Thou Shalt Be Clean

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Archaeologists recently discovered that the oldest sentence ever written in the earliest alphabet known to man was about personal hygiene, the Guardian reported.

In 2017, an archaeological team discovered a double-sided ivory comb in the ancient Canaanite city of Lachish in south-central Israel. The team believes the comb was made around 1700 BCE.

Although simple, the small relic had a number of engravings on it, which researchers only discovered in December.

In a new study, they determined that the markings were 17 tiny letters of Canaanite script, which is believed to be the earliest alphabet.

The research team explained that the script was invented about 3,800 years ago by Semitic-speaking people who were familiar with the ancient Egyptian writing system. Though it does not resemble today’s alphabet in any way, the Canaanite script was used for hundreds of years in the Levant region and later standardized by the Phoenicians in ancient Lebanon.

So what do the engravings say?

“May this tusk root out the lice of the hair and the beard,” according to the translations.

Further study of the artifact found evidence of outer membranes of half-millimeter-long nymph stages of head lice.

Co-author Yosef Garfinkel and his colleagues said the findings also show the ordinary lives of ancient people, as well as how endemic lice were in those periods. Because the comb was made from ivory – a very expensive material at the time – even the wealthy were not spared.

“The inscription is very human,” said Garfinkel. “You have a comb and on the comb you have a wish to destroy lice on the hair and beard.”

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