Forensic document examination and algorithmic handwriting analysis of Judahite biblical period inscriptions reveal significant literacy level.

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Arad is a well preserved desert fort on the southern frontier of the biblical kingdom of Judah. Excavation of the site yielded over 100 Hebrew ostraca (ink inscriptions on potsherds) dated to ca. 600 BCE, the eve of Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Jerusalem. Due to the site’s isolation, small size and texts that were written in a short time span, the Arad corpus holds important keys to understanding dissemination of literacy in Judah. Here we present the handwriting analysis of 18 Arad inscriptions, including more than 150 pair-wise assessments of writer’s identity. The examination was performed by two new algorithmic handwriting analysis methods and independently by a professional forensic document examiner. To the best of our knowledge, no such large-scale pair-wise assessments of ancient documents by a forensic expert has previously been published. Comparison of forensic examination with algorithmic analysis is also unique. Our study demonstrates substantial agreement between the r
Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere0237962
Pages (from-to)1
Number of pages1
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding: The research reported here received initial funding from European Research Council under the European Community’s Seventh Framework Program (FP7/2007-2013)/ERC Grant Agreement 229418, and by ISF grant 2062/18. It was supported by generous donations from Jacques Chahine (made through the French Friends of Tel Aviv University) and the Dan David Foundation; all the above were awarded to IF. BS was supported through Math+X grant 400837 from the Simons Foundation, as well as by Duke University. This research was made possible by the dedicated reconstruction work of Ma’ayan Mor, as well as thanks to the invaluable cooperation of Eran Arie, Curator of Iron Age and Persian Period Archaeology, the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Yael Barschak, Head of the Photographic Archives and Debora Ben-Ami, Curator of the Iron Age and Persian Periods, both from the Israel Antiquities Authority. The kind assistance of Avi Abulafia, Sivan Einhorn, Noa Evron, Alexander Gerber, Yana Kirilov, Eythan Levy, Anat Mendel-Geberovich, Myrna Pollak and Christopher A. Rollston is greatly appreciated. We also thank the PLOS ONE editor and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions. Ostracon images are courtesy of the Institute of Archaeology, Tel Aviv University; Yana Gerber; and of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Shaus 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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