Modern technology exposes First Temple era inscription

A First Temple era inscription, hidden for almost 3,000 years, was exposed through advanced imaging technology.

Using advanced imaging technology, Israeli researchers at Tel Aviv University have discovered and read an ancient inscription, which was invisible until now. The inscription was found on the back of a pottery shard that has been on display at The Israel Museum for over half a century.

The ostracon, an ink-inscribed pottery shard, was first found in poor condition in 1965 at the desert fortress of Arad in southern Israel. It dates back to around 600 BCE, the eve of the kingdom of Judah’s destruction by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

The inscription on its front side opens with a blessing and discusses money transfers. This inscription has been studied by archaeologists and biblical scholars alike. There is, however, a hidden inscription on the back.

“While its front side has been thoroughly studied, its back was considered blank,” said Arie Shaus of TAU’s Department of Applied Mathematics, one of the principal investigators of the study published on Wednesday in PLOS ONE.

Using multi-spectral imaging to acquire a set of images, Michael Cordonsky of TAU’s School of Physics noticed several marks on the ostracon’s reverse side. “To our surprise, three new lines of text were revealed,” he said.

The researchers were able to decipher 50 characters, comprising 17 words, on the back of the ostracon.

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“The content of the reverse side implies it is a continuation of the text on the front side,” said Shira Faigenbaum-Golovin of TAU’s Department of Applied Mathematics, another principle investigator of the study.

The multidisciplinary research was conducted by Faigenbaum-Golovin, Shaus and Barak Sober, all doctoral students in TAU’s Department of Applied Mathematics, and by Dr. Anat Mendel-Geberovich of TAU’s Department of Archaeology.

“Using multi-spectral imaging, we were also able to significantly improve the reading of the front side, adding four ‘new’ lines,” said Sober.

A Request for More Wine

“Tel Arad was a military outpost – a fortress at the southern border of the kingdom of Judah – and was populated by 20 to 30 soldiers,” said Dr. Mendel-Geberovich.

“Most of the ostraca unearthed at Arad are dated to a short time span during the last stage of the fortress’s history, on the eve of the kingdom’s destruction in 586 BCE by Nebuchadnezzar. Many of these inscriptions are addressed to Elyashiv, the quartermaster of the fortress. They deal with the logistics of the outpost, such as the supply of flour, wine and oil to subordinate units.”

Other findings bearing Elyashiv’s name were discovered in the past.

“The new inscription begins with a request for wine, as well as a guarantee for assistance if the addressee has any requests of his own,” said Shaus. “It concludes with a request for the provision of a certain commodity to an unnamed person, and a note regarding a ‘bath,’ an ancient measurement of wine carried by a man named Ge’alyahu,” said Dr. Mendel-Geberovich.

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“The newly revealed inscription features an administrative text, like most of the Arad inscriptions,” added Dr. Mendel-Geberovich. “Its importance lies in the fact that each new line, word and even a single sign is a precious addition to what we know about the First Temple period.”

“On a larger scale, our discovery stresses the importance of multi-spectral imaging to the documentation of ostraca,” said Faigenbaum-Golovin. “It’s daunting to think how many inscriptions, invisible to the naked eye, have been disposed of during excavations.”

“This is ongoing research,” concluded Sober. “We have at our disposal several additional alterations and expansions of known First Temple-period ostraca. Hence, the future may hold additional surprises.”

By: Aryeh Savir, World Israel News