Lice comb makes history

Israeli and American archaeologists could not believe their eyes. For the first time in history, a coherent sentence was found and deciphered in the Canaanite language that is 3,700 years old. The text is written on an ivory comb that was discovered in the Negev desert in southern Israel. It took years for scientists led by Madeleine Mumcuoglu to agree on the following words: I wish this tusk (ivory) would kill lice from hair and beard (“I wish this [ivory] A tusk uprooting hair and beard lice.”

How is that Jerusalem Journal of Archeology I mentioned, that the alphabet (Hebrew: Aleph Beth), which was later adopted by most languages, was invented and used by the Canaanites around 1800 BC. Until recently, only a few words were known in this language. Now a complete sentence containing a factual statement has been discovered, deciphered and historically classified on an elephant ivory comb. Scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Southern Adventist University in the US are still puzzled over how ivory got to the Middle East. Because there were no animals with fangs made of precious materials at that time between the Mediterranean and the Euphrates in today’s Iraq. It is assumed that the ivory comb was exported from Egypt to Lachish. In recent years, about 20 combs, albeit made of wood, have been found in the Lakish region.

This comb with engraving measures 3.5 x 2.5 cm. The teeth, of varying strength, have only partially survived 3,700 years. One side with six thicker teeth was used for detangling tangled hair, and the 14 thinner teeth were for detangling. Scientists are sure that this also removed lice eggs from the hair and beard. Similar to reversible combs are also sold today.

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Head lice remnants measuring 0.5-0.6 mm were detected under a microscope. Modern DNA technology makes it possible to identify parasites of the insect genus. Due to the dry climate in this region, the chitinous membranes of head lice have been preserved.

Experts wrote that despite the small size of the emblem, the inscription contains a number of important features that fill in the gaps in our knowledge of Canaan culture. For the first time a complete sentence of 17 words appeared in the dialect as it was pronounced at that time in Lachish, the site of the discovery in today’s Israel. This allows scholars to compare the words used with other sources in the region, giving them insight into the lives of the Canaanites. Hair care and lice removal was a problem in everyday life, even for wealthy families. From the Babylonian Talmud the verdict was issued: “And he sent her a comb to kill lice.” It is also possible to draw conclusions about the abilities of those who could read and write in Canaan in the Bronze Age.

From the years of excavations, we now know that Lachish was the second largest city in the biblical kingdom of Judah after Jerusalem in the second millennium BC. To date, ten smaller inscriptions have been found at Lachish, more than any other excavation in Israel. Lachish was the main center for the use and preservation of the alphabet for more than 600 years from 1800 to 1150 BC. In the Book of Joshua, Lachish is mentioned as one of the cities destroyed by the Israelites because of the loyalty of its inhabitants to the Gibeonites (Joshua 10:31-33). The area was later given to the tribe of Judah and became part of the United Kingdom of Israel.

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