Biblical Archaeology Review 26:1, January/February 2000


Earliest Use of Alphabet Found in Egypt

The alphabet was invented earlier than we thought. That is the initial conclusion reached by scholars studying two newly discovered inscriptions at Wadi el-Hol, in Upper (southern) Egypt.

“These may be the oldest alphabetic inscriptions ever found, dating to 1800 B.C. or earlier,” P. Kyle McCarter, Jr., a professor at Johns Hopkins University and a specialist in ancient inscriptions, told BAR. “We have to reevaluate the earliest history of the alphabet.”

The inscriptions were discovered at a site north of Luxor by John and Deborah Darnell, a professor at Yale and a Ph.D. student at the University of Chicago, respectively. The inscriptions were scratched on a rock wall alongside a military road; they were surrounded by graffiti and even snatches of Egyptian literary texts written in hieroglyphics. The site’s name, Wadi el-Hol, translates roughly to “Terror Gulch.”

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