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Archive for the 'Tell es-Safi' Category

Going Potty in Ancient Gath?! (GPAT 3.3)

2nd August 2006

The season at Tell es-Safi (ancient Gath) has almost come to a close. We have been able to follow the progress of the dig through their excellent blog here. On their July 31st update, they had an interesting discussion of Area F. What caught my eye was the object which they identified as a stone weight — I prefer to see it as an ancient potty!

This is the fourth in a series of semi-serious posts on “Going Potty in the Ancient World.� My other posts include:

All posts in this series may be viewed here.

While the identification of the object as a stone weight is possible, I’m not sure how they missed the clear indications that this object is indeed a toilet. The toilet paper and the fallen sign are clear giveaways to this amateur archaeologist!


This is exciting news… perhaps this is even the toilet that Goliath used before being killed by David! We have already found Goliath’s cereal bowl, and now this! All I can say is “Wow!” :-)

(I sure hope Prof. Aren M. Maeir has a sense of humour!)

Posted in Ancient Potties, Archaeology, Emergent, Humour, Series, Tell es-Safi | 3 Comments »

Tell es-Safi Ostracon Again: New Tracing and Comments (UPDATED)

21st November 2005

I have updated my previous tracing of the Tell es-Safi Ostracon based on the higher resolution images available at Dr. Stefan Jakob Wimmer’s excellent website (Wimmer is one of the team of archaeologists involved in the dig).

N.B.: I have received some crucial information about the inscription from Danny Frese who heard Dr. Maeir speak on the inscription at University of California, San Diego, last week (for more, see the interpretation section below).

Here are the (now updated) images with some tracings:

This image seems to support a slightly different reading for the first word, which becomes a bit easier to see with some magnification:

Here is an image with the contrast and brightness adjusted in order to see the inscription a bit better:

And here is a tracing:


Deciphering the first couple letters of the ostracon provide the most trouble. If you compare the three available hi-resolution images, it becomes clear that the first two (or three?) letters are somewhat problematic:

This new image originally raised some questions about my (and others) original reading: ×?לות )LVT and ולת VLT. From right to left you still find a somewhat odd aleph with the horizontal cross stroke transversing the V-strokes (kind of like the aleph at Gezer or from the plaque at Shechem). But then in this image the second letter sure appears to be a tav, as Duane Smith had pointed out. This reading raises it own problems in regards to spacing, as Chris Heard noted in the comments to my original post.

As it turns out, my original tracing was in fact correct. After his lecture, Danny Frese asked Dr. Maeir about the markings between the aleph and the lamed. In response, Maeir acknowledged that part of the inscription gave them some troubles, until they finally figured out that the vertical stroke inbetween the aleph and lamed is not a stroke at all; it’s an accumulated mineral deposit on the surface of the sherd, it just happens to be in a line and looks like a stroke. The horizontal stroke, on the other hand, is part of the aleph, it’s just a long arm. Danny also noted that this is discernable in the enhanced photos I have posted (which were better quality than the images Maeir had at his talk). A close examination (see the enlarged picture below) reveals that there is no shadow in the vertical stroke between the aleph and lamed, as there would be if it were incised. There are, however, clear shadows in the vertical portions of the aleph and the lamed. Moreover, Frese notes, there looks like a slight shadow on the bottom right hand side of the vertical stroke, whereas the shadows on the lamed and aleph are on the left side. That is to say, this part of the vertical stroke looks to me like a lump of minerals, and not an incision.

Here is an enlarged image. If you look closely you can see the shadows on the lefthand side of the inscribed aleph and lamed, but there are no shadows to the left of the verticle stroke. But, as Danny notes, there is a slight shadow to the right of the verticle stroke. Absolutely facinating!

The rest of the inscription is the same as previously noted. After the aleph you find a lamed, which instead of the almost vertical stroke with a hook to the right at the end, you find it more like a coil. This is similar to the lamed on the potsherds from Tell ed-Duweir (Lachish; dated around 1250 BCE). Following the lamed you have a vav followed by another tav. Then after the vertical stroke (on which see below), you have another vav followed by what is a very poorly inscribed lamed followed by a partial tav.

In the comments on my previous post, Ed Cook suggested the possibility that this could be some sort of invoice or the like (interpreting the vertical stroke between the two names/words as an amount of some kind with the vertical stroke being a universal symbol for the number “1″. According to Ed, “This would place the ostracon in the very large category of receipts.”

