Photo courtesy Frank Moore Cross

The Nora fragment (shown here, compare with drawing). Discovered in the 19th century on the island of Sardinia, this 18-inch-high by 24-inch-wide stone slab contains the remains of an inscription written in Phoenician-style Semitic letters. Epigraphers are strongly divided over the date of the inscription. Frank Moore Cross believes it was written boustrophedon-style (“as the ox ploughs,” that is, alternating between right-to-left and left-to-right) and dates it to about 1000 B.C.E. If Cross is correct, the Nora Fragment is the oldest Semitic inscription yet found in the Central or Western Mediterranean and bolsters Cross’ view that the Phoenicians disseminated the alphabet much earlier than many classicists have been willing to acknowledge. Other epigraphers, however, claim that Cross has read the inscription upside-down and that it was not written in boustrophedon fashion; these scholars date the fragment to the ninth century B.C.E.