U.S. archaeologists have found an extremely rare 2,000-year-old limestone cup inscribed with 10 lines of Aramaic or Hebrew script near the Zion Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem.
Such ritual cups are common, especially in areas that were inhabited by priests, but usually they are unmarked or bear only a single line of text, such as a name, said archaeologist Shimon Gibson of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, who led the dig along with James Tabor of the same school.
"To have 10 lines of text is unprecedented," he said in announcing the find Wednesday.
Although the script itself is not eroded or otherwise degraded, he said, researchers are not yet able to decipher it because the text is in an informal cursive script and is apparently deliberately cryptic. They know it contains the Hebrew word for God, YHWH or Yahweh, indicating it was probably important to the priests who used it in rituals. Gibson expected it to take two to six months to understand its meaning.
The team has been digging in the Gan Sobev Homot Yerushalayim national park since June 14.
The site, overlooking the Kidron and Hinnom valleys and the Mount of Olives, had not been excavated since the 1970s, when Israeli archaeologist Magen Broshi found a monumental Arabic inscription from the 13th century.