended for reference. A reminder on what I am doing. This is one of the Sinai proto- alphabetic inscriptions
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 4, 2009
      PART 5 : Pure Turquoise

      Note that Parts 1-4 are appended for reference.

      A reminder on what I am doing. This is one of the Sinai proto-
      alphabetic inscriptions that was barely legible from the first
      photograph published, and my earlier attempt to read it (in 1990) was
      sheer guesswork. But now we have new improved photographs from West
      Semitic Research Inscriptifact (by Marilyn Lundberg and Bruce

      Sinai 375a: INSCRIPTIFACT (http://www.inscriptifact.com/)

      Also in Maarav 14.1 (2007) 33 (drawing) and 126-127 (pictures)

      And my own drawing is at <http://cryptcracker.blogspot.com>
      This sketch, and the older photograph accompanying it, will suffice
      for this section of our study relating to the signs on the right-hand
      side of the stone.

      In effect I now have a new inscription on which to test my system,
      applying the values proposed.

      For my table of signs and sounds, and an introduction to my work, go to:


      The left-side column says (see PART 4):
      This (Dh) is the jackal (') of the heap (`) of scrapings (SHh)

      The K in the centre is one of three hands with fingers in the text;
      another is NW of this one, and the other is SE of it.

      As stated in Part 3, the cluster of signs on the right side says ZKT
      'pure' (feminine).
      The Z is the double triangle (from which Z is derived), K is a hand,
      and T is a small cross.

      We might guess that this adjective would be modifying the word
      situated to its left, which also ends with T, and even -KT, and that
      this could be the word for 'turquoise' which has not yet been found in
      these inscriptions from the turquoise mines of Serabit el-Khadim.

      The Egyptian word for 'turquoise' is mfk't or mfkt, and it appears on
      the bilingual sphinx offered by Asa to Ba`alat, alias Hat-Hor the
      Turquoise Lady.


      Thus the Egyptian word for turquoise has been borrowed for the occasion.

      The M is a wavy line (not entirely distinct) starting above the Z of
      ZKT and moving towards the P, which is above the K (hand) and the T (X-
      shaped in this instance).

      The P needs special comment, because the followers of Albright are
      still promoting his idea that P is a' corner'. I have to take issue
      with Gordon Hamilton here, in his book on The Origins of the West
      Semitic Alphabet in Egyptian Scripts (2006) 188-196. He uses all the
      Sinai boomerangs for P, leaving none for the letter G, although he
      accepts the throwstick (gaml) as the source of G (Gimel). He knows
      that the Hebrew name Pi means 'mouth'. He rejects my examples of P as
      not mouths but pupil-less eyes; this false derivation, he declares,
      has been falsified by the discovery of two corner-shaped Ps in the
      Wadi el-Hol inscriptions. However, they are actually boomerangs, and
      the mouth P is there in a vertical stance: (|), showing both lips.

      Proposed readings:

      Dh This( is)
      ' the jackal (Hbr 'iy) (of)
      ` the heap (Hbr `iy, heap of stones) (of)
      SHh scrapings (Hbr seh.iy; root S-Hh-H "scrape", "sweep away")

      MPKT ZKT 'pure turquoise'

      Accordingly, this wonderful document (in its newly burnished state and
      on its clearer photographs) has provided these pieces of knowledge:

      -> Z (two triangles) is now attested in the Sinai corpus, together
      with Dh (two horizontal strokes), which is irregularly frequent
      because the word for 'this' appears so often (as is the case here)

      -> a word for 'turquoise' has at last turned up as MPKT, a borrowing
      of Egyptian mfkt.

      -> additional confirmation of the fish-sign as S not D

      -> a novel form of Hh with three sections (2 rooms and a courtyard,
      for h.asir 'mansion')

      However, this still leaves the sequence of letters at the top of the
      plaque, which I will endeavour to unravel next.

