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A 4,000-year-old comb for removing head lice

The Canaanite comb, found during excavations in the city of Lachish in 2016

Dafna Gazit / Autoridade de Antiguidades de Israel

A team of Israeli archaeologists has found what may be the first complete sentence written in a phonetic alphabet. It was written on an unexpected object: an almost 4,000-year-old ivory comb of Canaanite origin. The small comb, just 4 centimeters (cm) long and 2.5 cm high, is inscribed with 17 Canaanite letters that according to the researchers, read “May this tusk root out the lice of the hair and the beard” (Jerusalem Journal of Archaeology, November 9). The group, led by archaeologist Yosef Garfinkel of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, found the comb in 2016 while carrying out excavations in the city of Lachish in central Israel. In addition to revealing the inscription, analyses of the object also identified the remains of an ancient louse. Three thousand years ago, the Canaanites dominated the eastern Mediterranean and lived in what is now Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria. Few written records from the time have survived to the present day.