Philistine Izbet Sartah Ostracon (1000 BCE)

(August 10, 2022) The Philistine letter style at this time was was becoming more cursive indicating it was mostly being scratched or inked on pottery shards and pieces of wood. 

For translation methodology see: How to Translate Alphabetic Akkadian Texts

Izbet Sartah Ostracon with text
The Izbet Sartah Ostracon with text. Image from from from Kochavi, M. (1977). Red letter assignments by Olmsted.Displayed at Rockefeller Archaeology Museum in Jerusalem. Online at:
The red circle shows the storage pit in which the Izbet Sartah Ostracon was found.
The red circle shows the storage pit in which the Izbet Sartah Ostracon was found. Drawing from Kochavi, M. (1977)


Cross, F.M. 1980 Newly Found Inscriptions in Old Canaanite and Early Phoenician Scripts. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research. No. 238, pages 1-20
Kochavi, M. (1977) An Ostracon of the Period of the Judges from Izbet Sartah. Tel Aviv 4:1-13. Online at:
Navah, J. (1978) Some Considerations on the Ostracon from Izbet Sartah. Israel Exploration Journal 28:31-35

Izbet Sartah Ostracon on Philistine Coast Blames Drought on Envy ~ 1000 BCE

(Jan 18, 2022) The Izbet Sartah Ostracon (pottery shard) seems to be a priestly student exercise. The first lines were written by the teacher which the student probably had to read back. The student in a slightly different letter style then imperfectly added an "abc" list for the last line.

Translation in Akkadian (Levant Text 6)

(read left to right. Capital letters on object. Small letters are inferred Inner vowels)
  1. A’û Ṣarāḫu A Tu. A’û [ ]
  2. Šū Tu Ne’u Qu Ḫu. A Tu Lu AYu. [ ] Ṭa’u Bu. Ṭu [ ]
  3. Pu Qu QaQû
  4. Qi’u Qu GaLû. Nu ḪaMû. A Tu Lu EDû.  Zu Qu Se’u Ta’û. A’û Lu AḪû. Lu Pa’ȗ Du [ ]

 In English

  1. Motion-powers are exciting this magic. Motion-powers …
  2. Magical correspondences are affecting the divine threads of Hu. This magic is going without Ayu. [missing word] is coming near the nourishments. Thu [ ].
  3. Openings are being threaded by the snake-birds 
  4. Envy detaches the threads. The Revealer is paralyzed. This magic lacks awareness. Thread elimination is inhibiting the grazing. The motion-powers lack supporters.  The lack of divine-birds for the life-powers [ ]
  5. (student) A B G D E Ḫ Z Ṭ W K L M N S I ’ Š P Q Ṣ T (missed the R, conflated P and Q signs, and reversed signs for B and L)

Line 1 states the common view that motion powers move the fertility fluids through the life network of Atu (Hu and Ba'al)

Line 2 states that because of the rituals of magic crafters that the goddess Ayu who normally trims the unwanted network lines is being inhibited. Thu is the hermaphrodite connective deity of the motion powers.

Line 3 refers to "snake birds" which are the motion power's equivalent to the link trimming eagle-vultures of the life powers.

Line 4 states that the emotion of envy is behind the emotion magic of the magic crafters and that is what is detaching the threads of the life network. This paralyzes the Revealer (god Yahu) because his activities need to be triggered by the fertility fluids. This lack of threads for rain and plant growth is drying up the pastures.

This pottery shard (ostracon) was found during the 1976-1978 excavation at Izbet Sartah which is located in what is now in Rosh-Ha''ayin, a far eastern suburb of Tel Aviv. This was the border between the coastal plain and the hill country. Its site overlooked the Nahal (Wadi) Raba valley which is a major tributary to the Yarkon River leading to the coast. This inscription was first published in 1977 by the excavation’s lead excavator Moshe Kochavi (Kochavi 1977). The shard dimensions are 16 x 9 cm and it has never been translated.  

The small settlement at Izbet Sartah was sort lived only being in existence during the eras of Iron Age 1A (1190-1140 BCE) and Iron Age 1B (1140-980 BCE).  It only has 3 strata. The lowest strata was settled by the Philistines and was composed of small wooden or mud brick dwellings with adjacent storage pits. After the great drought ended and prosperity returned these poor dwellings were cleared away to make room for a stone 4-room house located at the center of the settlement. While typically thought of as Israelite this style of house seems to have been a standard style for the whole area. 

