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23 October 2015

The evolution of the alphabet is a tease with contrarian views that oppose the consensus view that it emerged in the early years of the Iron Age. It is discussed in the 2015 edition of the Journal of Near Eastern Studies in an article by Ben Haring of Leiden University in the Netherlands.The ABC (aleph-beth-gimel) sequence was favoured by the Phoenicians who passed it on to the Greeks (together with the alphabet itself). However, in Late Bronze Age Ugarit (in what became Phoenicia) the ABC sequence is found on cuneiform tablets – and so too is the Halalam sequence. This seems to have been derived from Egyptian sources. Ben Haring has discovered a 15th century BC limestone ostracon inscribed with ancient Egyptian words arranged according to their initial sounds – in the Halalam sequence – see http://phys.org/print364725178.html (which was also common to ancient Arabian scripts and classical Ethiopian scripts).

The text itself is written in heiratic, a cursive script used in Egypt for some 3000 years. Heiratic and heiroglyphics were not alphabetic but inscriptions in the Sinai Desert (Timna) and in southern Egypt show signs that appear to be early alphabetic characters that were inspired by Egyptian heiroglyphs. All this is closely bound up with chronology as explained in several articles in SIS journals by Bob Porter (among others). Was there an overlap between the alphabet and Late Bronze Age Ugarit?

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