Friday, August 22, 2014

Wadi el-Hol Hoax...

(This was a late-night thought, the basic premise of which is that Wadi el-Hol might more squarely fit the after-Sinaitic and before-Arabian writing period - placing it anywhere from possibly around 1400 to 1200 BC.  The inscriptions are not, per se, "a hoax" but they are not the first alphabet - I note that at the bottom and in my translation, which since it's been so long since I've worked on this should be taken with a slight grain of salt [to the writing and form and the dating, but not to the translation conclusions]).

I think, given what I feel to be the high consistency of my translation of Wadi el-Hol both internal to Semitic alphabetic scripts but also to our knowledge of the specific use of that area [of Wadi el-Hol] that the alphabetic inscriptions there are likely from a range closer to 1400-1200 BC rather than 1800 BC.

In fact, the presence of this distinct , arguably continuous with the Arabian (12th-9th centuries)  probably should have indicated this possibility far earlier on.  Whereas I have argued, and will continue to do so, that a fish- is present in Sinai, this isn't found outside and neither is another (or arguably a) distinct .  However, that same [Wadi el-Hol] does occur as h in Sinai, Proto-Canaanite, Phoenician [and Greek and Latin E].  The confusion of an apparently less distinct Northern Semitic in contrast to the continuing distinction in Ethiopic, Arabian etcetera is one possible mode of transmission (a sort of Shibboleth confusion probably of similar names - ha[w]y and ḥa[w]y, perhaps).

Sinai, which can be more reliably placed within a range of 1700-1550 BC, squarely within the Hyksos and Intermediate periods, attests to none of this.  Neither do anomalous probably South Egyptian inscriptions purchased by Petrie in the early 20th century.  The one case [Thebes 1] of an anthropomorphic h is almost certainly pronominal and hence a clear indication that the h from Sinai (or for the sake of argument a common ancestor) had spread.  This is highly anomalous given the supposedly older presence of Wadi el-Hol.  Moreover, the 'Theban Inscriptions' also seem to foreshadow later-Arabian paleography with specific regard to S1 and Z.  In fairness, the one inscription [Thebes 1] that may contain an h is highly dissimilar to the other two [Thebes 4 and 6], which are likely in similar alphabets or the same one.

Nevertheless, they may suggest a key source of continuity between Wadi el-Hol and Arabia.  And that seems most likely if Wadi el-Hol is closer to the [late] 2nd millennium attested origin of Arabian scripts.  Additionally, the Wadi el-Hol h, possibly a precursor of North Arabian but not South Arabian variants, a one-arm-up and one-arm-down person, might be attested in an anomalous Yemeni inscription called Jamme 863 - which also attests the Arabian worshiping but upside down (in relation to Epigraphic South Arabian).  Jamme and Albright felt Jamme 863 was anomalous and probably archaic (I believe they singled out the patina) - and it is on a rock wall, though it is not clear if that might have [at one time] been [
part of] a structure.

Moreover, the same one-arm-up and one-arm-down person may also have become the Ugaritic alphabet's , its h the more commonly post-Sinaitic h.  The Ugaritic alphabet evolved sometime between 1200 and 1150 BC in Coastal Syria.  It also possesses at least one partial abecedary (I think two) in the South Semitic [Arabian] order.  This connection is unusual.  One possibility is that there may have been some influence from Ugarit toward Arabia.  One obvious possibility is the Syro-Arabian desert; and caravans would have traveled between Syria and Arabia.
However, it is also possible that the post-Sinaitic developments in South Egypt (Wadi el-Hol & Theban inscriptions), may have been transmitted to the borderline of North Arabian and South Arabian territory earlier than thought (Jamme 863).  It is possible that Ugaritic was actually the result of a circuitous transmission from Arabia, which was then influenced by the prevailing Proto-Canaanite trend.  In support of that is both the cuneiform [culture at Ugarit] ([manifested] not just in [the method of producing] the letters [though not necessarily related to cuneiform logograms], but in the vocabulary and scribal training methods) and the apparent lack of importance of Ugaritic's 'second S', which is basically Canaanite samekh.  The primary presence of the Wadi-Theban-Arabian S1 (~shin) and the common  S2 (~sin) also suggests the possibility of significant Arabian influence, however seemingly unlikely.  [The relative unimportance at Ugarit of the common Canaanite S oddly suggests it might have been an external loan.] ...

