Two lines of an alphabet have been found inscribed in a stone in Israel, offering what some scholars say is the most solid evidence yet that the ancient Israelites were literate as early as the 10th century B.C.

"This is very rare. This stone will be written about for many years to come," archaeologist Ron E. Tappy, a professor at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary who made the discovery, said Wednesday. "This makes it very historically probable there were people in the 10th century (B.C.) who could write."

Christopher Rollston, a professor of Semitic studies at Emmanuel School of Religion in Johnson City, Tenn., who was not involved in the find, said the writing is probably Phoenician or a transitional language between Phoenician and Hebrew.

"We have little epigraphic material from the 10th century in Israel, and so this substantially augments the material we have," he said.

The stone was found in July, on the final day of a five-week dig at Tel Zayit, about 30 miles south of Tel Aviv.