The oldest written sentence ever known in the alphabet has been discovered – carved into an ivory comb warning of head lice.
The comb — 3,700 years old — was discovered at an archaeological dig in Israel, according to a new study published Wednesday.
“Let this tusk root out the lice of the hair and beard,” reads the inscription, written in Canaanite script, experts reported in the Journal of Jerusalem Archaeology.
Microscopic evidence of lice was found even on the remains of comb bristles.
The comb was excavated in 2016 at the Tel Lachish site, about 25 miles outside Jerusalem — but a researcher at Israel’s Hebrew University discovered the engraving late last year, according to the report.
Previous discoveries of Canaanite writing have been a few letters or a single word — but this is the first time researchers have found a complete sentence.
“It’s a very human text,” said Yosef Garfinkel of Hebrew University, the study’s lead researcher.
“It shows that people don’t really change, lice don’t really change,” Garfinkel told The Associated Press.
He said the discovery also shows that “even at the most primitive stage there were complete sentences using the Canaanite alphabet.”
Scientists were unable to verify the age of the imported ancient comb through carbon dating because tusked elephants were not native to the region.
The tiny comb — about 1.5 inches wide — had most of its teeth worn away over thousands of years, but the six teeth on one side may have been used to detangle hair and the 14 fine teeth used to target live and their eggs.
Writing systems predated Canaanite in Mesopotamia and Egypt, but relied on symbols rather than letters, an expert on Semitic languages told the Guardian.
Canaanite was the basis for ancient Greek and Latin — and in turn many modern European languages, said Christopher Rolston of George Washington University.
“Lice have been a perennial problem throughout human history,” he told the Guardian. “This inscription well reveals that even the rich and famous in ancient times were not immune to such problems.”
With post wires