The core question is whether the evidence for the dating of Wadi el-Hol to 1800 (or 1800-1700 or whatever) BC is strong - particularly given it is based on an unknown language and no agreed-upon translation, nor any physical evidence.  The original brief report by Darnell et al. (2005) made this determination, on [tentative and ultimately] flawed paleography and the presumption that traveling that path was common around 1800 BC.  It is significant they mention this was likely the cite of a Hathoric procession - and that the rock spur was likely the spot of or near a temple or religious place for a particular ritual.  [It is at least equally significant that other literature by Darnell and the longer survey suggest this area maintained Hathoric uses into the New Kingdom, the late 2nd millennium.]  To my mind, inferring from the several other Darnell papers I've read on this area (the area around Wadi el-Hol) and Hathoric celebration, if the inscriptions are related to that sort of 'best known' period, then the inscriptions are more likely from the New Kingdom or just before (given their anomalous presence).

In effect, I see these inscriptions as integrally related to a large number of the Egyptian inscriptions on that rock - Hathoric worship, probably in specific reference to a specific myth.  Based on my translation, I had always been perplexed at how the Wandering Goddess story could have been present by 1800 BC.  However at the beginning of the New Kingdom, there is now a philologically consistent story.

It may be the case that with the collapse of the Hyksos, random scribes were pushed primarily across Sinai into Palestine.  However, some no doubt remained in Egypt and/or as the Syro-Palestinian royal and aristocratic entourages returned to regular tutelage, it spread that way [possibly also].  Hiring Canaanite shamans was not unknown, so some scribes from the Sinaitic period might have found purpose there.  Two of the Petrie Theban inscriptions are likely invocations - one of which is a curse; another, I have argued with increasing personal skepticism may be a star chart.  The third is very unclear but is possibly an invocation to Set.

Having said all that, the Wadi el-Hol inscriptions are not a hoax.  However, they are likely not as old as has been commonly thought.  And they are probably not the earliest alphabets.  This was more or less inherent anyway given the Wadi dialect's use of the word QS1T for 'bow' despite the origin-dialect's use of S2N.T for bow (in the creation of the letter S2).  The Wadi Inscriptions do, however, represent one of the most important discoveries in the history of the study of the alphabet - in that they likely do reflect the earliest definitive common link between Sinai and Arabia.

They were clearly carved in transit - at the site of a Hathoric shrine or temple on a road between Hu and Thebes.  The later timing also explains why Athtar's name is written with an `ayin that is, effectively, a Ugaritic `ayn - they aren't separated by 600 years, they're separated by at most perhaps 200-250 years.  That leaves fewer interceding missing links.*

*Some of that interim can actually be found in poorly known cases: i.e. of 3 inscriptions from a Deir `Alla palace destroyed by earthquake in 1200 BC (not the 'Deir Alla Inscription'), and at least one presumably non-'workers' graffiti' inscription at Deir el-Medina published (only?) in an archaeological team's report.  The last is not definitive, in my mind.  The Deir Alla inscriptions - at least the first and possibly the third are arguably somewhat solid (the first I think is).  These also potentially provide another oddity - a point of transmission to Greek chi.  Greek itself, in its earliest forms, had also been transmitted by this point, and there have been some suggestions it does not match Proto-Canaanite perfectly.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Rejecting a Controversial Revision

Summary (tl;dr):

