In a "landmark" discovery, experts decipher an ancient language sentence from 3,700 years ago



Jacob Paul\sExperts have made a stunning breakthrough after unravelling the meaning behind a Canaanite sentence inscribed onto a 3,700-year-old ivory comb for the first time. Researchers, who have hailed the discovery as a "landmark in the history of the human ability to write", have found out the mysterious meaning behind the inscription which includes 17 letters and seven words engraved onto the artefact.


The object was first excavated back in 2017 at Tel Lachish, an archaeological site in Israel, by a research team from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) and the US-basd Southern Adventist University.


But due to the shallow engravings on the ivory comb, the discrete sentence was not actually spotted until 2022 during post-processing.


The true meaning of the sentence is, according to experts: "May this tusk root out the lice of the hair and the beard".


Professor Yosef Garfinkel from HU said: "This is the first sentence ever found in the Canaanite language in Israel. There are Canaanites in Ugarit in Syria, but they write in a different script, not the alphabet that is used today.


"The Canaanite cities are mentioned in Egyptian documents, the Amarna letters that were written in Akkadian, and in the Hebrew Bible. The comb inscription is direct evidence for the use of the alphabet in daily activities some 3,700 years ago. This is a landmark in the history of the human ability to write."




The research team undertook an analysis of the comb to determine whether there was a presence of lice under a microscope, and snapped photographs of both sides of the object.


They found the remains of head lice, 0.5 to 0.6 millimeters in size, on the second tooth of the comb.


But due to the climatic conditions of Lachish, the ancient city the comb would have been used in, the preservation of whole head lice was not possible, only allowing for the outer chitin (polymer) membrane of the so-called nymph-stage head louse.


The comb has teeth on both sides and while the bases are still visible, the object's teeth themselves were broken in antiquity.


The central part of the comb has eroded away, which may be due to pressure from fingers holding the comb during haircare or the removal of lice from the hair or beard.


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It is thought that, given the material of the comb, it was likely an imported luxury item from somewhere like Egypt.


A Canaanite's Wish to Eradicate Lice on an Inscribed Ivory Comb from Lachish was the title of the researcher's peer-reviewed article in the Jerusalem Journal of Archaeology.


The Hebrew Bible makes numerous references to the ancient Canaanite and Israelite city of Lachish. The ancient site has produced up to 10 Canaanite inscriptions, more than any other place in Israel.


Between roughly 1800 BCE and 1150 BCE, Lachish served as the primary hub for the use and preservation of the alphabet for more than 600 years.


The Amarna letters are a record of diplomatic correspondence between the Egyptian government and its officials in Canaan and Amurru, or the rulers of nearby kingdoms, during the New Kingdom, which lasted just three decades starting in 1360 BCE, according to the researchers' article.


The comb's inscription is written in the manner that typified the very early stage of the alphabet's formation, Dr. Daniel Vainstub, an epigrapher from Israel's Ben Gurion University and the study's lead author, said to the Times of Israel."


Near the end of the first row, the inscription's 17 minuscule 1- to 3-mm pictographic letters get progressively smaller and lower. According to experts, the engraver began to write a word but ran out of room at the end of the second row, so he added another letter on the row below.


According to experts, the artifact may be the only example of the now-extinct Hebrew letter "sin" that has been preserved, and it also represents the earliest record of the term "tusk" before Rabbinic Hebrew, which dates from around 2,000 years later.

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