Ancient Writing On A 3,400-Year-Old Egyptian Tomb May Be The First Written Version Of Our ABC’s

The exercises were discovered inside the tomb of an Egyptian official called Sennefer, and the words were clearly Semitic.

What may be the first written version of our alphabet was found inside an Egyptian tomb.
Daniel Berehulak / Getty Images

The exercises were discovered inside the tomb of an Egyptian official called Sennefer, and the words were clearly Semitic.

Inscribed delicately into limestone on the 3,400-year-old tomb of an ancient Egyptian official named Sennefer, what may be the world’s first written version of our ABCs has been discovered. In a dazzling attempt at creating a crafty mnemonic phrase, these letters were written mainly in Semitic, with the University of British Columbia’s Professor Thomas Schneider noting that “all the words appear to be of foreign linguistic origin.”

The language that we find ourselves speaking today is one that is Semitic and came from the language that was once spoken by ancient Phoenicians in the Mediterranean around 3,400 years ago. The initial discovery of the alphabet inside the Egyptian tomb was made in 1995 by archaeologists who were involved with the Cambridge Theban Tombs Project, as Live Science report, and Schneider has finally managed to successfully decipher it.

After carefully reading through the words, it was discovered that three of these would have all begun with what would have been the Semitic equal of the letters, B, C and D, something that Professor Schneider said, “would be the first historical attestation of ‘our’ alphabet sequence.”

Gazing at one area of the limestone in the tomb of the Egyptian official, hieroglyphs translating to earth snail that read “bibiya-ta” were found, along with the word dove, which reads “garu.” The third word after this would be “da’at” or kite.

When these words were originally written 3,400 years ago, the letter “g” in “garu” would have been spoken making the sound of “c” rather than the “g” sound that we know it as today.

Around these three words, archaeologists found symbols that they believe could possibly be referring to the word “lizard,” which would form a sentence revolving around “the lizard and the snail, and the dove and the kite,” according to Schneider.

When the limestone is flipped over, on the back side can be read “hahāna lāwī ḥelpat mayyin leqab,” with the first four letters of these being “hlhm,” possibly showing a different sequence of letters from another language that never took off.

Together, these words create the sentence “to make pleasant the one who bends reed, water according to the Qab.” This was most likely once again another creation of a mnemonic phrase.

As the ancient Egyptian official Sennefer worked in foreign affairs and almost certainly would have been well-versed in Semitic languages, these devices for learning the ABCs were probably created by scribes at the time, who were intent on learning different languages.

With Professor Thomas Schneider’s new study now published on the first possible ABCs found on the 3,400-year-old tomb of the ancient Egyptian official Sennefer, scholars will now have the chance to learn more about these fascinating findings.