Basically, this writeup suggests that I was incorrect in suggesting that a specifically three-peaked character was D_ and not M.  I revisit two key inscriptions in reference to that - those at Wadi el-Hol and Sinai 345.  In the case of the latter, I find that this revision produces: M 'HB(B)cL[T] / Z NFK LBcLT : "From 'Beloved-of-the-Mistress'-/of-Turquoise, to The Mistress."  And at Wadi el-Hol, the resulting revision produces MN cT_TR=H QS1T KPT_ 'L / RB [ilu] DN M NH. NPS2=H' W=S.H_R : "What are for Athtar?  The bow and the scimitar.  Ilu / is the Powerful Lord [god] who intoxicates her soul and depletes [it]."  These still, then each reflect half the tone of the story of the return or renewal of Hathor or the Wandering Goddess, but essentially violence and then intoxicated pacification.

In some ways these revisions actually strengthen the posited grammar in both of these.  Since Sinai 345 is bilingual, the Egyptian may simply record the name of the devotee.  Though both inscriptions include a specific reference to a Mistress (or Hathor) of Turquoise, it is not clear if this is merely a clarification or part of the standard epithet to that aspect - or part of the name of the devotee.  In any event, it would seem that the phrase found in Egyptian - Meri-Hathar-Mafka3t - is directly analogous to 'ahubba`ltu-za-nafki.  The longer Semitic reflects a full dedication in the dialect of this person or their scribe, apparently.


M 'HB-[B]`L[T]-     "From Beloved-of-the-Mistress-
-Z-NFK L B`LT      "-of-Turquoise* for The Mistress."

(* 'HB-B`LT or Meri-Hathar or Beloved-of-the-Mistress (B`LT/Hathor) are, presumably, the name of this devotee.)

I am unclear exactly on exactly why Sinai 345 was rejected as bilingual - or seems to generally have been.  The first reason seems to have to do with the implied gemination - potentially indicated by the dot in the first B.  I should point out that this is by no means an attempt at an academic paper.  I'm more or less just thinking out loud.
So the "controversial revision" alluded to above refers to the first character being a D_ (I'm not doing special characters, sorry).  This pertains to a hypothesis related to the Wadi el-Hol Inscriptions and some of the Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions.  There are valid reasons to consider this, even if they have no antecedent evidence.  But regardless, let's assume that's wrong and these three-peaked characters are just M's.

Does that in any way actually tank the broader implications of my translations?  I would argue basically no.  The D_ I posited retains the role (solely) of a relative or demonstrative pronoun in the cases where I have found it - a detail that is highly significant.  But having rejected this theoretically, the Semitic M is also a widespread pronoun - "who?".  And its use is effectively versatile, sometimes similar to that of D_.

My original translation for above was D_ 'HB(B)cL[T]=/Z=NFK LBcLT - "This is 'The-Beloved-of-the-Mistress'/-of-Turquoise for the Mistress."  The orthography 'hb also occurs in Sinai 350.**  But it is worth noting that one of the probable reasons for the rejection of the bilinguality of the inscription is also that M'HB is not a known orthography for 'beloved,' and therefore this is probably coincidental.  At least that's what I basically got from Sass's synthesis.  The problem is that that's not the orthography we're supposed to be looking for, but rather 'hb.

So again, if we simply ignore my D_ hypothesis, what we get here is: M 'HB(B)cL[T]=/=Z=NFK LBcLT.  "From the 'Beloved-of-the-Mistress'/-of-Turquoise, to the Mistress."  In many ways this is actually a lot less ambiguous.  The person offering is 'ahubbaclt[u] (probably the fusional inflection was lost - hence the gemination), and the goddess is is 'The Mistress,' but specifically 'of Turquoise' which is apparently the namesake of the devotee.  None of this is probably surprising because of the widespread use of that name or title - Bclt - for the deity apparently juxtaposed with Hathor.

