Credit: Felix Höflmayer et al., 2021 (figure by J. Dye,
which is clearer in its original setting, see below for the link)
West Semitic Syllabic and Consonantal Scripts
The first thing I must say is this: many scholars are named in this exposition, and I am not meaning to
make personal attacks on any of them; they are respected colleagues. My
criticism is directed at the flawed tradition they are upholding, and
the errors that they and I commit with our damaged implements, when we
are studying ancient West Semitic inscriptions. If the reader detects
lampooning in this exposé, please keep in mind that I personally use the
word "lampoon" to signify "shining a lamp on a thing to show up its
silliness". However, I am still free to satirize my own self and its
This is work in progress; I am posting it at this constructional stage so that you can see where I am coming from, and where I am going to, and how I arrive at my destinations, and reach my provisional conclusions; I want to set up sign-posts (an apt metaphor under the circumstances of surveying significant signs) to show others the right paths to proceed along, and also offer a compass to guide us in the right directions; accordingly, a typology of categories is being presented here to encompass the corpus of early West Semitic scripts and inscriptions.
I hope I will not spoil your search for truth if I tell you now that I am trying to demonstrate ("prove" and end with QED, quod erat demonstrandun) that the script on this sherd is not consonantal alphabetic, as is widely and unthinkingly claimed, but syllabic; and the same applies to the talismanic cylinders from Tuba (Tell Umm el-Marra in Syria), which have also been given warranted publicity, but unwarranted interpretation.
If you have fallen into the trap of "pan-alphabeticism", an obsessive compulsion disorder, and you can only see "Early Alphabetic" in ancient West Semitic syllabic and consonantal texts alike, then I am here to help you out of this pandemic affliction; with your compunction and our shared compassion, this ailment can be cured, and the masks concealing shamefaced countenances can be removed. However, this journey is a long and arduous trek, tortuous and torturous, with a profusion of details to be absorbed, and so you may prefer to just look at the pictures and try to recognize some of the scary characters: logograms, syllabograms, consonantograms, acropictophonograms, rebograms. Or perhaps you will be happy to take my word for it: practitioners in this field are blithely and blissfully unaware of the disgrace they are heaping upon themselves by blindly disregarding the presence of the early West Semitic proto-syllabary as the constant companion of its own offspring, the proto-consonantary (that is, the proto-alphabet). This is an opportunity for me to give an overall summary of my system, and enshrine my ideas on the Worldwide Web, allowing them to hover over the closed dark grottoes where the early alphabet ìnvalids feed on the fetid flesh of inválid fallacies and fantasies; and when I have departed to even higher realms, in my original form as stardust, the rock ceilings may collapse under the weight of this knowledge, and the healing waters may cleanse the sick, and the illuminating light restore them to the health of truth; meanwhile, methinks I need a remedy for my hyperbolic colic.
Confession: I have been working on this project since April 2021, and I still can not say that I have definitively deciphered the message in this inscription; I would be disappointed if I had to conclude that the scribe was merely practising random letters. However, on the 14th of June 2021 I came to a tentative conclusion that the message on the sherd contains the verb `BD (work, transitive) and the noun GANNAT (garden), and it says: "I am cultivating a garden" (exactly as in Genesis 2:15).
More news: on my 85th birtthday anniversary, 12th of July (shared with the Battle of the Boyne) I received another "(Proto-)Canaanite" inscription, from Khirbet al-Ra`i, which is situated near Tell Lachish.; apparently it bears the name YRB`L, an alias of Judge Gid`on in the Bible (Judges 6-9); and it is also being hailed as a "missing link"; but I am still waiting for the "unmissing links" to be discovered by scholars other than myself.
Pass through the turnstile here, and embark on the lechery cruiser for your voyage of uncovery (a printer's devil or diabolical gremlin has interfered with this pious ejaculation, I fear).
This is your ticket, your worker's pass permitting you to labour in a particular garden.
Here we go again: from the ruin-mound of ancient Lakish (Tel
Lachish in Israel, Arabic name Tell ed-Duweir) a sherd with yet another antique West Semitic inscription has been brought to
light, and published aptly in the journal Antiquity, and also conveniently put on open internet access by Cambridge University Press. (15 April 2021)
can see from these two titles that the four authors are promoting it as
"the missing link" in the early development of the alphabet; I think
that it might be a piece from a different series, and not the alphabetic
chain they have in mind. However, they argue that the Carbon 14 method
of dating is now more reliable, and so they can assert: "Dating to the
fifteenth century BC, this inscription is currently the
oldest securely dated alphabetic inscription from the Southern Levant,
and may therefore be regarded as the ‘missing link’."