No matter how one interprets the first word, it is the second word (ולת VLT) that is argued to be connected with the Hebrew name Goliath (גלית GLYT), the questions surrounding the first word are not as significant. The connection with the first word VLT and the Hebrew GLYT “Goliath” is based on an assumed Indo-European G/V shift, the validity of which I will have to let the linguists work out.

As a side note, while I agree that referring to this ostracon as the “Goliath inscription” or the like is misleading, calling it the “‘LWT/WLT inscription” is also problematic considering the difficulty of ascertaining what letters are actually represented. I still think that the safest bet is to refer to it by where it was found, thus the “Tell es-Safi ostracon” it is!

Posted in Archaeology, Goliath, Inscriptions, Tell es-Safi | Comments Off

Tell es-Safi Ostracon Tracing and Comments (UPDATED)

13th November 2005

I was taking a closer look at the picture of the Tell es-Safi ostracon and decided to trace the letters in Photoshop. I found it quite difficult to identify some of the characters — especially the aleph. I should warn you that I am not a paleographer, though I do find this sort of stuff quite interesting. Any and all correction are most welcome!

So, for what it is worth, here are the images:

The reported reading — ×?לות ‘lwt and ולת wlt — is not too difficult to make out. From right to left you find a somewhat odd aleph with the horizontal cross stroke transversing the two V-strokes (kind of like the aleph at Gezer or from the plaque at Shechem). I am not sure what to make of the two small verticle lines just to the left of the aleph, however. Next you find a lamed, which instead of the almost vertical stroke with a hook to the right at the end, you find it more like a coil. This is similar to the lamed on the potsherds from Tell ed-Duweir (Lachish; dated around 1250 BCE). Following the lamed you have a waw followed by a tav. Then after the vertical stroke, you have another waw followed by what is a very poorly inscribed lamed followed by a partial tav.

In regards to the interpretation of the ostracon, Jim West has reproduced some comments from the Biblical Studies email list by Yigal Levin (who worked on the dig), as well as a summary.

UPDATE: Enlarged Image of Ostracon

Duane Smith over at Abnormal Interests wonders about the identification of the initial aleph on the ostracon. While I think it does begin with an aleph, I am not sure what the two vertical strokes between the aleph and the lamed are supposed to be. I don’t think it is a tav as Duane suggests. I magnified and adjusted some settings in Photoshop so that the letters/mrkings may be seen a bit more clearly:

Anyone have any thoughts as to what those strokes represent?

Archaeology, Goliath, Inscriptions, Tell es-Safi | Comments Off

Giant Pickle’s Goliath’s Cereal Bowl Discovered

11th November 2005

I know this is (relatively) old news — at least on the ‘net — but there has been another exciting archaeological discovery announced: Goliath’s cereal bowl has been found! An ostracon (a fancy scholarly name for a piece of broken pottery) has been with found with Goliath’s name on it. Now we can rest assured that our faith is not in vain because we can prove Goliath existed! (Now if we could only figure out who actually killed Goliath! See 2 Sam 21:19 if you are confused).

OK, OK, I may be guilty of exaggerating the evidence a wee little bit. OK, perhaps my claims are a bit unfounded. OK, fine, I don’t know what I am talking about!

Now that I got that off my chest, what was really discovered at Tell es-Safi (the site of the ancient Philistine city of Gath) was an ostracon bearing names that are similar to the name of David’s boyhood nemesis, Goliath (גלית). The names inscribed on the pottery shard (×?לות ‘lwt and ולת wlt) appear to be of Indo-European derivation, like the hypothesized etymological parallels of the name Goliath.

So when we come right down to it, this discovery does not prove that a young David killed a giant named Goliath. It does not even prove a Goliath ever existed. It is, however, the earliest known Philistine inscription (being dated to the 10th or early 9th century BCE), which is something to be excited about. And it may even suggest that the derivation of the name “Goliath” accurately reflects naming conventions of that period.

Christopher Heard suggests calling the ostracon the “‘LWT/WLT sherd” (Isn’t that “shard”?). While that may be more accurate (and less sensational), it isn’t very “sexy”! I still lean towards calling it “Goliath’s Cereal Bowl.” (OK, how about the “Tell es-Safi ostracon”?)

Christopher Heard has an excellent summary of the news/blog stories surrounding the inscription as well as an insightful deconstruction of the exaggerated claims found in the popular press. Jim West has reproduced the press release from Bar Ilan University regarding the find here. In addition, I just noticed Duane Smith over at Abnormal Interests has an interesting entry on the inscription.

Posted in Goliath, Inscriptions, Tell es-Safi | Comments Off