This is effectively confirmed by the Egyptian inscription, which says, simply, mry h.t-h.r mfk3.t, which is embellished in translation (presumably based on external evidence, but I really don't know why) to "Beloved of Hathor [Lady] of Turquoise" or something very similar - though actually it means Beloved of "Hathor of Turquoise."  That may have been 'ahubbaclt[u]'s Egyptian name, though it isn't clear who she (or he**) was - 'ahubbaclt- being juxtaposed with Meri-Hathar.

So what kind of wrench does this throw into the Wadi el-Hol hypothesis?  Again really none.  If you don't accept my hypothesis (effectively) that Egyptian paleography seems not to have been singularly influential in the earliest period of alphabetic development, then maybe none of this matters.  But if the issue again is this apparently concocted new character that crops up as a demonstrative/relative, the basic premise remains in tact:

MN `T_TRH QS1T KPT_ / 'L...    "What are for Athtar?  The bow and the scimitar.  Ilu is..."

The initial three-peaked character is still bisected by an N but in addition to M-, MN is also a common and widespread Semitic term for "who."  However, though Wadi el-Hol is unique, this would mark the only early alphabetic occurrence of MN (that I am aware of), and I think in context also the (also) common Semitic MN [Akkadian minu] - "what" pronoun fits better here.  So here, we come to a similar revision: MN cT_TRH QS1T KPT_ 'L - "What are for `Athtar? The bow and the scimitar.  Ilu..."

And the same character appears without that -N in the Horizontal Inscription a few feet to the left of this right-to-left Vertical Inscription (on the same rock spur).  They're the only known inscription in this alphabet and so separating them particularly given the overt connection of two modal halves of a singular cosmological story common both to Semitic speakers and Egyptians, and celebrated particularly in the area of Wadi el-Hol - and Wadi el-Hol itself is probably the site of at least one chapel specifically related to a holiday devoted to this story.

RB [ilu] DN M NwH. NPS2=H' WS.H_R    "...the Powerful Lord who intoxciates her soul and depletes it."

So the same revision herein yields: RB DN M NH. NPS2=H' W=S.H_R - "...the Powerful Lord [ILU] who intoxicates her soul that it is depleted."  It's worth noting that the variant orthography S.H_R may have been influenced by the cuneiform orthography (which would have lacked the root -G/- that is transformed to H_ here) - in which case the term S.G/R to refer to depleting the soul of the violent goddess may have been influenced by Akkadian (where I anyway found this meaning originally).

Conversely, the variant orthography NPS2 instead of the expected NPS1 may have precedent in Amorite but suggests this is a very early use and maybe borrowing of a word (originally meaning to breathe or a breath) for a progressive meaning that would later become the more widespread common Semitic form - that likely speaks to the genuine antiquity of these inscriptions.  And the entire thing would read:

"What are for Athtar?  The bow and the scimitar.  Ilu / is the Powerful Lord [god] who intoxicates her soul and depletes [it]."

I suppose if one were really against reading them together, one could read: "What are for Athtar? The bow, the scimitar, and Ilu.  The Powerful Lord [is] who intoxicates..."
The grammar does not make as much sense, in my opinion, read that way - but we have no examples of this dialect (that we know of now) other than this.  Ultimately, read either way, in my opinion the meaning is overtly clear - violence and intoxicated rest.  This is the story of the Wandering Goddess - possibly the earliest extant version (predating Egyptian?; I'm not sure about that claim).

In some ways this revision both reduces tension between my hypothesis and extant literature, though it doesn't really reconcile the general conflict, but it also strengthens the translations of both Sinai 345 and the Wadi el-Hol Inscriptions.  I guess I'm prepared to admit that without additional evidence, my hypothesis was spurious and I was wrong there.

