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3,350-year-old fragment of text found

Israeli archeologist Eilat Mazar of Hebrew University of Jerusalem held a fragment bearing an ancient form of writing. Israeli archeologist Eilat Mazar of Hebrew University of Jerusalem held a fragment bearing an ancient form of writing. (Sebastian Scheiner/Associated Press)
Bloomberg News / July 13, 2010

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JERUSALEM — A tiny clay fragment dating from the 14th century BC discovered outside Jerusalem’s Old City walls contains the oldest written document found in the city, researchers say.

The 3,350-year-old clay fragment was uncovered during sifting of fill excavated from beneath a 10th-century BC tower, dating from the period of King Solomon in an area near the southern wall of the Old City, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. Details of the find appear in the current Israel Exploration Journal.

“The find, believed to be part of a tablet from a royal archive, further testifies to the importance of Jerusalem as a major city in the Late Bronze Age, long before its conquest by King David,’’ the statement said.

The fragment, which is less than 1 inch by seven-10ths of an inch in size and four-10ths of an inch thick, contains cuneiform, or wedge-shaped, symbols in ancient Akkadian. The fragment was most likely part of a royal missive, according to Wayne Horowitz, a scholar of Assyriology at the Hebrew University Institute of Archeology.

Tablets with diplomatic messages were routinely exchanged between kings in the ancient Near East, and it is likely that the fragment was part of such a message, Horowitz said in the statement. The symbols on the fragment include the words “you’’ “you were,’’ “later,’’ “to do,’’ and “them,’’ the statement said.

The fragment is most likely part of a message from the king of Jerusalem, possibly Abdi-Heba, back to Egypt, Mazar said.

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