The first Canaanite sentence found in Israel has been located on a small ivory comb used to remove lice, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem said Tuesday.
The Canaanites were an ancient religious community during the Bronze Age and the first centuries AD.
The inscription is dated to about 1700 BCE and relies on 17 “archaic” Canaanite letters, “from the first stage of the invention of the alphabet script,” the university stated.
It reads, “May this tusk root out the lice of the hair and the beard.”
The comb initially had teeth on both sides, though these broke off from the base at some point in history. One side had six teeth for smoothing knots, while the other had 14 finer teeth for clearing lice and their eggs. The expensive foreign material was made from, ivory, indicating that it was likely a luxury good and that even members of the higher social classes were affected by lice.
The comb was found at Tel Lachish, east of the modern-day southern Israeli city of Kiryat Gat, by a team from Hebrew University and Southern Adventist University in Tennessee in 2017, though the lettering was only noted in 2022 by Dr. Madeleine Mumcuoglu of Hebrew University.
Previous Canaanite inscriptions found in Israel have included only a few words. “This is the first sentence ever found in the Canaanite language in Israel,” said Professor Yosef Garfinkel of the university’s Institute of Archaeology.
The Canaanite inscription “is direct evidence for the use of the alphabet in daily activities some 3700 years ago,” he said. “This is a landmark in the history of the human ability to write.”
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