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


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 results of these independent methods of investigation. Remarkably, the forensic examination reveals a high probability of at least 12 writers within the analyzed corpus. This is a major increment over the previously published algorithmic estimations, which revealed 4-7 writers for the same assemblage. The high literacy rate detected within the small Arad stronghold, estimated (using broadly-accepted paleo-demographic coefficients) to have accommodated 20-30 soldiers, demonstrates widespread literacy in the late 7th century BCE Judahite military and administration apparatuses, with the ability to compose biblical texts during this period a possible by-product.





Humans, Algorithms, Forensic Sciences, History, Ancient, Bible, Handwriting, Documentation, Israel, Literacy


Published Version (Please cite this version)


Publication Info

Shaus, Arie, Yana Gerber, Shira Faigenbaum-Golovin, Barak Sober, Eli Piasetzky and Israel Finkelstein (2020). Forensic document examination and algorithmic handwriting analysis of Judahite biblical period inscriptions reveal significant literacy level. PloS one, 15(9). p. e0237962. 10.1371/journal.pone.0237962 Retrieved from

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Shira Faigenbaum-Golovin

Phillip Griffiths Assistant Research Professor

I am a Phillip Griffiths Assistant Research Professor at Duke University's math department as well as at the Rhodes Interdisciplinary Initiative, working with Prof. Ingrid Daubechies. In 2021 I completed my Ph.D. at the Department of Applied Mathematics, School of Mathematical Sciences, Tel Aviv University, under the supervision of Prof. David Levin and Prof. Yoel Shkolnisky.

My research interests span several areas, including numerical analysis, mathematical modeling, robust and statistically significant analysis of high-dimensional data. I strive to explore new challenges that arise from high-dimensional data as well as study the story that the data geometry tells by modeling the data and posing new mathematical tools. In particular, my research is in approximation theory in low and high-dimensions, geometric methods for manifold reconstruction, studying the geometry of the base manifold and its fibers, computer vision, image processing.
Notable applications of my current and past research include archaeology, evolutionary anthropology, Bible studies, art investigation, and general history. By applying my research to these diverse areas, I aim to contribute valuable insights and shed light on long debated questions.

My publication list (and most online available papers) can be viewed on Google Scholar.

I am co-organizing the AMS Special Session on Computational techniques to study the geometry of the shape space at Joint Mathematics Meetings (JMM) in San Francisco, CA on Jan 3-6 2024. Registration is open!

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