centuries before skin care influential people sold advice as silk pillowcases for hair loss and wrinkles, masks for a completely natural dewey shine, and using mayonnaise as a hair maskthere was a comb with a spell to treat one of the oldest plagues of humanity: lice.
A small ivory comb dating from around 1700 BC was found. C. engraved with a spell of hope against the wingless insect that infests human hair. The inscription reads: “May this [ivory] fang eradicate hair and beard lice,” according to a study published last month in Jerusalem Archeology Journal. The 17 letters on the comb form seven words and belong to an early form of the alphabet used by the Canaanites.
the Canaanites lived in a region that includes parts of present-day Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan called Canaan. The region is mentioned throughout the Hebrew Bible and in historical texts dating back to 3600 BC. The comb was discovered in Tel Lachish, the remains of a major Canaanite city-state from the 2nd millennium BC. From 1800 to 1150 a. C., Lachish was the main center of the use and preservation of the Canaanite alphabet. To date, 10 Canaanite inscriptions have been found at Tel Lachish, but never one containing a complete phrase, until now.
“This is the first sentence found in the Canaanite language in Israel. There are Canaanites in Ugarit in Syria, but they write in a different script, not in the alphabet that is used until today”, Yosef Garfinkel, an archaeologist at the Institute of Archeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a co-author of the study, said in a sentence. “The Canaanite cities are mentioned in Egyptian documents, the amarna letters which were written in Akkadian, and in the Hebrew Bible. The comb inscription is direct evidence of the use of the alphabet in daily activities some 3,700 years ago. This is a milestone in the history of the human ability to write.”
The comb is about an inch long by 0.9 inches wide and has teeth on both sides that were probably used to remove lice and their eggs from the hair, similar to the double-sided lice combs still in use today. Combs in this area were made of bone, wood, or luxurious ivory. Ivory was the most expensive material likely to be imported. The authors theorize that the comb probably came from Egypt, as no elephants were present in Canaan during this time period. The importation of such a fancy insect collector shows that even rich and powerful people were not immune to the nuisance of lice.
Small remnants of some of the king lice (about 0.02 inches) were found on the second tooth of the comb. The weather and climate of Lachish did not allow a whole louse to be preserved in the comb, but the outer chitin membrane of an insect in the nymph stage survived.
According to the study, many of the special features of the comb (despite its small size) are helping researchers fill in knowledge gaps about the culture of Canaan in the Bronze Age, which lasted from 3000 to 1000 BC. It shows a complete verbal sentence written in the dialect first spoken by the Canaanite inhabitants of Lachish, so that scientists can compare it with other written languages of the Bronze Age. The inscription also sheds light on some of the more mundane, but little understood, aspects of everyday life at the time, such as hair care and treatment of itchy lice.
It also marks the first discovery in the region of an inscription that references the purpose of the object it was written on and shows the skillful carving of the unknown engraver. They were able to successfully carve tiny letters less than an inch wide, which may help in future studies of literacy and carving in Bronze Age Canaan.