      Brian Colless
      Massey University NZ

      PART 1

      I propose to use a resurrected inscription from the turquoise mines in
      Sinai to show that it is possible to read these proto-alphabetic
      texts (wilfully, needlessly, unnecessarily dubbed "Proto-Sinaitic").

      This one has a context and a clue or two too to ease the process of

      This exercise is also a test of my own table of signs and sounds,
      worked out on the basis of the rest of the collection of inscriptions
      (and by comparing the pictographs with their later forms in the
      Phoenician and Arabian alphabets, and the cuneiform alphabet used at
      Ugarit and elsewhere in Syria-Palestine)

      Remember the difficulties we face:
      frequent illegibility;
      inconsistency (no fixed form for each sign)
      variability (no set direction for the line of writing)
      no separation between words or sentences;
      letters sometimes used as rebuses (Door [Dalt] as D or d-l-t);
      no vowels represented in proto-alphabetic writing.

      SINAI INSCRPTION 375a/383

      This is another interesting stone from the Sinai turquoise mines. It
      was found during excavations in Mine M, close to the obituary
      inscription of Asa (358), together with the rations plaque (375) and
      other inscribed objects (Starr and Butin 1936, 20-26).

      To study it with me you will need the photograph and drawing available


      You should also print yourself a copy of my table of the evolution of
      the alphabet:
      It is available as part of my article on that subject:

      [The sample of the table which I just printed for myself was faint
      red, so it needs to be taken to a photocopier and darkened. It looks
      much better, and bigger, on the screen.]

      Lundberg and Zuckerman have put eight clear photographs of the object
      on the internet: four coloured, four monochrome. To gain access to
      these and photographs of other ancient texts, we go to the wonderful
      database of the West Semitic Research project, and request Sinai 375a:
      INSCRIPTIFACT (http://www.inscriptifact.com/)
      But you have to go through a few hoops to get access to the site.

      Each photograph of the set helps to identify the details of particular
      characters in the text, such as the cross in the middle of the stone,
      which does not always appear with all its four pieces standing out
      clearly. With the aid of these pictures, I can see most of the letters
      on the old photograph, but the lower left corner was blank.

      An interesting feature of the stone is the animal depicted on the
      other side. Hamilton (2006, 375) describes it as a jackal, or the Seth
      animal (2007, 33). (I have pondered over the origin of that mythical
      beast myself; its snout reminds me of an aardvark, or an anteater; or
      its destructive nature suggests a connection with the locust.) I think
      the letters on the left side of the inscribed sign refer to this

      Many of these Sinai texts have the basic form of labels, with Dh
      "this" introducing the object. The sign Dh is found in that column,
      below what appears to be an upright hand (K), and above the horns of
      the ox. Taking this as the starting point, the sequence runs:

      Dh ( two parallel horizontal lines: = )
      ' ('alep, ox-head)
      ` (`ayin, eye)
      S (fish; Hamilton follows the erroneous line that the fish is D)
      Hh (H., a house with two rooms and a yard, representing h.asir 'court,
      mansion'; there is another instance at the top of the stone; the
      courtyard can be rounded, and the one in the corner seems to have a
      bent line at the top; the two rooms can be adjacent with the yard
      section covering both; here the rooms and yard are all in parallel, in
      both cases).

      Note that Hamilton wants to turn the 'western' end of the long line in
      the middle (I do not show it extended so far but it does apparently
      pass right between the ox-head and the eye) into a snake, hence N, but
      I am not fully convinced.

      So my reading would be:
      Dh ' ` S Hh

      If we think Hebrew (or consult a Hebrew lexicon), and divide the
      letters into words, with introductory zeh (This), and keep the animal
      depicted on the back of the stone in mind, there is a ready solution

      Tell me if you can see what I see, or something different.


      PART 2 : Answers to some questions and responses

      Regarding the letters on the left-side column (see my drawing, at

      K Dh `Alep `ayin S Hh

      1) Is it really an `alep (ox-head)?

      If you have the two photographs published in Maarav you can see the
      bull's horns more clearly in one of them, but it is uncertain which
      corner is the snout! However, we can not doubt that it is meant to

      2) Is it really Hh (H.et)?

