The pottery fragment showed five lines of script
Five lines of ancient script on a shard of pottery could be the oldest example of Hebrew writing ever discovered, an archaeologist in Israel says.
The shard was found by a teenage volunteer during a dig about 20km (12 miles) south-west of Jerusalem.
Experts at Hebrew University said dating showed it was written 3,000 years ago - about 1,000 years earlier than the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Other scientists cautioned that further study was needed to understand it.
Preliminary investigations since the shard was found in July have deciphered some words, including judge, slave and king.
The characters are written in proto-Canaanite, a precursor of the Hebrew alphabet.
Lead archaeologist Yosef Garfinkel identified it as Hebrew because of a three-letter verb meaning "to do" which he said was only used in Hebrew.
"That leads us to believe that this is Hebrew, and that this is the oldest Hebrew inscription that has been found," he said.
The shard and other artefacts were found at the site of Khirbet Qeiyafa, overlooking the Valley of Elah where the Bible says the Israelite David fought the Philistine giant Goliath.
Mr Garfinkel said the findings could shed significant light on the period of King David's reign.
"The chronology and geography of Khirbet Qeiyafa create a unique meeting point between the mythology, history, historiography and archaeology of King David."
But his colleagues at Hebrew University said the Israelites were not the only ones using proto-Canaanite characters, therefore making it difficult to prove it was Hebrew and not a related tongue spoken in the area at the time.
Hebrew University archaeologist Amihai Mazar said the inscription was "very important", as it is the longest proto-Canaanite text ever found.
"The differentiation between the scripts, and between the languages themselves in that period, remains unclear," he said.