** It's actually worth noting my hypothesis on Sinai 350, because even though the inscription is badly fragmented, reconstructed as in Hamilton 2006, 341 the first two lines can be reconstructed in full with a high degree of certainty (because they contain a standard format found elsewhere) as: R: ’L . ṢṮ . [Ẓ?]B[Ṭ?] . NQB / L: ’HB . [---]T –... preceding the T is arguably BcL- though I had also contemplated 'RH_; but in any case it is very likely an epithet to 'the Goddess' involved in many or most of the Proto-Sinaitic corpus.  This inscription seems to say, then: “The god Set is the [Keep]er? of Naqab / The-Beloved-of–[the-Mistr]ess [?]...”  In the context of other inscriptions, these titles are basically unremarkable, but they suggest that 'hb[bclt] may have commonly referred to Set and therefore in Sinai 345 it may refer to a man's name.  This is not spurious despite the uncertainty, as Sinai 350 contains the only other reference to 'hb that I have thus far found among Proto-Sinaitic.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Ramesside North Arabian (?) Inscription in Early North Arabian (?) Script

A facsimile of the drawing of this inscription can be found here: - Figure 6; on page 26 (bottom).

The inscription should be read from left-to-right.  Before offering a translation, it is important to note three non-linguistic (or quasi-linguistic) paleographic features: 1) immediately before the inscription is a drawing of a jackal (and possibly something by its tale); 2) immediately after the inscription is something else (unclear, possibly a star); 3) above the inscription 'ankh-w3s' is drawn.  There is also a sort of a cross-like mark beneath the inscription.

The inscription should be read as follows:

hṣ . qṭ . ḏypm  /  Haṣu . qaṭû (?) . ḏīpam


"Has (PN) approached the Jackal."

So the inscription itself offers some subtle linguistic clues that in turn probably validate my interpretation of the paleography as generally a variant form of North Arabian.  The -m probably acts as a form of locative or accusative case-marker here.  It almost certainly confirms that the language was inflected.  Additionally, the preservation of ḏ in ḏyp (root ḏyb) suggests the dialect was not subject to Proto-Canaanite or Aramaic consonant mergers.  However, the /p/ is unusual if not unique, and despite the Egyptian cognate z3b may have been an attempt to equate Semitic /p/ with Egyptian /b/ (if 'The Jackal' refers to an Egyptian divine symbol).  Additionally, the ḏ is really only paleographically related to North Arabian scripts, in a circuitous way at best.

However, the most difficult aspect of this inscription is not ḏypm - which clearly relates to the picture of the jackal; it is the first four letters.  If one retrodicts that a verb must be present as a result of the -m locative, then either the verb is all four letters (implausible), is causative (h-), or consists of S-V or V-S.  In this case, ṣqṭ is almost certainly meaningless (although ṣqṭn appears once in an unclear context in a Sabaic inscription). This leaves the very unusual hṣ and qṭ as the most likely parsing of the words.  But problematically, the -m on the last word does not actually help frame the grammar.

However, it is possible that in Safaitic a name hṣ did exist (see: hṣ in KRS 837; hṣy in KRS 1884); in South Arabian it is possible a single Minaic inscription attests the name outright, but one might trace it also to a Sabaic group-name compound - hṣn`m.  Moreover, qṭ may be related to a fairly common verb found in Akkadian (a Neo-Babylonian word qaṭû that CAD calls it an Aramaic loanword - see qṭy in Syriac) meaning 'to near.'  The word (qṭw) is translated 'walking' (noun) in a single Sabaic inscription (Jamme 2870).

However, it is difficult to discount the Arabic qṭ "to cut" in the D-stem meaning 'to carve' (i.e. "Has carved the Jackal.").  But this derivation, possibly found in the Neo-Babylonian qāṭû (CAD also calls this an Aramaic loan), might then be related to Aramaic qṭw meaning 'cane.'  If connected, the earlier meaning apparently refers specifically to cutting wood or reeds - and so probably is not relevant to this inscription.

If this is a statement related to death and Anubis, it may make sense.  The odd use of /p/ finds parallel in Thebes 2 (forthcoming?) in which bṯn (in this context a constellation meaning 'serpent') appears to be approximated pṯn.  But moreover, paleographically that /p/ (if correct), can really only be compared with Thamudic B, C, and D and Hismaic.  And the ḏ can really only be compared with Dedanitic (sometimes also called Lihyanite (in the later phases of development)).

