- An engraving on an ancient lice comb is potentially the oldest known sentence written in the alphabet.
- The ivory comb bears a sentence in an early Canaanite script, estimated to date back nearly 4,000 years.
- A professor who oversaw the excavations said it was “a milestone in the history of the human ability to write”.
An engraving on an ancient lice comb may be the earliest known sentence written in the first alphabet.
The double ivory comb, which was excavated in Israel, bears an inscribed inscription calling for the removal of lice, according to researchers writing in the Hebrew University’s Jerusalem Journal of Archaeology.
The inscription in early Canaanite script, consisting of 17 letters, reads: “May this tusk root out the lice of the hair and beard.”
Professor Yosef Garfinkel, an archaeologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who helped direct the excavations that uncovered the comb, said the discovery was “a landmark in the history of the human ability to write”.
Although attempts to date the comb through carbon dating have been unsuccessful, researchers estimate it to be around 1700 BC.
The small comb, which measures 3.5cm by 2.5cm, was discovered at a site in what was once the ancient Canaanite city of Laches, the second most important city in the Jewish Kingdom.
The comb’s purpose was discovered when researchers examined it under a microscope and discovered the remains of lice between the teeth of the comb.
Because the comb was made of ivory, an expensive material likely imported from Egypt at the time, it suggests that even people of high social status were concerned with lice.
One side of the comb has six coarse teeth to detangle hair and the other side has 14 finer teeth to remove lice and their eggs. The central part of the comb is partially corroded, possibly due to pressure from fingers while holding it, the researchers said.
Although it was excavated in 2017, researchers only noticed engravings on the surface in December last year, which have since been confirmed to be written in the very early stage of Canaanite writing.
The Canaanite script is the oldest known alphabet, invented about 3,800 years ago. Earlier known writing systems used symbols to represent words or sounds.
Although a few inscribed letters and words have been found in the past, this may be the oldest inscription of a complete sentence, according to the researchers.
“This is the first sentence ever found in the Canaanite language in Israel. There are Canaanites at Ugarit in Syria, but they write in a different script, not the alphabet used to this day,” Professor Garfinkel said in a statement. Jewish News Syndicate.
“Canaanite cities are mentioned in Egyptian documents, the Amarna letters, written in Akkadian and in the Hebrew Bible. The combed inscription is direct evidence for the use of the alphabet in daily activities about 3,700 years ago. This is a milestone in the history of human ability to write”.