October 15, 2011

The Tiryns Alphabetic Inscription: One More Time

I’m still fretting about the inscription on the ivory rod from Tiryns published by Cohen, Maran and Vetters that I mentioned the other day. I continue to think it reads from right to left. You may remember that my preliminary reading was m c(?) ’ l[ . . .]. I now would read the second letter from the right t rather than c(?). But I’ll get to that in a moment.

Here again is the inscription:

Alphabetic inscription from Tiryns

Reading from left to right, Cohen, Maran and Vetters, 5, read the first visible but broken wedge as the remains of an AD/AT and the next vertical wedge as an GÍŠ, 60. They read the next 2 or 3 wedges as Winkelhaken each standing for the numeral 10 and the most rightward readable sign as an alphabetic . As an alternative, they suggest, 5-6, that the next to last sign be read as an alphabetic k. At one level I find nothing impossible about any of this. I do wonder about the probability of it all. As I said the other day, the right most sign particularly appears to me to have a right to left orientation and so do the wedges they read as Winkerlhaken.

A couple of things must be taken into account when one approaches this inscription. First, the wedges are not pressed into moist clay but engraved in ivory. Second the rod is cylindrical. Both of these factors affect the morphology of the individual wedges and the signs they form.

Let’s take a look at another engraving, this one on a bronze knife blade found in the Tabor Valley, KTU 6.1.

KTU 6.1 Tracing
(My tracing from Yeiven’s photograph)

Seth Sanders, 166, reads it, from right to left, lṣlbclbplṣbcl, “Belonging to Ṣillī-Bacl, s‹on› of Palsī- Bacl. I read it about the same way but since Seth has more gravitas than I do, I’ll yield to Seth. Notice the morphology of the wedges in the ls. Just like the broken wedge and the one that follows it on the left of the Tiryns inscription, they lack descending tails. Compare the wedges in the ls of this inscription with what I read as about half to two thirds of an l in the Tiryns inscription. Because of the broken wedge with the full wedge, I think it unlikely that the letter is a g or . For this reason and another that I will explain later, I also don’t think it can be an m.

Now lets go to the right end of the inscription, the sign Cohen, Maran and Vetters read as a . Take a look at my tracing of KTU 1.77.

KTU 1.77 Autograph

Notice that this text clearly reads from right to left. Also notice the second sign. It consists of a horizontal wedge with a second downward/leftward wedge. It appears a total of five times in this text. While not exactly the mirror image of a “canonical” Ugaritc alphabetic m, it has significant commonality with it (same number of wedges, two, pointing in a near mirror image in the same general directions). In each case the context either requires or allows that one read m. Nearly the same morphology can be seen in the ms of KTU 4.31; 6.411; and 4.710; all of which read from right to left. The first sign, reading right to left, of the Tiryns inscription has the same general morphology as the ms in these other texts. To be sure, its vertical wedge points straight down. But this could well be the result of problems associated with engraving on a cylindrical rod or some slight scribal variant. I see this sign as much closer to the ms of KTU 1.77; 4.31; 6.411; and 4.710 and than to any form of an alphabetic . So I’m sticking with reading the sign and the whole inscription from right to left and reading the sign as an m.

Let’s skip the next sign in the Tiryns inscription for a minute and look at what Cohen, Maran and Vetters consider two Winkelhaken. The first thing one notices that is they are tightly grouped with spaces before and after them. Second, they seem to point to the left. Neither of these observations excludes there being Winkelhaken. In fact, if the inscription is to be read from left to right, then one would expect Winkelhaken to point to the left. If the inscription is to be read from right to left, this orientation would be suppressing. But take a look at the first letter in my tracing of KTU 1.77. It is without doubt an aleph and it looks very much like the two grouped wedges in the Tiryns inscription. One sees much the same thing in KTU 4.31:10.

Now, reading from right to left, let’s take up the second sign. First, what are its basic components? One certainly sees a small wedge, smaller than, but more of less like, the two wedges (of what I read as an aleph) that follow it. But does one see more? If so, I might be tempted to read a rather canonical , morphological a more “canonical" than the sign Cohen, Maran and Vetters read as a . But I rather think the marks above and below the small wedge are anomalous. I see no way other than an error in writing that it can be a k as Cohen, Maran and Vetters, 6, suggest. Their reading of a possible k is based on their overall understanding of the inscription and not on the morphology of the letter. Assuming that the morphology is sound and that the marks above and below the wedge are anomalous, I think the only possibilities are c (ayin) or t. Again, compare the ts in KTU 1.77 (lines 4 and 5) as well as in KTU 4.31 and 4.710. If this were an ayin, as I originally thought, I’d expect the wedge to be somewhat rotated and not point directly to the left (see the ayins in KTU 4.31; 1.77 and 4.10).

So I now read this inscription, m t ’ l/g/ṣ[ . . .]. I still see a proper name with the theophoric element El. But now I would read mt-’l which I would understand as “Man of god” rather than "Mot is god," and compare names like, for example, Mu-ut-dIM in RS 17.112:6 =(?) mtbcl in KTU 4.75 v:21 V11 and elsewhere.

Now the question comes, is this inscription in the Ugaritic language? Let’s start with what alphabet it uses. Is it the long Ugaritic alphabet or (one of [?]) the shorter alphabet as seen on tablets like KTU 1.77 and a few others? Having done of the truly diagnostic letters it’s hard to tell. But if I am right that it is to be read from right to left and if I am right in reading the first letter as an m, then I would be rather surprised if the rod with its inscription came from Ugarit. Rather, I’d guess it came from some southern coastal city. I might go so far as to call the language proto-Phoenician. But who knows?

Update (Oct. 16, 2011):

There may be some concern at my reading the two adjacent wedges as an aleph having an /i/ class vowel associated with it. In the canonical Ugaritic long alphabet the more or less morphologically similar sign reflects an aleph with an /a/ class vowel. However, most (all?) scholars think that the Ugaritic ‘i and the ‘u signs where additions to an original alphabet that used the two horizontal wedges end to end with all vowel classes. This is what we see in other ancient Semitic languages that have come down to us written alphabetically. Ugaritic is an exception in this regard. Within the very small corpus of texts written in the shorter cuneiform alphabet there are no unambiguous examples of an aleph in association with a vowel other than /a/. But because of the other characteristics of this shorter alphabet, I think it was much closer in to what we would expect in a cuneiform version of the Phoenician alphabet than what we see in the “canonical” Ugaritic alphabet.

References:

Cohen, Chaim, Josheph Maran and Melissa Vetters, “An Ivory Rod with a Cuneiform Inscription, Most Probably Ugaritic, from a Final Palatial Workshop in the Lower Citadel of Tiryns,” Archäologischer Anzeiger, 2, 2010, 1022.

Sanders, Seth, "Part III: Alphabetic Cuneiform Texts," in Horowitz, Wayne and Takayoshi Oshima, Cuneiform in Canaan; Cuneiform Sources from the Land of Israel in Ancient Times (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 2006)

Yeivin, S., "An Ugaritic Inscription from Palestine, Qemen, Studies in Jewish Archaeology, 2, 1945, 32-41(Hebrew)

Posted by Duane Smith at October 15, 2011 3:04 PM | Read more on Ugarit |

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