      The vertical lines for the Hh are more visible on one of the
      photographs, but the example of Hh at the top has vanished on it! My
      drawing is built on the foundation of the 8 Inscriptifact photographs.
      I have two of the coloured ones enlarged on my big iMac screen at the
      moment. What a sight!

      The interesting detail in this pictograph is the three compartments,
      but, as I have said, it is stiil meant to be a house with a courtyard
      (Hhasir) not a fence (as is commonly supposed); the house-plan, viewed
      from above, can be positioned any way (as with the two examples here),
      but a fence has to be | | | |.

      3) Is the fish really S (Samek)?

      The fish is S. That is the fatal flaw in the Albright scheme (D is for
      dag; wrong, D has always been for dalt, door, as the Hebrew and Greek
      names attest). However the spine Samek ('support') was an alternative
      S and the one that survived into the Phoenician alphabet.

      See my new table and all my cryptcracker articles for this basic plank
      of my platform.

      4) What about the clashing of 'a and `a (very hard to pronounce in
      the "oriental"way), and only found in the Bible in Aramaic (examples:
      Ezra 6:4 and 11), meaning 'tree, timber, beam'.

      We can probably exclude that word here.

      Now, the 'Aleph and the `Ayin are not necessarily in the same word.

      When they occur together in the Izbet Sartah ostracon as a word at the
      end of line 1, it is (in my interpretation, which I find very
      appealing and plausible) "I see", followed by the conjunction k (ki
      'that') the eye (` logogram, rebus) gives (ttn) the breath (rh.) of
      the sign ('t)...

      But here the clue given to us on the other side (a jackal) would
      indicate that the `A is a single word, and I take the `ayin to be a
      separate word also, and the remaining two letters could fit nicely
      with the fact that this stone was found in a dump in Turquoise Mine M
      (dump meaning a deposit for rubbish, or an accumulated pile of ore or
      earth, and I think the text is telling us that).

      Here is my division, four words: Dh ' ` SHh
      Dh = Hebrew ze (This is)

      PART 3 : Additional queries
      > The fish is S.

      <Do you mean equivalent to the Hebrew letter Samech? or to a phonetic /
      s/ (which in BH can also be the letter Sin). >

      I will try to summarize what I have found concerning sibilants in
      texts written in the West Semitic logo-syllabic and consonantal

      Samek (s) : Shin ($) : Sin (s') : Th (th[eta]) : Sade (s.)

      'sm (ox-fish-water) Hbr 'asam 'store granary (Sinai 368)
      'st (ox-fish-cross) Akd i$ittu 'store, granary, treasury' (S 375)
      'kb$n m$ 'melt-furnace' Hbr mss 'melt'; kib$an 'furnace, kiln'
      kn$ (hand-snake-sun) 'gather' Phn Aram kn$ Hbr kns
      m$knt 'dwelling-place' H mi$kan, Ugr m$knt
      $d 'field' Ugr Phn $d H s'adeh
      $h. 'pit' H $yh.
      $lh. 'irrigation channel' H $elah.
      ns.b 'foreman' (H nis.s.ab) rb ns.bn 'chief foreman' [Note m. pl. -m
      and -n]
      s.btm 'handfuls' (= Hbr) Arb d.bt. 'grasp'
      s.rh. 'excavation chamber' (Hbr, Nabatean s.-, Arb d.-)
      (Note , these 2 cases eliminate d. from the proto-alphabet)
      th-l-th (th < thad, breast') 'three' H $l$ Ugr Arb th-l-th (S 375)

      str 'guard' skr 'deliver up' (both Hbr Samek)
      lh.s 'whisper' lbs 'clothe' (both Hbr $)
      h.isanim 'asamim 'stores, granaries' (see 'sm above)

      <And why limit yourself to the 22 consonants of BH instead of the 29
      or 30 of the (reconstructed) proto-Semitic some of which were
      obviously used in the Levant (e.g. the "rayin" of Aza in Hebrew and
      Gaza in Greek)?>

      The example th-l-th (Sinai 375) shows that I am admitting more than 22.

