They discovered the oldest written sentence of all; and it’s about lice

Ivory comb found in Israel contained the phrase with appeal to care for the children

nov 9
– 4:47 pm

(updated at 16:52)

Old comb has phrase about lice written on it

Old comb has phrase about lice written on it

Photo: Dafna Gazit / Israel Antiquities Authority

“May this prey tear the lice hair and beard” is the oldest recorded phrase since we started using the alphabet🇧🇷 The words were found on the side of an ivory comb, carved into letters less than three millimeters wide.

Yosef Garfinkel and his colleagues at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem unearthed the comb in 2016 at Tel Lachish, an archaeological site in southern Jerusalem. Israel🇧🇷 The object was found at a site that dates back about 2,700 years, but from the style of the engraved writing, Garfinkel’s team suspects this particular artifact could be up to 1,000 years older.

The phrase written on the comb contains 17 letters, two of which are damaged. Even so, they form a complete and understandable sentence in a language spoken in Tel Laquis, an ancient city that once stood in the south-central part of what is now the Israel🇧🇷

“This is the first sentence we have in the alphabet” says Garfinkel.

The oldest known phrase was about 400 years younger than the comb.

Christopher Rollston of George Washington University says the discovery is significant for scholars.

“The first alphabetical inscriptions are usually very brief – just a handful of letters – and usually consist of the name of a person or the name of an object,” he said.

The human louse has very effective methods of clinging to hair and trapping its eggs.

The human louse has very effective methods of clinging to hair and trapping its eggs.

Photo: Getty Images / BBC News Brazil

There are a few more long inscriptions from the same period as the comb, but researchers have struggled to understand what the writings say.

Rollston claimed it was easier for Garfinkel’s team to read the newly discovered inscription because it was carved from a comb that still carries bits of dead lice exoskeletons, offering clues as to the likely subject of the phrase.

“That doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a brilliant find.”

He also finds it fascinating that the inscription is about ordinary life.

“Throughout human history, lice have been a problem,” he says. “We can only hope that this inscribed comb has been useful in doing what it says it should do: eradicate some of these pesky bugs.”

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