As easy as aleph-beth-gimel

Perhaps not a very exciting thing for many people, but I was quite interested in this:

In the 10th century B.C., in the hill country south of Jerusalem, a scribe carved his A B C’s on a limestone boulder – actually, his aleph-beth-gimel’s, for the string of letters appears to be an early rendering of the emergent Hebrew alphabet.

Archaeologists digging in July at the site, Tel Zayit, found the inscribed stone in the wall of an ancient building. After an analysis of the layers of ruins, the discoverers concluded that this was the earliest known specimen of the Hebrew alphabet and an important benchmark in the history of writing, they said this week.

Isn’t that fantastic? An alphabet from 3000 years ago… We all deal with writing every day of our lives, and so I find the discovery of this quite exciting. It reminds me of our place in the continuum of existence on this planet, the way that there is a continuity of ideas that appeal and are passed on (‘memes’ to use Richard Dawkins’ idea UK link US link) down through the generations, surviving because they are just so damn good.

It also makes me wonder what will be left of our time. Plastic bottles? Everything is biodegradable eventually, and the strongest materials aren’t commonly used any more because they’re so hard to work with. The vast quantity of data on the internet is most likely going to disappear in a magnetic blip, never to be seen again. Given some of the stuff online, perhaps that’s not such a bad thing, but the internet has been a true cultural revolution in indsutrialised countries of the world. For the first time in the history of mankind, people have got the power in their hands to publish information for the whole world to see and hear. The importance of this has been lost in the realisation that many people don’t have a lot to say, but maybe that idle chatter really is the significant thing after all.

Perhaps the greatest revelation about the internet for scholars should not be ‘it’s full of rubbish and Klingon’ but that people often don’t care about academic debate and just enjoy discussing the trivia of their lives with friends. That’s not so bad, is it? Is there any reason why every person on the planet should have something important to say? What does it tell us that when given the greatest public stage in the history of humanity we end up discussing our choice of clothing in a shop that day?

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