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A new study of a cuneiform inscription discovered at Beth Shemesh 100 years ago suggests that it is a dictation exercise written by a local scribal student. The tablet, which dates to the 14th or 13th century BC, contains cuneiform wedges in an alphabetic script, with each symbol representing a sound. This contrasts with most Akkadian cuneiform inscriptions, whose characters typically either are ideograms or represent syllables. The text resembles an alphabetic cuneiform script used at Ugarit. Earlier scholars proposed that the Beth Shemesh inscription was a prayer or diplomatic text, but the new study suggests this is not the case.

A team of researchers from Ben-Gurion University tested the clay tablet and discovered that it was consistent with the clay near Beth Shemesh. The tablet is oddly shaped and not the same size as most known cuneiform tablets from that period. On the reverse, the imprints of small fingerprints were found, suggesting the tablet was made by a child. Moreover, the writer made mistakes, as corrections can be seen superimposed over the original signs. The text itself is unintelligible. All of this led the authors of the study to conclude it was a school writing exercise in which a teacher called out letters which the student wrote down. This implies that there was a local scribal school, testifying to some level of literacy in Canaan during the Late Bronze Age.


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