The letters were essentially invisible.
The letters were essentially invisible. Tel Aviv University

Decades ago, archaeologists uncovered a citadel in the desert of Israel, which was full of artifacts from the era of the First Temple in Jerusalem, the heyday of ancient Jewish rule in this part of the world. Among those finds were 91 ostraca, pieces of pottery with inked lines of writing on them. One of the most intriguing was Ostracon 16, the “Elyashive Ostracon, which was a personal letter from one soldier to another.

Now, researchers have discovered additional, hidden writing on the back of that piece of pottery—50 letters making up 17 words, according to Haaretz. This previously unknown text was found after a photographer thought he saw something on the back of the pottery; his photograph allowed a new analysis of the shard, revealing the text, as well as previously unknown lines of writing on the front of the pottery, too.

The newly found writing, as Haaretz reports, is “a continuation of a letter from Hananyahu to his friend,” Elyashiv Ben Oshiyahu. He’s asking that Elyashiv to send over some of the wine and food held in reserve at the fortress.

Many of the other ostraca contain dry orders to the quartermaster or commands for the army. What makes this one special is the personal touch—this was a letter between two friends, separated by the work, who wanted to keep in touch even as they were doing their duty.

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