Regrettably, from my viewing point, some "fake news" and "alternate facts" are lurking here, although this was not the intention of the authors; what I mean is that the epigraphist Haggai Misgav and the rest of the team (Felix Höflmayer, Lyndelle Webster, Katharina Streit) have jumped to the incorrect conclusion; in football terms, Misgav has scored an own goal, by mistakenly kicking the ball into the wrong net, and losing a point for his side; in plain language, they have not asked the crucial question: Is this text syllabic or consonantal? Complying with the deplorable practice in the infertile field of West Semitic epigraphy, they have simply assumed that it is alphabetical, that is, consonantal, where each letter represents a consonant; but it might be a syllabic text, in which each character is a syllabogram, representing a syllable (consonant plus one of three vowels: BU, BA, BI). Consequently, their identifications for its letters could be entirely erroneous, and their attempt to determine its place in the early history of the alphabet will be replete with alternative facts, in the sense of irrelevant data, including a swarm of speculations, causing them to gamble recklessly, and back the wrong horse on the wrong course; pardon my coarse language. Needless to say, no mention is made of any published research results with the name Colless attached to them; this is a regrettable oversight, but the times are changing. It is still my mission to speak out when academics inadvertently cross the line between truth and error, and to tell them that they are innocently guilty of a serious transgression: promulgating incorrect information about the four early West Semitic scripts.
On the scale of merit, in their review of "other potential early alphabetic examples from the area" ("Historical context") they do not include any syllabic inscriptions; in contrast, Christopher Rollston's survey of the evidence (in his essay cited immediately below) is heavily on the demerit side, unable to distinguish syllabic from consonantal, and it will be my task to arrange his monomial list of plants (an unhealthy monocultural crop) into four separate garden-beds (this metaphor is appropriate, because Semitic words for garden will have an important part to play in my discussion of the data).
Coincidentally, a claim has also been made for
some inscribed clay objects from a tomb in ancient Tuba (Tell Umm el-Marra in
Syria, east of the antediluvian but still newsworthy city Aleppo): these tiny artefacts allegedly have the oldest examples of
alphabetic writing known to us. This is a stupendous claim, or perhaps a stupid
idea, if the writing is actually syllabic. I can see the mother (umm) of
all alphabets in these specimens of writing, but not the proto-alphabet itself.
This Arabic word for “mother” reminds me to tell you that I will be using the term
West Semitic (covering the scripts and languages of the region that extends
from Syria down to the Arabian peninsula, but excluding East Semitic
Mesopotamia), rather than North-West Semitic (referring only to Syria-Palestine,
also known as the Levant), and this is because Arabia was also involved in the development of the early
c  Tuba tubular amulets, with West Semitic proto-syllabic writing
"Tell Umm el-Marra (Syria) and Early Alphabetic in the Third
Millennium: Four Inscribed Clay Cylinders as a Potential Game Changer" (Christopher Rollston, George Washington University)
This article by Colin Barras has been published in New Scientist (24 April 2021) page 15 (and that is where I studied it, not being a subscriber with access to their website, although I buy this magazine at my local shop every week). Three scholars were asked for their opinion: Aaron Koller (Yeshiva University, New York) was doubtful, as he could not fit this evidence into "our current theories about the invention of the alphabet" (but the current theories are faulty, and it has a primary place in my theory; I thought he knew that from our past correspondence); Benjamin Sass (Tel Aviv University) does not know what the script is, but these objects do not challenge his ideas of the alphabet's invention (in fact they do affect his ideas, which are constantly moving further away from reality); John Darnell (Yale University) was more open, suggesting that these signs could represent "a proto-history" of the alphabet (and he is right, but he would not know why, even though we have discussed his discovery of really early alphabetic writing in the Wadi el-Hol in Egypt, and he has responded favourably to my interpretation).
Glenn Schwartz, one of the archaeologists who found these objects, is Professor of Archaeology at Johns Hopkins University; his colleague P. Kyle McCarter, now W. F. Albright Professor Emeritus, is listed as one of his consultants; McCarter works in the field of West Semitic epigraphy and is reputedly an expert on the origin of the alphabet; he should have been able to assist Schwartz in identifying this writing system, but he is a member of the American school of thought that only countenances an "early alphabetic" category, and (on pain of loss of tenure and reputation) they ignore the parallel line of "early syllabic", even though this is fundamental to the other. Their university was formerly the base of the great William Foxwell Albright (1891-1971), the polymath who practised Biblical Archaeology alongside philology. Albright was an unashamed orientalist, and he is my guru for Ancient Near Eastern studies. Albright certainly recognized the significance of the inscriptions from Byblos ("the Canaanites had invented a syllabary of their own, clearly modeled to some extent after the Egyptian hieroglyphic system"); he thought that this would have happened before the end of the 3rd millennium BCE, in the time of "the Old Empire" (1961, 334); the writing on the Tuba cylinders could fit into this framework. Disappointingly, although Albright acknowledged that the proto-alphabet was "the direct progenitor" of the later Phoenician alphabet, he averred that "there is little reason to believe that it was directly influenced by the earlier syllabic script of Byblos" (1961, 339f) . Unfortunately, Albright's opinion on the syllabary, and his defective detective work on the early alphabetic inscriptions, culminating in his faulty table of signs and values, have severely corrupted "archaeological research", in its wider sense.
