A corpus of 91 ink-on-clay shards (or ostraca) written on the eve of the Kingdom of Judah’s destruction by Nebuchadnezzar was unearthed at Tel Arad, west of the Dead Sea, in the 1960s. A remarkable find, the shards were found together on the floor of a single room, and what legible writing was discerned was thoroughly deciphered by top scholars. For the past 50 years, they have been prominently displayed in the Israel Museum.
Containing lists of supplies and orders from military quartermasters, the shards’ value to the study of the Hebrew language, the sociology and the economy of the time period is immeasurable.
Now, though, with the discovery of previously “invisible” words, and even sentences on the “blank” verso side of one of the first shards to be examined with the new technology, the pieces have become still more important.
It is speculated that the majority of correspondence and literature of this historical period was written on biodegradable papyrus. Therefore, most surviving biblical-period Hebrew inscriptions are on ostraca. Once unearthed, however, ink on clay fades rapidly; many shards previously thought of as “blank” have been summarily disposed of at digs or during artifact recording.
The new, user-friendly multispectral imaging technique, developed by a team of applied mathematicians, archaeologists and physicists — co-directed by archaeology Prof. Israel Finkelstein and physics Prof. Eli Piasetzky — will give these “blank” pottery pieces the chance to reveal any hidden treasures.