      True, in 1988, in my first study of the proto-alphabet (in Abr-
      Nahrain) I tried the hypothesis that there were no more than 22
      phonemes, but I did mention the possibility that Z and Dh had separate
      signs, but I could not find the other one.

      Now, however, in this very text (S 375a) we can find both. On the left
      side we see the two parallel horizontal strokes =, for Dh ('This');
      and on the right side we can discern (so Hamilton) Z, which is a pair
      of triangles |><|, in a sequence Z K T (manacle-hand-cross). And what
      Semitic root could that be? ZKY 'pure'?


      The DH and Z pair is also found on a brief inscription from Thebes


      And my complete statement on the number of phonemes in the proto-
      alphabet is at:


      The table of signs I offer there shows 26 consonants in the proto-

      `ayin + ghayin, Z + Dh, T. + Z., $ + Th, H. + Kh

      There were two variant signs for S(amek): fish (became obsolete) and
      spinal column (persisted).

      My questions are:

      What is 'pure' (ZKT) on the right side?

      And what is the meaning of the vertical column on the left side?
      Here is my division, four words (Left side): Dh ' ` SHh
      Dh = Hebrew ze (This is)

      PART 4 : The day of the jackal

      Here is my promised proposed solution to the mystery of the left-side

      Go to <http://cryptcracker.blogspot.com> to see my drawing

      There is a hand at the top, but this will be set aside as apparently
      belonging to the cluster of signs above it. In the light of my
      reading of the column, I would like to think the hand (K) was part of
      a word meaning "Beware!" or "Look out!".

      There seems to be a stick figure of a person dancing for joy (H)
      Beneath it a snake (N)
      Then the hand (K)
      H N K
      If related to Hebrew hinneh, we have "Look!" or "Lo" or "Behold".
      Or Ugaritic hnk "that/this". Arabic hunĂ¢ka "there".
      Any suggestions from the audience?

      Dh (=) "This", pointing out the object defined in the following four

      ' (alep, ox)
      `(`ayin, eye)
      S (fish, Arabic samk, possibly dialectal West Semitic? Not D from dag
      H. (H.et; not a fence, but a house with two rooms and a courtyard,

      Remember my principle that each sign could function not merely as an
      acrophonic consonantogram (as transcribed above) but also as:
      (1) a logogram ('alep "ox", `ayin "eye" or "wellspring")
      (2) a rebus ('alp "1ooo"; "learn".)
      (See my note on the clashing of 'alep and `ayin, in Part 2.4: '` as "I
      see" or I eye")

      But none of these Egyptian principles will be invoked here.

      Here is my division, into four words, the first 3 of them having a
      single consonant:
      Dh ' ` SHh

      Now, keeping in mind that a jackal is depicted on the other side of
      the stone.
      Dh This( is)
      ' the jackal (Hbr 'iy) (of)
      ` the heap (Hbr `iy, heap of stones) (of)
      SHh scrapings (Hbr seh.iy; root S-Hh-H "scrape", "sweep away")

      "This is the jackal of the heap of scrapings"

      The jackal is the guardian (guard-dog) of the heap of mined turquoise.

      The jackal (deified as Anubis in Egypt) was the guardian of tombs and
      bodies; he had a leading role in the mummification process. The irony
      is that he is assigned a protective status, because he frequented
      tombs, but his reason for being there was different and not nice. I
      will suppose that the jackal here guards the turquoise that has been
      mined, and the tailings which may include pieces of the precious

      The stone would thus have a magical purpose; the image of the jackal
      would protect the mined turquoise from looters. Elsewhere in the
      inscriptions the equipment of the expedition is put under the aegis of
      the goddess, as being "loved by Ba`alat" (m'hb b`lt: 351, 352, 353,

      Brian Colless
      Massey U, NZ

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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