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.