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The oldest known alphabet was discovered on Wednesday by archaeologists in Israel. This alphabet contains 17 letters inscribed in the early Canaanite script on an ivory comb about 3,700 years old.
The almost non-existent letters read: "May this tusk root out the lice of the hair and the beard."
Originally, this comb measured about 1.5 inches wide and 1 inch high. On one side, it had six thick teeth for untangling knots in the hair. On the other side, it had 14 finer teeth for getting rid of lice. Unfortunately, all of the teeth broke off over time, but the bases remained visible.
It is still unclear when the comb was made.
A translation of this writing has recently been published in the Jerusalem Journal of Archaeology. It is written in the language of the Canaanites, a group of people who lived in what is now Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, and Palestine between approximately 3500 and 1150 B.C.E.
During the excavations, co-author Yosef Garfinkel, an archaeologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel, who helped direct the dig, told the Guardian, "The inscription is very human. You have a comb, and on the comb, you have a wish to destroy lice on your hair and beard. Nowadays, we have all these sprays and modern medicines and poisons. In the past, they did not have these."
In 2016, archaeologists discovered the comb at an Israeli archaeological site known as Lachish. As CNN reports, Madeleine Mumcuoglu observed the sentence while zooming in on a photo of the comb in 2021 when she noticed the tiny one- to three-millimetre letters on the comb. On the artefact, Mumcuoglu studied lice remains.
The discovery marks the first complete written sentence in the Canaanite language, although Canaanite letters have been found on pottery shards and arrowheads in the past.