In his book on Archaeology and the Religion of Israel (1942, 1968, p. 36) Albright states that he is using the term "archaeology" in its inclusive sense, covering all written documents and unwritten materials; but occasionally he restricts it to its narrower meaning, which excludes "philological investigation". Glenn Schwartz, the archaeologist, certainly has a philological side encompassing languages and literature, having studied Assyriology with Benjamin R. Foster, and he was probably expecting to find cuneiform texts on clay tablets in his excavations, but instead he discovered linear markings on little clay cylinders. Glenn has been mulling over the script for years, and has now plumped (in an injuriously heavy fall) for earliest alphabetic, even though I told him long ago (when the fragments were first publicised on the expedition's website) that it was the West Semitic syllabary (or Canaanite syllabary, or Byblos script), which I now call the West Semitic proto-syllabary, and I maintain that it was the predecessor and progenitor and companion of the early alphabet.
In his "Potential Game Changer" essay (cited above), Rollston supports Schwartz, and in so doing he has become another of the epigraphists who can not differentiate the proto-syllabary from the proto-alphabet, a benighted band who will never be knighted (well, they are nearly all US Americans). On the other hand, we could admit that Rollston and Schwartz are approximately one-third right, since most of the letters of the Phoenician consonantal alphabet (which has no signs to represent vowels) and the subsequent Greco-Roman vocalic alphabet (with vowel-letters) were originally in the West-Semitic syllabary; they were borrowed from the proto-syllabary for the new consonantal writing system, and continued on into the European alphabets. So a mistake like this would seem to be excusable. However, an examination mark of 33% is a D-grade, and in the realm of failure. As you can see, I am trying to write this so that university students can understand, since my hopes are invested in them, that they will understand this elementary (LMN-T) theory, which has already been verified by experiments, but is incomprehensible to established academics, because (1) they did not think of it, so it must be wrong, and (2) it is not what their teacher taught them, and (3) it is propagated by three marginal scholars (Colless, Mendenhall, Hoch), who are dying or dead. For my part (alone and the one in the dying category), desperation could be creeping in; but inconstant continents were eventually but reluctantly allowed to drift, by hidebound scientists; and syllablic-consonantal paradigms can shift, too, if scholars take their blindfolds and blinkers off. By the way, the considerable number of shared signs in the syllabary and the consonantary will be an important aspect of our interpretation of the new Lakish inscription.
I would like to clarify this matter here and now, at the very outset. By rehearsing all the background details, I will strengthen my own case in my own mind, and hopefully teach the reader how to interpret early West Semitic writing. For those outside this subject area, my presentation may be funny ha-ha (take note, there is our first syllabogram, and HA is represented by the ground-plan of a temple when you are looking for it); for those professionally involved in this area it may possibly be funny-peculiar and offensive to boot.
Here beginneth the first lesson. George Mendenhall and myself each compiled tables of sound-values for the syllabograms in the collection of inscriptions from Gubla/ Gebal/ Byblos; mine was based on his, and I have been applying it to many other texts, such as these Tuba examples.
https://massey.academia.edu/BrianColless (The West Semitic Proto-Syllabary)
Glenn Schwartz does not find my views on his cylinders convincing (he graciously gave me a footnote in 2010: "this interpretation does not seem persuasive"); but his ideas are based on mystical meditation on the Indus script (by the way, the lotus position is known in that civilization), and external inspection of a few samples from Byblos for comparison, without internal investigation of the proto-syllabic system in all its manifestations around the ancient world, including Atlantic Europe and Transatlantic America. He has now dived in deeply out of his depth, suggesting that the characters are early alphabetic letters; he thinks he can find versions of A, L, O, and K, but he can not identify any words.
A would not be the vowel a,
but rather 'Alep/Alpha (glottal stop in Semitic) and represented by the
head of an ox, still visible to us today if the A is inverted; he must
be referring to the glyph in the middle of the second piece; in his 2010
drawing he omitted the clear vertical stroke, and included the faint
horizontal line at the top, to produce a vaguely bovine head; no, it is
not a short-horned bull, but probably WA (waw, a hook or
nail) and that is certainly carried over from the proto-syllabary into
the the proto-consonantary (the early alphabet) as W.
O would be `Ayin, an eye, which certainly appeared in the Phoenician alphabet as a circle (sometimes with a central dot), in the Iron Age, and went vocalic as O in the international alphabet; but the circle (with or without the dot that is present here) was the sun in the Bronze Age, standing for the syllable SHI and the consonant Sh (from shimsh "sun").
L must be at the right end of the top piece, but I take that to be `U, `Ayin plus U; or else the curved line at the left end of the bottom fragment, but that is NI, a tusk, which was surplus to requirements in the proto-alphabet, and the snake that was NA and which became simple N is at the end of the lower piece; at the start of the top fragment is a bee (nubtu > NU) every scribe struggled with drawing this character, and there was no standard form; and when the consonantal alphabet was constructed, the snake (NA) told the bee (NU) to buzz off, and take the tusked elephant (NI) with her. Hey, it's a jungle out there, and a jungle book in here. This knowledge is for children, too, so I am reaching out to them, trusting them to pass it on to their elders.