The stone house was surrounded by dozens of smaller poorer buildings. This lasted until the settlement was temporarily abandoned around 1020 BCE for a time long enough for the stone house to fall into disrepair. The last phase of settlement did not last long but its people were able to return and repair the four-room house until it was permanently abandoned around 980 BCE.

This abandonment suggests that some conflict forced its people to flee. This conflict would have been the same one which led to the complete destruction of Shechem and nearby Shiloh by fire around 1000 BCE by an unknown group. At the time Shechem was the ruling city of the hill country based upon its size and common pottery culture (Finkelstein, 2019). The people of Israel were these hill people.  

Kaputnik: Text translation failures are like rocket failures. This is the Vanguard 3 Rocket Failure of 1957

Previous Translation Failures

Scholars trying to translate this inscription have been puzzled. In 1978, Joseph Navah claimed that the lines in this inscription:

“do not seem to comprise a text in any Semitic language. For the time being the ostracon can best be described as the scratching of some semi-literate person, who after writing the abecedary not very successfully, merely scratched an agglomeration of random letters.” (Naveh 1978)

In 1980 Frank Cross gave this opinion:

Many of its problems will be solved only as the corpus of 13th-11th century B.C. swells with future finds. Meanwhile the ostracon will stimulate lively discussion and disagreement, as the papers of Demsky (1977: 14-27) and Navah (1978: 31-35) demonstrate. The chief barrier to precise analysis of the text is the lack of skill on the part of the scribe – if he may be dignified by such a title. Naveh is surely correct in describing the ostracon as “the scratching of some semi-literate person, who after writing the abecedary, not very successfully, merely scratched an agglomeration of random letters” (Naveh 1978: 31). The sherd is, I believe, simply a learner’s practice tablet….. (Cross, 1980)
Maps showing location of found Philistine Texts
Early Philistine sites are shown in red.

Philistine Text Sites

(August 10, 2022)  Genetic studies show the Philistines were mostly European/Aegean in origin. A recent study compared 10 Bronze and Iron Age individuals from the Philistine city of Ashkelon. They found that the early Iron Age population of this city was genetically distinct from the Bronze Age people yet this genetic difference was no longer detectible in the later Iron Age population. 


Feldman, M; Master, D.M; Bianco, R.A.; Burri, M.; Stockhammer, P.W.; Mittnik, A.; Aja, A.J.; Jeong, C..; and Krause, J. (July 2019) Ancient DNA sheds light on the genetic origins of early Iron Age Philistines. Science Advances 03 Jul 2019: Vol. 5, no. 7, eaax0061. DOI: 0.1126/sciadv.aax0061. Online at:
Lake bottom Core sample data from the Sea of Galilee showing the droughts
Lake bottom Core sample data from the Sea of Galilee. In historical times it shows two major droughts. The 50 year long Great Drought of 1180 to 1140 BCE (Iron Age 1 period) which ended the Bronze Age (called the "Late Bronze Climate Crisis" in the chart) and the 10-year long Elijah drought of 850 BCE. The yellow gives the tree pollen level while the green gives the non-tree pollen level. Minor droughts are indicated anytime the curves turn downward. (Langut and Finkelsein 2013)

Droughts Defined the Archaeological Periods in the Levant

(August 9, 2022) Like most regions of the earth, correlating the archaeology of the southern levant with carbon 14 dating and absolute dating has been undergoing some debate. The best correlation with linguistics is the chronology proposed by Amihai Mazar in 2014. This chronology is reproduced below: 


Langut, D. Finkelsein, I, Litt, T. (2013) Climate and the Late Bronze Collapse: New Evidence from the Levant. Tel Aviv 40:149-175. Online at
Mazar, Amihai (2005) The Debate over the Chronology of the Iron Age in the Southern Levant: its History, the Current Situation and a Suggested Resolution. pp. 15-30 in: T. Levy and T. Higham (editors), The Bible and Radiocarbon Dating - Archaeology, Text and Science. London. Online at: