Robin F. Beningson of New York thought the arrowheads she had seen pictured in a review I wrote for BAR looked familiar.1 She believed she had two just like them, but so far she had been unsuccessful in finding someone who could explain them to her and evaluate their significance. She wrote and asked me, Would I be interested in seeing them? I responded with enthusiasm, and Ms. Beningson sent the arrowheads to me at Johns Hopkins for study.

A preliminary examination showed that Ms. Beningson was correct: Her two projectile points (photos below) clearly belonged to the small corpus of alphabetically inscribed bronze arrowheads I had discussed in BAR, and there was nothing about them or their inscriptions that might call their authenticity into question. This meant that the total number of known examples of these artifacts had now increased from 32 to 34. This was a significant increase in this important corpus, and it would not have happened without the cooperation of the collectors who gave permission to Robert Deutsch and Michael Heltzer to publish their five arrowheads;2 BAR, which brought the arrowheads and their significance to international attention; and Ms. Beningson, who alertly recognized what she had and was willing to share it with the scholarly community. Several other examples have since come to light, primarily through further publication by Deutsch and Heltzer of objects held in private collections, so that the total corpus now approaches 50.

These inscribed arrowheads represent an unusual and little-known category of artifacts. Yet, as I stressed in my review, they shed considerable light on the early history of the alphabet.

During my first careful examination of the Beningson arrowheads, I noted a number of interesting features, some unprecedented in the corpus of inscribed arrowheads. For example, while the script of the smaller arrowhead (upper photo) fits squarely into the middle of the eleventh century B.C.E., the period to which the largest number of these inscribed arrowheads belong, the script of the larger arrowhead (lower photo) shows that it belongs to the end of the eleventh or, more probably, the beginning of the tenth century B.C.E. If this is correct, it is the least archaic arrowhead in the entire known corpus.

The interpretation of the archaic text of the two arrowheads also presented a few surprises, but here I was hampered by surface corrosion that obscured the reading in places, especially on the smaller arrowhead. This difficulty led to the next episode in the story of the recovery and interpretation of these important artifacts.

After consulting with experts at Johns Hopkins, I sought the assistance of Dr. R. Thomas Chase, an authority on ancient bronzes, who at that time (June 1996) was the director of the conservation laboratory at the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., a division of the Smithsonian Institution. Dr. Chase took a special interest in the project and was very generous with his time and resources, and even made the scientific instruments in his laboratory available for analysis of the arrowheads. With the permission of Ms. Beningson, we performed three tests on the arrowheads. First, we examined them under very high magnification. Second, Dr. Chase carried out a spectrographic analysis, which identifies the elements the bronze is composed of (both arrowheads proved to be primarily copper alloyed with a significant amount of tin). Third, Dr. Chase X-rayed the two arrowheads. These procedures, especially the first and third, were extremely useful to me in my attempt to decipher the inscribed texts. The X rays, for example, not only penetrated beneath the surface corrosion on the arrowheads but also eliminated most incidental scratches, ancient and modern, and exposed the original engraving in remarkably clear form. The tests performed by Dr. Chase also yielded many kinds of information that I was not specifically seeking and taught me the potential this kind of laboratory analysis has for increasing the information we can derive from the study of ancient inscriptions. To cite only one example, during our microscopic examination of the larger of the two arrowheads, Dr. Chase, with his practiced eye, was able to determine that the inscription had been incised with a steel engraving tool, and this observation has significance for the state of metallurgy in the Levant at the beginning of the first millennium B.C.E.

With the scientific tests completed, I was able to decipher the inscriptions fully.

The smaller of the Beningson arrowheads (measuring 3 inches long) belonged to “Yattarsidq man of ’Ummi‘a” and the larger (3.75 inches long) to “Yakkiba‘l brother of Shumba‘l.” Ms. Beningson has kindly given me permission to publish these two new arrowheads, and a full scientific study, including details from the laboratory analyses performed by the Freer, will appear shortly in volume 26 of Eretz Israel, an annual published by the Israel Exploration Society.

In the meantime, a third arrowhead had been sent to me by another collector and BAR reader, Robert L. Van Uitert of Williamstown, Massachusetts. Like Ms. Beningson, Dr. Van Uitert generously gave me permission to study his arrowhead and subject it to laboratory analysis. After a preliminary examination of the Van Uitert arrowhead, however, I was suspicious of its authenticity. The surface looked unnaturally smooth, exhibiting almost no natural surface corrosion on the inscribed part of the blade. Even more troubling was the fact that I recognized the arrowhead! It was identical in every detail to one that had been published in a second volume by Deutsch and Heltzer,3 who indicated that it belonged to an “anonymous collector.” This collector could not have been Dr. Van Uitert himself, since he had acquired the arrowhead very recently, after the publication of Deutsch and Heltzer’s book. I feared that I would have to tell Dr. Van Uitert that he had been sold a forgery, a modern cast made from a mold taken from the original in the possession of the “anonymous collector.” Nevertheless, I returned to the Freer Gallery, and again Dr. Chase patiently conducted the same battery of tests that he had run on the Beningson arrowheads. To my pleasant surprise (and initial confusion), the tests showed the Van Uitert arrowhead to be authentic and ancient. Microscopic examination found corroded material deep inside the grooves of the incised inscription. The unnatural smoothness of the surface was probably the result of a modern antiquity dealer’s attempt to clean the surface with something like steel wool in order to make the inscription more visible to a potential buyer. I discussed this mystery with Dr. Van Uitert, and after a brief investigation, he was able to determine that the dealer from whom he purchased the arrowhead was in fact the “anonymous collector” cited by Deutsch and Heltzer. The Van Uitert arrowhead is, in short, perfectly authentic, and its inscription indicates that it was “The arrowhead of ’Aha’ son of ‘Ashtart.”

But it has already been published by Deutsch and Heltzer.