K. Yes. OK. That tripodic figure is KA (actually three fingers of a hand, apparently, or think of it as a thumb with the four fingers in a V-form, or the three main fingers shown with the thumb and fourth finger embracing behind), and by sleight of hand it slipped into the alphabet as K; we will meet it again in an early alphabetic inscription from Thebes; but the story of the letter K is complicated.
In case you have missed my point, I am arguing that Schwartz has no idea how he should interpret these early examples of West Semitic writing; but you may also detect uncertainty in my identifications for the characters.
What have we overlooked? There is one more letter awaiting our
attention at the end of fragment 1, and a portion of something at the
broken end of fragment 2. The latter sign is difficult to discern
HI could easily go unnoticed (to my eternal shame I overlooked it in my early research on these texts); we focus on the end of the top piece and see a reversed E; this syllabogram is indeed the ultimate origin of E (Epsilon not Eta); the middle stroke has a short extension that might well be complemented by the short stroke on the small piece, pictured below, on the recapitulation of Photo 2; in any case, the other end of this stem seems to have a circle, for a head, and the whole character represents a person in jubilation (hillul, as in Halleluyah).
The other mysterious marking may in fact be complete; thus a curved line with two crossbars can be GU (gupnu "vine"); the word gu means "voice", which would be reminiscent of the term "true of voice" for deceased persons who have passed the judgement of the heart and gained entry to the realm of Osiris, the god of resurrection. A circle with one crossbar at the top of the stem would be Egyptian `Ankh, a symbol of life (the top vertebra of a bull) and produce H.I (h.iwatu "life"). A circle with two crossbars on its stem is the nefer symbol of goodness and beauty, which combines with Semitic t.abu ("good") to render syllabic T.A and alphabetic T. (and finally Theta). We could break our bee (NU) into two pieces, and discover `Ankh. It so happens that these two logograms denoting "good" and "life" appear in another proto-syllabic inscription (mistakenly published as early alphabetic) on an amulet against sickness, from Egypt.
NA. We now need to scrutinize the two serpents at the end of each NIKAWANA sequence (see the photographs below). There is no doubt that the snake (NA) passed into the alphabet to act as the letter N (note that the head is on the right side in Roman N); in the proto-alphabet the snake for N could be a reposing cobra (Egyptian hieroglyph I10) or a prone viper (I9), but the syllabary preferred the erect cobra (I12); and that is what we are looking at here; examining the tail of each serpent, we see that it is not flat on the ground but has a curve or an angle (as in the hieroglyph); this feature occurs consistently in the Byblos syllabic texts (though I have not made this detail clear on my various tables). We need to grasp this rearing reptile by the tail and hold on to it till the very end; this is the key component in my argumentation. Of course, you can steer off course and look fore or aft at the Lakish sherd and see my sneaky snaky point, and expend no more energy on this journey.
Here I need to say that my readings are tentative, according to the Colless principle that the only person who knows the intended meaning of an inscription is the person who wrote it. Accordingly we can commiserate with Glenn Schwartz as he attempts to make sense of his great discoveries; but these texts are early syllabic not earliest alphabetic; he was arguing from the wrong premiss (like the two women in their respective apartments shouting at each other across their alley; a passing philosopher observed that they could never agree because they were arguing from different premises). I intend to prove to you that my premiss is the right one in this case.
 Tuba tubular amulets
Top left: nu-shi-`u, "saved"
Bottom left and top right: ni-ka-wa-na, "established"
Glenn Schwartz could not identify any words in these markings. You want woids?
How about this pleasant plethora of verbose verbiage. Imagine the
triumphant headline: "Oldest missing link for the Semitic root that gave
us the name Jesus found on an ancient lucky charm for salvation and
resurrection in a luxurious élite tomb in war-torn Syria is a potential
In this regard, Glenn thinks his artefacts could be amulets, and I would support this idea; and the two words I have detected (nu-shi-`u, "saved"and ni-ka-wa-na, "established") seem appropriate to dead people undergoing judgement before entering the next world. This could mean that the three occupants of the tomb were believers in the Egyptian view of the afterlife, and their minuscule documents were equivalent to the Book of the Dead that an Egyptian man or woman carried with them into the judgement hall. As I see it, the man, woman, and child were comfortably installed in their resting place, with plenty of pots providing sustenance for their sojourn, and a spear to protect them; subsequently their tomb became a crime scene: they were victims of posthumous murder!
The grave was a double square rectangle, with the north and south walls twice as long as the west and east sides. The male body was centered at the west wall, right next to a collection of unbroken pots in the northwest corner. The female bones were in the corner of the west and south walls, and her jewelry was still there, suggesting that robbery was not the foremost motive in the mind of the tomb-raider. The child's body was further down the south wall. This arrangement could imply that they were all headed westwards, to a paradise. There is a line of three smashed pots, running SE from the NW corner, and the four cylinder fragments were found in their vicinity. If these were talismans, threaded on a string, they could have been on the bodies, and the destroyer tore them away and shattered them, in the belief that these tickets to eternity would now be inválid; but they could conceivably have been strung around the three broken jars, which contained the most important organ of each person, namely the heart; the placing of the heart in a vessel is in accordance with Egyptian funeral customs; it was not the brain that would be judged, but the heart, because it contained the memory, and the record of the person's actions and experiences in life would be recorded on the tablets of the heart (learned by heart, as the saying still goes).
