14 November 2022 |
An archaeology team of students and employees from Southern Adventist University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have uncovered an inscription on a tiny ivory comb—the oldest sentence written in the world’s first alphabet. SAU’s Michael G. Hasel and Martin G. Klingbeiland are co-directors of the Lachish excavations with Hebrew University of Jerusalem professor Yosef Garfinkel.
According to Smithsonian magazine, archaeologists unearthed the comb back in 2016 from an Israeli archaeological site called Lachish. But the miniscule one- to three-millimeter letters were overlooked until 2021, when research associate Madeleine Mumcuoglu at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem noticed the sentence while zooming in on a photo of the comb, per CNN’s Katie Hunt. Mumcuoglu had been studying lice remains found on the artifact.
The inscription was deciphered by semitic epigraphist Dr. Daniel Vainstub at Ben Gurion University, and the findings by the joint expedition between the Hebrew University and Southern Adventist University were published in the Jerusalem Journal of Archaeology last week.
Southern Adventist University reports that there are 17 Canaanite letters on the comb. They are archaic in form—from the first stage of the invention of the alphabet script. They form seven words in Canaanite, reading: “May this tusk root out the lice of the hair and the beard.”
“People kind of laugh when you tell them what the inscription actually says,” said Michael Hasel in a New York Times report.
But those words turned out to be anything but banal. Dr. Hasel and his colleagues dated the comb to around 1,700 B.C., which means that this appeal against lice is one of the oldest examples of the writing of Canaanites, an ancient Near Eastern people credited with developing the earliest forms of the alphabet that would evolve into the letters used in this newspaper today. As the scientists explain in an article published Wednesday in the Jerusalem Journal of Archaeology, the 17 letters on the comb form the oldest full, decipherable sentence ever found in an early alphabetic script.