Wickersham's Conscience

Engraved elephant ivory artifact, courtesy of the Jerusalem Journal of Archaeology

The oldest complete written sentence has been identified. It’s written in the Canaanite language, about 1,700 years ago. There are earlier writings, but they are simply names or sometimes the owner of the object.

This artifact was found at Tel Lachish in Israel, once a major Canaanite city-state in the second millennium BCE. The artifact measures just 3.5 by 2.5 centimeters (roughly 1.38 by 1 inches). The artifact was excavated in 2016, but it wasn’t until more recently that the inscription was discovered. The inscription reads,

Drawing of artifact’s inscription

As the numbers show, lettering is right to left. When that ancient engraver reached the right edge, he rotated the artifact 180 degrees and continued. The engraver ran out of room again (“Plan ahead,” anyone?) and had to engrave the 17th character below the 16th.

The translation? Translated, the…

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