Proto-Sinaitic script

Proto-Sinaitic (also referred to as Sinaitic, Proto-Canaanite when found in Canaan,[1] the North Semitic alphabet,[2] or Early Alphabetic)[3] is considered the earliest trace of alphabetic writing and the common ancestor of both the Ancient South Arabian script and the Phoenician alphabet,[4] which led to many modern alphabets including the Greek alphabet.[5] According to common theory, Canaanites or Hyksos who spoke a Semitic language repurposed Egyptian hieroglyphs to construct a different script.[6] The script is attested in a small corpus of inscriptions found at Serabit el-Khadim in the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt, dating to the Middle Bronze Age (2100–1500 BC).[4]

Proto-Sinaitic script
North Semitic script
A specimen of Proto-Sinaitic script. The line running from the upper left to lower right may read mt l bʿlt "... to the Lady"
Script type
Time period
c. 19th–15th century BC
DirectionMixed
LanguagesNorthwest Semitic languages
Related scripts
Parent systems
Egyptian hieroglyphs
  • Proto-Sinaitic script
Child systems
ISO 15924
ISO 15924Psin, 103 , Proto-Sinaitic

The earliest Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions are mostly dated to between the mid-19th (early date) and the mid-16th (late date) century BC.

The principal debate is between an early date, around 1850 BC, and a late date, around 1550 BC. The choice of one or the other date decides whether it is proto-Sinaitic or proto-Canaanite, and by extension locates the invention of the alphabet in Egypt or Canaan respectively.[7]

However, the discovery of the Wadi el-Hol inscriptions near the Nile River shows that the script originated in Egypt. The evolution of Proto-Sinaitic and the various Proto-Canaanite scripts during the Bronze Age is based on rather scant epigraphic evidence; it is only with the Bronze Age collapse and the rise of new Semitic kingdoms in the Levant that Proto-Canaanite is clearly attested (Byblos inscriptions 10th–8th century BC, Khirbet Qeiyafa inscription c. 10th century BC).[8][9][10][11]

The Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions were discovered in the winter of 1904–1905 in Sinai by Hilda and Flinders Petrie. To this may be added a number of short Proto-Canaanite inscriptions found in Canaan and dated to between the 17th and 15th centuries BC, and more recently, the discovery in 1999 of the Wadi el-Hol inscriptions, found in Middle Egypt by John and Deborah Darnell. The Wadi el-Hol inscriptions strongly suggest a date of development of Proto-Sinaitic writing from the mid-19th to 18th centuries BC.[12][13]


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