So based on the paleographic and probable lexical triangulation, the actual language (reconstructed solely through these three words) appears to be a variant Syro-Arabian dialect.  The name is found in Safaitic (North Arabian) and Sabaic (South Arabian); the verb is found in Syriac, Neo-Babylonian, and Sabaic; and the 'jackal' is common but the orthography here appears to be unique.

The other really interesting thing is the apparent paleographic retention of a human with one arm raised and one lowered for /h/.  This find direct parallel (so far) only at Wadi el-Hol, although Jamme 863 uses a slightly more de-styled character.

Friday, August 10, 2012


This is not my best-researched effort (which likely says a lot).  According to Wikipedia, which provides a transliteration, Cyrus Gordon published this inscription (and transliteration) in Evidence for the Minoan Language (1966).  I have been unable to find serious subsequent decipherment attempts - although I haven't in earnest started amassing evidence for a literature review.  Taking the account at face value - and in light of the bilinguality of this inscription from Amathus, I would like to offer my own explanation of the inscription as either West Semitic or specifically Canaanite (this depends on the interpretation of the vowel /o/ as an aleph (i.e. Canaanite) or just another transcription of /u/ - which is the basis of my first attempt):




Cyrus Gordon translates this text as

The city of the Amathusans (honored) the noble Ariston (son) of Aristonax."

So in light of that Greek inscription/translation (I have reformatted/re-parsed the syllabic transliteration but I have also taken it from Wikipedia):

1: a-na ma-to-ri U-mi E-s[a]-i mu-ku-la-i . la sa-na A-ri-si-to-no se A-ra-to-wa-na-ka so-ko-o . se

2: ke-ra-ke-re tu-lo . se ta-ka-na-[?]-so-ti a-lo-ka . i-li-po-ti

Ana matori Umi Esa'i mukula'i . La sana Arisitono se Ara(s)towanaka sokō . se

keraker tulo . se takana[?]soti aloka . ili-poti

"To the small boat of Um-Hasa the mooring point, for the Second Ariston of the regal Ara(s)towanaka.  This is the

'hanging talent' [of gold].  This is my tribute to you.  Ili-Puti."

Then Amathus would actually be a corruption of Um-Hasa; really probably Um-Hatha.  The occurrences of /o/ are interesting - mator (Akkadian maturru), Aristono (Greek Ariston); Aratowanaka (Greek Aristonax), soko'o (Akkadian sukkû from Elamite sunki-), tulo (Akkadian tullû); Ili-Poti (probably Ili-Puti (the second part of the compound frequently found with gods in Akkadian)).  The only outlying orthography would then be aloka (which I take as a form of 'lyk - found in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic) - and the reason for this vowel may simply be a vowel interchange issue in which /ei/ interchanged with /o/ so that 'aleyka becomes aloka.

So two possible conclusions: The dialect 'heard' and approximated /o/ from (Standard? or Neo-?)Babylonian u and from Greek o.  It is also possible (if not likely) that the first sentence's inflection is anomalous and the dialect also did not possess inflection.  The first sentence, complete with Akkadian preposition, would then be an attempt to employ a very formal (archaic) language, namely (probably) Akkadian.  And the balance of the text simply ignores this inflection.

Nobody's ever actually posted a question, but preemptively, my interpretation of mukula comes from the Akkadian makallû a Standard and Neo Babylonian word for "mooring place."  Exactly why this would be the chosen term to describe Amathus is unclear.  It could, however, have been the dialect's chosen word for a coastal city, inasmuch as the juxtaposed Greek word is polis.  However, CAD connects the verb kalû really 'to detain.'  I wonder if it isn't a related but slightly different term for coastal (or non-river) city from mu 'water' and kula 'detained' - possibly meaning either 'shallow water' (i.e. mooring place), or a place 'denied water' (kalû can specifically mean 'to deny irrigation water').