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The first sentence in the Canaanite language was discovered

This is “Ivory Comb” from 1700 BC with inscription to eradicate the scourge of lice.

The alphabet was invented around 1800 BC and was used by the Canaanites and later by most other languages ​​of the world. Until recently, no significant Canaanite inscriptions had been discovered in the Land of Israel except for a couple of words here and there.. Now, a stunning find features a complete phrase in Canaanite, dating to around 1700 BC. It’s engraved on a small ivory comb and includes an anti-lice spell.

The comb was unearthed in Tel Lachish, Israel, by a team from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) and Southern Adventist University, USA, led by Professors Yosef Garfinkel, Michael Hasel and Martin Klingbeil . The inscription was deciphered by Semitic epigrapher Dr. Daniel Vainstub of Ben Gurion University (BGU). The ivory was analyzed by Prof. HU Rivka Rabinovich and Prof. BGU Yuval Goren and found to be from an elephant tusk. Their findings were published in the Jerusalem Journal of Archaeology.

The letters of the inscription have been engraved very superficially. It was excavated in 2017, but the letters were not noticed until further processing in 2022 by Dr Madeleine Mumcuoglu. It has been cleaned and preserved by Miriam Lavi.

The ivory comb is small, measuring approximately 3.5 by 2.5 cm. The comb has teeth on both sides. Although their bases are still visible, the teeth of the comb were broken off in antiquity. The central part of the comb is somewhat eroded, possibly due to the pressure of the fingers holding the comb during hair care or the removal of head or beard lice. The side of the comb with six coarse teeth was used to untangle tangles in the hair, while the other side, with 14 fine teeth, was used to remove lice and their eggs, much like the double-sided lice combs currently sold in The stores..

On the comb there are 17 Canaanite letters. Its form is archaic, from the first stage of the invention of alphabetic writing. They form seven words in Canaanite, which say: “Let this fang pull the lice from the hair and the beard”.

“This is the first phrase found in the Canaanite language in Israel. There are Canaanites in Ugarit, Syria, but they write in a different script, not in the alphabet that is used today. The Canaanite cities are mentioned in Egyptian documents, in Amarna letters written in Akkadian and in the Hebrew Bible. The comb inscription is direct evidence of the use of the alphabet in daily activities around 3,700 years ago.. This is a milestone in the history of the human ability to write,” Garfinkel explained.

Ancient combs were made of wood, bone or ivory. Ivory was a very expensive material and probably an imported luxury item. Since there were no elephants in Canaan at that time, it is likely that the comb came from neighboring Egypt. This indicates that even people of high social status suffered from lice.

The research team examined the comb under a microscope for the presence of lice and took pictures of both sides. Lice remains of 0.5-0.6 mm were found on the second tooth. However, the climatic conditions of Lachish did not allow the conservation of whole lice, but only those of the external chitin membrane of the louse in the nymph phase..

Despite its small size, the Lachish comb inscription has very special features, some of which are unique and fill gaps and gaps in our knowledge of many aspects of Canaanian Bronze Age culture. For the first time, we have a complete verbal sentence written in the dialect spoken by the Canaanite inhabitants of Lachish, which allows us to compare this language in all its aspects with the other sources of the same language.. Secondly, the inscription on the comb sheds light on certain aspects of daily life at the time, hair care and the fight against lice, hitherto little attested.

Third, it is the first discovery in the region of an inscription referring to the destination of the object on which it was written, unlike inscriptions of dedication or ownership on objects. Moreover, the engraver’s ability to successfully execute such tiny letters (1-3 mm wide) is a fact that should now be taken into account in any attempt to summarize and conclude on literacy in Canaan..

Lachish was a major Canaanite city-state in the second millennium BCE and the second largest city in the biblical kingdom of Judah. To date, 10 Canaanite inscriptions have been found at Lachish, more than at any other site in Israel. The city was the main center for the use and preservation of the alphabet for about 600 years, from 1800 to 1150 BC.. The Tel Lachish site is under the protection of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

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