Israeli archaeologists discover ancient comb with ‘complete sentence’

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli archaeologists have found an ancient comb dating to around 3,700 years ago and bearing what is likely the oldest known complete phrase in Canaanite alphabetic script, according to a report published Wednesday.

The inscription encourages people to comb their hair and beard to get rid of lice. The sentence contains 17 letters that say: “May this defense extirpate lice from hair and beard.”

Experts say the discovery sheds new light on some of mankind’s earliest uses of the Canaanite alphabet, invented around 1800 BC and the basis for all successive alphabet systems, such as Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, Latin and Cyrillic.

The mundane subject indicates that people had problems with lice in everyday life back then – and archaeologists say they’ve even found microscopic evidence of lice on the comb.

The comb was first excavated in 2016 at Tel Lachish, an archaeological site in southern Israel, but it was not until late last year that a Hebrew University professor from ‘Israel noticed the tiny words on it. Details of the find were published Wednesday in an article in the Jerusalem Journal of Archaeology.

Lead researcher, Hebrew University archaeologist Yosef Garfinkel, told The Associated Press that although many artifacts bearing Canaanite writing have been discovered over the years, this is the first complete sentence. to be discovered.

Garfinkel said previous discoveries of just a few letters, maybe a word here and there, didn’t leave much room for further research into Canaanite life. “We didn’t have enough material,” he said.

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The discovery also opens the door to a debate about the ancient era, Garfinkel added. The fact that the phrase was found on an ivory comb in the palace and temple district of the ancient city, coupled with the mention of beards, could indicate that only wealthy men were able to read and write.

“It’s a very human text,” Garfinkel said. “It shows us that people haven’t really changed and lice haven’t really changed.”

The Canaanites spoke an ancient Semitic language – related to modern Hebrew, Arabic and Aramaic – and resided in the lands adjoining the eastern Mediterranean. They are believed to have developed the first known alphabetic writing system.

Finding a complete sentence would further indicate that the Canaanites stood out among the earliest civilizations in their use of the written word. “It shows that even in the earliest phase there were full sentences,” Garfinkel added.

He said experts dated the script to 1700 BC by comparing it to the archaic Canaanite alphabet previously found in the Egyptian Sinai Desert, dating from 1900 BC to 1700 BC.

But the Tel Lachish comb was found in a much later archaeological context, and carbon dating has been unable to determine its exact age, the paper notes.

Austrian archaeologist Felix Höflmayer, an expert on the period who was not part of the publication, said this dating method is not definitive.

“There simply aren’t enough reliably dated ancient alphabetical inscriptions currently known,” he said. Nonetheless, he added that the find was very significant and will help solidify Tel Lachish as a center of early alphabet development.

“Seventeen letters preserved on a single object are truly remarkable,” Höflmayer said.

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