Hershel Shanks

Miners’ inscriptions, which number only a few dozen, are crudely and often haphazardly carved into Serabit’s stones and rock faces, with little or no attention given to the scribal “rules” that govern more formal writing traditions. In this inscription, which W.F. Albright read as “Thou, O Shaphan, collect from ’Ababa eight(?) minas (of turquoise). Shime‘a, groom of the chief of the car[avaneers(?)],” the first half of the text is oriented vertically (shown here), while the second half continues in a horizontal direction. This casual method of writing suggests that the miners who invented the alphabet did not know how to read or write the highly formalized, rule-governed hieroglyphic script they saw all around them.