Further discussion on the identification of the characters is given elsewhere: my 2007 recognition of the script on these cylindrical objects has now been updated here:
This assessment is reported in my article on "The origin of the alphabet" in Antiguo Oriente 12, 71-104, Colless 2014:78, n. 22), and "The Mediterranean Diet in Ancient West Semitic Inscriptions", Damqatum 12, 3-19, Collesss 2016:4-5); so it has been published in academic journals, and both articles are available at: https://massey.academia.edu/BrianColless.
 Tuba tubular amulets
Yes, the Umm el-Marra/Tuba texts can be confidently regarded as the
oldest-known West Semitic inscriptions written in a West Semitic script,
but it is the proto-syllabary not the proto-consonantary. Christopher Rollston is quite wrong in asserting that these Tuba inscriptions are "Early Alphabetic".
To bolster his case for widespread employment of the alphabet, Rollston presents a list of "Early Alphabetic" inscriptions, which is actually an unsorted jumble of four different categories of syllabic and consonantal texts; it is reproduced and rearranged here:
I think it is scandalous that the people who work professionally in this field can allow themselves to ignore the so-called Byblos pseudo-hieroglyphic syllabary (the West Semitic proto-syllabary); sadly, it amounts to an undeclared and unintended conspiracy, and it must be recognized and remedied.
Now, before we study the new Lakish inscription, let me lay down the foundations again. The first basic thing is that I do not believe anything. Why? because all human knowledge is tentative (merely a messy mass of attempts to make sense of all the phenomena around us), and provisional (with multiple provisos attached to it, open to alteration by new evidence and fresh insights). However, I give a large amount of credence to my theory of the origin of the alphabet; and I am encouraged by the number of people who are looking at my essay on the subject, in these two places:
I weep with Cassandra. "When will they ever learn?" Complicated
writing systems with hundreds of characters (such as Mesopotamian
cuneiform and Egyptian hieroglyphic) have been successfully deciphered;
but the simple little proto-alphabet is ravaged by all who lay hands on
her; and her mother the proto-syllabary is not difficult to deal with, and yet she is shunned.
Such a state of affairs is disconcerting and disgraceful, and all my
efforts to remedy it have failed, it would seem. My credentials are
derived from eighty years of wrestling with the writing systems of
humankind, starting with the most intractable of them all: English
alphabetic orthography ("right writing", a misnomer for this deplorable system).
This is an opportunity for me to expound my ideas and discoveries relating to the evolution of the alphabet, comprehensively but concisely. These are the facts (tentative, but tenable, not tenuous): the West Semitic syllabary, alias the proto-syllabary, was the predecessor and progenitor and companion of the consonantal alphabet; and this non-syllabic pictorial alphabet engendered two more consonantaries and another syllabary; one outcrop of these, the Phoenician consonantary, provided the resources for the construction of the Greco-Roman alphabet.
Rollston kindly gives us the chronological dates and data: the Tuba script (recognizable to me as the proto-syllabary) is Early Bronze Age (more precisely the 24th Century BCE, in the Old Kingdom period of Egypt); and the early alphabet (Sinai, and Egypt) is Middle Bronze Age (possibly 19th Century BCE, Egyptian Middle Kingdom period). This shows that the proto-syllabary preceded the proto-consonantary (the proto-alphabet); but it did not predecease it.
The proto-syllabary was not only the predecessor of the alphabet, but also its procreator; the number of genes or graphemes that they share proves their common lineage, and even parentage on the part of the forerunner. First notice that the proto-syllabary (according to my research calculations) has signs representing slightly less than two dozen (XXIV) consonants, apparently twenty-two (XXII), which is the same number as in the later consonantary (the Phoenician alphabet, from which the Greco-Roman alphabet was fashioned), whereas the proto-alphabet has slightly more than two dozen consonants (XXVII at least). Focusing on the Phoenician alphabet (which developed out of the proto-alphabet), we can see that most of its twenty-two consonantal graphemes (consonantograms) already functioned as syllabic signs (syllabograms) in the West Semitic proto-syllabary; additionally, the gestation of the proto-consonantary (proto-alphabet, with twenty-seven consonants) involved creation of some new "members" on the body (namely D, H, T, G, Z.).
The two genetically related systems operated side by side; the syllabary did not die in giving birth to the consonantary. The mother and the daughter traveled together over lands and seas, in the 2nd Millennium BCE (Middle and Late Bronze Ages): they both left their traces in Egypt, Sinai, Canaan, and Scandinavia; and also in the ancient trans-Atlantic continent (Texas, for example) and islands (Jamaica), and notably Puerto Rico, where we find figurines with proto-syllabic and proto-alphabetic inscriptions, and a plaque exhibiting the letters of the proto-alphabet. (Rollston had been consulted about the marks on the figurines, but he did not notice their significance.)
 Puerto Rico figurines
Left figurine: 9 syllabograms of consonants `Ayin, H, T
(note crucifix-cross for a T- syllable,
and the 9-shaped HA, temple, which I promised)
Right figurine: The sun-sign Sh stands in the centre
(2 serpents guarding the disc)
Incidentally, it has now been proved that Mediteranean ships could have crossed the ocean to the Americas.
This fellowship of syllabary and consonantary can also be observed at a silver mine in Norway.
The largest collection of proto-consonantary inscriptions is at the Sinai turquoise mines (Colless 1990).
Three new related systems came into existence, not simply by evolution but through human intervention; I classify them with these technical terms:
(1) neo-consonantary, a shorter consonantal alphabet;
(2) cuneo-consonantary, a cuneiform alphabet, with characters made up of wedge-shaped components;
(3) neo-syllabary, a syllabary constructed from the letters of the neo-consonantary.
(1) First came the neo-consonantary: the pictorial characters became stylized, and the number of letters was reduced; the resulting short alphabet (neo-consonantary) can be distinguished from the long alphabet (proto-consonantary) by the presence of any of the five additional consonantograms listed above, especially >ooo (H), and = (D); at the same time, if we find in the text a word that originally had H (for instance) but has H.et (example: h.wh. "hole" in Hebrew, but with h in Arabic) then we have an indication of the short alphabet. By the same token, if any of these three additional proto-alphabet signs (= D, >ooo H, --|) Z.) appear in a text, then it could not be proto-syllabic, because those consonants are not recorded in the syllabary; the breast sign (\/\/) is an exception, because it functions as SHA (from thad / shad, "breast") in the proto-syllabary, but it is T (Th only) in the proto-consonantary, and then it covers Shin (Sh/Th) in the neo-consonantary (the short alphabet); and the proto-consonantogram G (ghanab, "grape") is a vine-stand, but acts as a T- syllabogram in the proto-syllabary. These are some of the complications of categorizing West Semitic inscriptions, when a new example comes to our attention. "Early Alphabet" monomania prevents other practitioners from following these proper procedures.
(2) The cuneiform alphabet (cuneo-consonantary) was invented in the Late Bronze Age, modeled on the characters of the proto-alphabet, and it likewise had long and short versions. We have much more evidence of this West Semitic system (most of it from Ugarit), because its clay tablets were less perishable than parchment and papyrus.
 Cuneiform consonantary
'A B G Kh D H W Z H. T. Y K Sh L
M Dh N Z. S ` P S. Q R Th
Gh T 'i 'u `S
I have a facsimile of this object, purchased at the museum in Damascus, many years ago. Let me demonstrate briefly my idea that the inventor of this partly syllabic cuneiform consonantary (!) tried to represent the pictophonograms of the proto-consonantary with wedge-shaped (cuneiform) components: B a square house constructed with four wedges; G a throwstick, and early versions showed the angle at the top clearly; H (Kh) has the three loops of the hank of thread; D a door, apparently with its post at the bottom; H has the arms and head, but not the body, as with its descendant E; W is a hook; Z has its two triangles represented; H.et, T.et, and Sh have a small wedge on an angle, denoting a circle, and representing the round courtyard of H.; the heart in the nfr/t.ab symbol of beauty (+o); the sun-disc with a serpent or two; Q also has a circle, being a cord wound on a string (--o<); T (+) is a cross, but has only one wedge; the Samek spine-sign (-|-|-|) is clearly represented at the end.
(3) Another innovation was the neo-syllabary: the alphabetic letters were used as syllabograms, with three syllables (-a, -i, -u) for each consonant, as in the proto-syllabary (and there is a partial analogy in the cuneo-consonantary with its three characters for 'Alep representing these three vowels); generally speaking, the various syllables for each consonant were marked by a change in stance or shape for the usual character. This time the roles have been reversed: a consonantary engenders a syllabary.
 Izbet Sartah (Ebenezer) neo-syllabic ostracon
is the amazing ostracon from Izbet Sartah, ancient Ebenezer (1 Samuel
4:1); the scribe is demonstrating how the new syllabary works; the
alphabet at the bottom is apparently intended to exhibit the syllables
with the vowel -a ('a, ba, ga, da etc.); the text shows the letters in
different stances ('Alep in line 1, Taw [+ x] in line 2 and elsewhere);
he uses signs as logograms: example, the `Ayin early in line 2, a dotted
circle, represents the word `ayin, "eye".; the `Ayin at the end of the
first line says "see", as an ideogram. "I am learning the signs; I see that the eye gives the breath of a sign to the ear through a stylus on clay..." See the full presentation at the collesseum website.
Again, the new syllabary and the new consonantary operated together. This is conveniently demonstrated in the two inscriptions from Shaaraim (Khirbet Qeiyafa, Sha`arayim, 'dual gates", the two-gated fortress overlooking the Elah Valley, where David confronted Goliath): the Qeiyafa ostracon is syllabic; it is an oracle from Yahu concerning David's defeat of the `anaq Guliyut; we finally have inscriptional evidence for David from his own lifetime, as "the servant of Elohim", though this is before he became King David; the legend on the Qeiyafa jar is consonantal; it includes the name Eshbaal, a son of King Saul; he eventually became King of Israel, but he was presumably the governor who lived in the palace in this military base. A remarkable feature of this pair of texts is that the -i syllabograms (examples: BI, GI, DI) usuually have the same forms as the corresponding consonantograms in the Phoenician consonantary, but the Eshbaal inscription does not employ any of these.
