Algorithmic handwriting analysis of the Samaria inscriptions illuminates bureaucratic apparatus in biblical Israel

Shira Faigenbaum-Golovin, Arie Shaus, Barak Sober, Eli Turkel, Eli Piasetzky, Israel Finkelstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Past excavations in Samaria, capital of biblical Israel, yielded a corpus of Hebrew ink on clay inscriptions (ostraca) that documents wine and oil shipments to the palace from surrounding localities. Many questions regarding these early 8th century BCE texts, in particular the location of their composition, have been debated. Authorship in countryside villages or estates would attest to widespread literacy in a relatively early phase of ancient Israel’s history. Here we report an algorithmic investigation of 31 of the inscriptions. Our study establishes that they were most likely written by two scribes who recorded the shipments in Samaria. We achieved our results through a method comprised of image processing and newly developed statistical learning techniques. These outcomes contrast with our previous results, which indicated widespread literacy in the kingdom of Judah a century and half to two centuries later, ca. 600 BCE.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0227452
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
grant(NewHorizonsproject),TelAvivUniversity, aswellasbyISFgrant2062/18.Thisstudywas supportedbyagenerousdonationfromMr. JacquesChahine,madethroughtheFrenchFriends ofTelAvivUniversity.B.Soberissupported throughMath+Xgrant400837fromtheSimons Foundation,aswellasDukeUniversity.

Funding Information:
The research reported here received initial funding from European Research Council under the European Community?s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013)/ERC Grant Agreement 229418, and by an Early Israel grant (New Horizons project), Tel Aviv University, as well as by ISF grant 2062/18. This study was supported by a generous donation from Mr. Jacques Chahine, made through the French Friends of Tel Aviv University. B. Sober is supported through Math+X grant 400837 from the Simons Foundation, as well as Duke University.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Faigenbaum-Golovin et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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