Among the most exciting archaeological finds are ancient inscriptions. For some eras, writings uncovered by excavation have filled out an otherwise sketchy political and social picture of the ancient world. Unfortunately, the era of the judges has not yet produced such abundant information. But while no inscriptions of any appreciable length have yet been recovered from the Iron I period in Syria-Palestine, several short inscriptions have appeared, giving the names of many ancient individuals and the occupations of some, and shedding light on the impact of a simple writing system on the lives of all sorts of people. The inscriptions from this period are incised or inked in one form or another of the linear alphabet, the forerunner to our own alphabet. This alphabet had been invented around 1500 BCE and by the early Iron Age was in widespread use. The largest number of inscriptions from this period are a group of bronze arrowheads from Lebanon and Israel inscribed with personal names, identifying the arrow's owner and often his father or master. We do not know why people inscribed their names on arrowheads—whether to make them easier to retrieve, or for divination, or simply for decoration of an arrowhead or javelin head that would never actually be used.
Most of the rest of the early Iron Age inscriptions are a mixed lot of potsherds, usually with only two or three letters inscribed, but sometimes with personal names; and seals, usually including a personal name. One exception is a twelfth-century BCE ostracon that includes an abecedary, found at Izbet Sartah east of Tel Aviv. An abecedary is an ordered listing of the letters of the alphabet, and several such inscriptions have been found in the Levant, including some from ancient Ugarit (modern Ras Shamra) on the coast of Syria, where the writing system was alphabetic cuneiform. The Izbet Sartah ostracon is crudely written, and the abecedary includes a number of mistakes; the first four lines of the ostracon seem to be a nonsense stream of letters, and the ostracon may be an exercise done by someone still learning to write.