Examples of all five of these early West Semitic varieties could be lurking in the ruins of Lakish (Tel Lachish), and we will test this idea when we come to examine the new sherd from that city.
Above left is an important proto-alphabetic inscription, which has much to teach us; it would be upside down if I had included it in this photograph, though actually it was the only one of the six that was right way up in Petrie's published photograph, as the frontispiece of his book; all the others were unwittingly inverted.
It so happens that a similar statement has been found in a syllabic inscription at a silver mine at Kongsberg in Norway.
Let us put my derailed train of thought back on its track. (Notice the railway lines that the scribe of this inscription has laid for his train of syllable wagons to run along.)
In this fabulous collection of a half-dozen gems from southern Egypt, the odd one out is the proto-syllabic inscription at the bottom of the composite picture (originally published at the top, and unwittingly inverted, but reproduced here clearly and correctly).
Incidentally, on the spatula tablet, to the right of the D is a 3 with an extra peak, representing three water-waves; this is the letter M. On the bottom line, between a cross and the breast, there is a triangular figure with one or more lines projecting at the top; this could be proto-syllabic DU (a jar) as on the adjacent inscription (see below), or another door-sign as found in Sinai 357 (a tent-door). I confess I can not read this text, and I am uncertain about its classification, whether syllabic or consonantal, but I suspect the D is a logogram for "door" (as also on its accompanying proto-syllabic tablet, where the Dalt has two door panels).
An apposite aside: with regard to his tiny artefacts, Glenn Schwartz observes that “given the small number of sign values attested, it is difficult to ascertain whether the system was logographic, syllabic, alphabetic, or a combination of these” (Schwartz 2021, 258). The same cautionary remark could apply to our new Lakish sherd. However, the important point is the possibility of "a combination" of functions for an ancient writing system. The art of writing began with logograms (or we might say pictologograms for the earliest examples): the character expressed the word (in any language) that the sign depicted; then the sounds of the word could be used as syllabograms (single or multiple syllables) to represent the sounds of other words. When the acrophonic principle was put into service, in the new and original West Semitic syllabary and consonantary, the sign would represent the first syllable of the pictured word, or the first consonant. It is not generally accepted, but my contention is that the proto-syllabary and the proto-consonantary retained the older functions alongside their acrophonic roles; for example, a snake-sign can say NA in the proto-syllabary, or N in the proto-alphabet, but in either system it can represent the full word NAKhASh ("snake"), and even stand for a word with the same sounds, in this case "copper".
The next grapheme is possibly WI (apparently a copper ingot, connected not with the NKhSh word mentioned above, but with East Semitic weru "copper"); this might be a logogram, and the sentence is stating that "its door is copper", and it may be referring to a temple or tomb in the Valley of the Kings; presumably the six inscriptions were produced there by West Semitic workers in the Late Bronze Age.
The next syllabogram depicts a rainstorm (Hebrew h.aziz), hence H.A.
Thereafter, a very important character, a symbol of the sun with two serpents, standing for ShIMSh "sun", and the syllable ShI; this is also a feature of the proto-consonantary, as Sh, though the sun-disc is usually omitted there (as on the spatula and in the Sinai inscriptions); the disc can stand alone, or with one serpent, or with two (as here).
A problematic triangular glyph follows: I suggest DU, from DUDU "jar". The sequence H.AShIDU does not lend itself to an easy resolution; given that the preceding ingot stands for copper, H.AShI mighr be a phonetic complement to make it clear that the word for copper (see the sentence above the illustration) is to be supplied, while DU is a relative pronoun (also DU and ZU in Semitic languages), resulting in "Its door is of copper that is orange-coloured (TRG, the next sequence of signs). However, if we compare H.AShIDU with Hebrew H.ASID, "pious", and consider its connotations of "faithful" and "loyal", then we might contemplate "genuine copper"; but the idea of "solidarity" in Hebrew H.ESED, and the Arabic verb H.AShADA, "gather together, mass, concentrate" might support "solid copper" (rather than timber covered in copper sheeting).
Then we see a pair of musical semiquavers, but this is the grapevine Taw (TA or TU?) that we saw on a Puerto Rico figurine earlier. The next glyph is a bird, a vulture, RU, which we will meet again at Lakish. Then a throwstick, with an acute angle, GA (there is one of these on the new Lakish sherd).
We now have the root trg, which refers to citrus, and the colour orange. Josephus (Jewish War 5.5.3) likewise describes the gates of the Jerusalem Temple, plated with gold and silver, and one of Corinthian khalkos (copper, brass). One possible interpretation would thus be: "Its door is solid/genuine orange copper".
