According to a new study, a seven-word inscription was discovered on a 3,700-year-old lice comb. It is the oldest known sentence in the alphabet.
The Canaanite alphabet is the oldest and most common. It’s also the Latin alphabet that was used to write English and other European languages today. These words may be shared by parents with young children: “May this Tusk remove the lice from the hair and the face.”
On fragments of pottery, arrowheads, and pottery, small clusters of Canaanite letters were identified. However, this is the first time that scholars have discovered a sentence written in Yosef Garfinkel’s alphabet-based language. This landmark discovery marks a significant milestone in the history of the human ability to write.
“Nothing like it was ever found before. This is not the royal inscription for a king… it’s something very human. “You’re instantly connected to the person who had the comb,” Garfinkel, coauthor of the study published in the Jerusalem Journal of Archaeology.
Around 5,000 years ago, the earliest known writing system was created. It was first used by ancient Sumerians from Mesopotamia (in what is now Iraq). The system, also known as cuneiform, later on, was based on hundreds of pictograms that represented words, ideas, and sounds, much like Egyptian hieroglyphics. Garfinkel stated that Canaanites were among the first to use sounds as letters in their writing system. This eventually evolved into the Phoenician and Greek alphabets, which are still the most widely used today.
“The alphabet was invented by the Canaanites. The alphabet system is used by everyone today to read and write. He said that this is a major intellectual achievement for humanity. “When you write in English, you’re using Canaanite.”
In 2016, the comb was discovered at Lachish, an Israeli archaeological site. This is a Canaanite city-state in the second millennium BC. Madeleine Mumcuoglu was a research associate at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and noticed the engraving after she had completed her study of the lice remnants on the artifact. However, this was not until 2021.
“I took a photo with my iPhone. It wasn’t good enough. She said, “So I took another photo and put it in a strong light.”
Mumcuoglu was shocked to see the tiny letters on the small-sized comb. The seven words were formed by 17 letters that the researchers had carefully studied.
Despite two radiocarbon dating attempts, the researchers could not date the comb directly. They were also unable to extract DNA from the lice that were still embedded in the hair. Based on comparing the letters to those found on pottery and ceramics of a known age, the study team believes that it dates back to around 1700 BC.
Christopher Rollston, a professor at George Washington University of Northwest Semitic languages, literature, stated that there was some room for debate about the exact date of the comb. However, he agreed that the inscription is from the first half of the second millennium BC. He also said that the work of the team to decipher it was “brilliant.”
“The fact this inscription is about everyday life is particularly fascinating. He said via email that lice have been an ever-present problem in human history. We can only hope this inscribed comb is useful in rooting out these pesky insects.
This comb is similar to modern lice combs made from metal or plastic. On one side there are 14 teeth for removing lice eggs and larvae, and six more spaced teeth that are used to untangle knotted or tangled hair. Humans have been bothered by head lice for a long time. Although a 10,000-year-old intact lice egg was found on a Brazilian mummy’s head, DNA analysis suggests that humans have been living with head lice for much longer.
Mumcuoglu thought that the inscription and elephant ivory comb were gifts for someone important. It was an elite product from my perspective.
Its small size (3.5 cm by 2.5 cm, 1.4 inches by 1”) also puzzled her.
“Maybe you kept it in a pocket and used it discreetly. Perhaps people felt embarrassed to have head lice at that time.