First known sentence written in ancient alphabet found on head lice comb Tech News

There are downsides to growing a beard, too, from getting stuck in food to the awkward moment when the razor runs out of power.

But if it makes you feel better, past problems associated with facial hair sound much worse.

In a remarkable discovery, researchers translated the first sentence written in the ancient language of the Canaanites, a land thought to include parts of Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

Dating back to around 1700 BC, an inscription on a small ivory comb reads: “May this tusk eradicate lice in the hair and beard!”

It’s a spell to eradicate lice, say the team that found it in Traj, Israel.

“This is the first sentence found in Canaanite in Israel,” said Professor Yosef Garfinkel of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

“This is a milestone in the history of human writing ability,” he added.

Evidence of how the alphabet was used 3700 years ago

Professor Garfunkel and his team, including colleagues at Southern Adventist University, say the comb originated from ivory.

Although it was excavated in 2017, its engraving is so shallow that it was only noticed in post-processing earlier this year and deciphered by Semitic inscriptionist Dr. Daniel Vainstub.

The inscription consists of 17 Canaanite letters and 7 words.

“Ugarit in Syria had Canaanites, but they wrote in a different script than the alphabet used to this day,” explained Professor Garfunkel.

“Canaanite cities are mentioned in Egyptian texts, in the Amarna script written in Akkadian, and in the Hebrew Bible.

“The comb inscription is direct evidence of the use of letters in everyday activities around 3,700 years ago.”

Aerial view of Tel Lachish, where the comb is found.Image: Emir Alajem
Aerial view of Tel Lachish, where the comb is found.Image: Emir Alajem

Is there anything familiar about the comb itself?

The comb is only 3.5cm x 2.5cm and has teeth on both sides.

Although the teeth themselves had broken off, their bases were still visible, and the central part was badly eroded – possibly due to the pressure of the fingers holding it during the treatment.

Considering its material, it is likely imported luxury – possibly from Egypt.

Parents of young children may notice that its design is no different from the fine-toothed combs used today to treat head lice and lice.

Using a microscope, the researchers took high-resolution pictures of the comb and actually found that some of the remains of the head lice were still there.

They say that, given the putative origin of the comb, this suggests that lice are even a problem for the upper classes of society.

As shown.  3. Close-up of the Canaanite alphabet on the right side of the comb (Credit: Dafna Gazit, Israel Antiquities Authority).
Close up of some comb inscriptions.Image: Dafna Gazit, Israel Antiquities Authority

Lachish was the main city-state of Canaan and the second largest city in the biblical kingdom of Judah.

To date, 10 Canaanite inscriptions have been found in Lachish, more than anywhere else in Israel – but no complete sentences have been found until now.

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