Moving on to the remaining two letters, whose sequence is unsure, but the rectangular sign is one of the indicators of the proto-syllabary, representing an altar, MIZBAH.U, for the syllable MI; the circular character is apparently the Egyptian nfr glyph (o-||-), used for Semitic T.ABU (good), and the syllabogram T.A, and the consonantogram T.; as ever, only the writer knew what it all meant; it might say "a fine altar" or "the altar is fine" (though the adjective should have a final t to mark the feminine gender); if t.ami is equivalent to Hebrew t.ame', then the copper door is "unclean"; or we retain "good" for the copper or the door, and MI is "from" (as with Corinth in the Josephus text) and assume that the name of the place has been washed away, and it could have said Alashiya (Cyprus) or Tarshish (Tartessos in Spain?). If we allowed the GA to be united with the MI, we would have a word for papyrus (I have seen an inscription with this combination, GAMI; cp. Hebrew gome`). Or could Hebrew gam "also" be invoked, saying "also good".
Where are we? That was a test for the Mendenhall-Colless decipherment of the West Semitic syllabic script, with my additional praxis of looking for logograms; in the absence of the person who wrote the message long ago I can not verify my multifarious interpretation, but the characters are certainly recognizable as belonging to the proto-syllabary.
At the same time it was a presentation of my typology of four categories of (non-cuneiform) West Semitic scripts, and their developments, in the Bronze Age (before 1200 BCE) and the early Iron Age (after 1200 BCE):
 PROTO-SYLLABARY (Early Bronze to Early Iron) acro-picto-phonograms > syllabograms; also logograms, rebograms
 PROTO-CONSONANTARY (Middle Bronze to Late Bronze) acro-picto-phonograms > consonantograms; also logograms, rebograms
 NEO-CONSONANTARY (Late Bronze to Early Iron) reduced number of consonantograms; also logograms, rebograms
 NEO-SYLLABARY (Early Iron) neo-consonantal signs adapted to produce a syllabary, including the three vowels -u, -a, -i; also logograms, rebograms
My fourfold classification of the evidence
is an evolutionary scheme:
PROTO-SYLLABARY > PROTO-CONSONANTARY >
NEO-CONSONANTARY > NEO-SYLLABARY
Each species generates (>) the next in this evolutionary process;
the basis of evolution is that new species are descended from
earlier species, though in the development of writing systems,
human invention and intervention are always guiding factors.
Gordon Hamilton has been productively prolific in publishing studies on West Semitic inscriptions of the Bronze Age and Early Iron Age, notably in his book The Origins of the West Semitic Alphabet in Egyptian Scripts (2006), and in his essay on Reconceptualizing the Periods of Early Alphabetic Scripts, in An Eye For Form (F. M. Cross Festschrift, 2014). Additionally, Gordon has enriched the field by bringing many early West Semitic inscriptions to light, with photographs, especially of those that Flinders Petrie published with only drawings (Lahun heddle jack, Ajjul spouted cup); but he has overlooked the six immensely important documents from Thebes (highlighted here), which would force him to rethink some of his erroneous ideas; the two abgadaries in that collection should have been the starting point and foundation of his Harvard thesis, but he simply asserts the identity of each proto-alphabetic letter according to the tradition laid down by W. F. Albright (which was to some extent based on guesswork), as transmitted by F. M. Cross, supervisor of the thesis, though GJH insists he had differences of opinion with FMC; but he has certainly departed from the scheme offered by Romain F. Butin (to whom Hamilton's book is reverently dedicated), the foundation on which my system is built. For my part, I can honestly say that Hamilton does cite my publications scrupulously in his book, though he apparently does not believe what I am saying; but he has no place for me in his chronology article, and that is understandable, because I have not yet published my ideas on dating-criteria for early alphabetic inscriptions.
A (c. 1900 - 1400 BCE), B (c. 1400 - 950), C (c. 1050 - after 900).
However, he is unable to recognize syllabic inscriptions and valiantly jousts with them to unseat them from their rightful status; then he forces them to falsely confess, consonantally and not syllabically; three examples of proto-syllabic texts that have been tortured with his inquisitional instruments are: Lahun heddle jack, Rifeh amulet, Megiddo gold ring.
ZA TU PU DA LU
Using a West Semitic (Hebrew) dictionary I can forcefully extract a meaning such as this:
"This (ZA) is a weaving (DALU) instrument (TUPU)"
Both are attractive interpretations, but it seems that we need to be seeking other possibilities.
Further details here: https://cryptcracker.blogspot.com/2020/08/lahun-syllabic-heddle-jack.html
“Sealed (nu-h.u-ta-ma) the sceptre (shubt.u, logogram) of (sha) Megiddo (magaduda).
Of the ten graphemes in this text, only three (SHA =Th/Sh, GA=G, DA=D) can be construed as consonantal. Nevertheless, Hamilton twists it out of shape, then melts it in his fiery crucible, and turns its syllabic and logographic gold into consonantal dross.
Our new Lakish inscription may not have enough graphemes for us to classify it definitively, but the ruin-mound of the city has provided several examples of the script categories, which may assist us in our quest.
The continuation of this expedition to LAKISH is recorded here: