This is a small ivory comb that was excavated in Israel. It dates from 1700 BC and has engraved on it the earliest recorded written phrase in the Canaanite language. The ancient comb with an incantation is an extraordinary find. It is published in the ‘Jerusalem Journal of Archaeology’.
The Canaanite alphabet was invented around 1800 BC. It was used by this Hebrew people and, later, by most of the languages of the world. The comb was unearthed at Tel Lachish in Israel.
The ivory was analyzed by Professor Rivka Rabinovich and Professor Yuval Goren. It was found to have come from an elephant tusk. The letters of the inscription were engraved in a very superficial manner. It measures 3.5 by 2.5 cm and has teeth on both sides. The teeth of the comb were partially broken in antiquity.
The side of the comb with six coarse teeth was used to untangle knots in the hair. The other side, with fine teeth, was used to remove lice and their eggs. There are 17 Canaanite letters on the comb. They form seven words in Canaanite. They say: “Let this fang pluck lice from the hair and beard”. This is the first phrase found in the Canaanite language in Israel.
Ancient combs were made of wood, bone or ivory. The comb was analyzed with a microscope for the presence of lice. Thus, they found 0.5-0.6 mm lice remains on the second tooth.
The millenary comb with an incantation has very special, unique characteristics. It is the first complete verbal sentence written in the dialect spoken by the Canaanite inhabitants of Lachish. The comb inscription sheds light on some aspects of daily life at the time. And it is the first inscription that refers to the purpose of the object on which it was written.
The engraver must have had great skill. Thus he was able to successfully execute such tiny letters (1 to 3 mm wide). Lachish was the second most important city of the Biblical Kingdom of Judah. The city was the main center for the use and preservation of the alphabet for about 600 years, between 1800 and 1150 BC. The Tel Lachish site is under the protection of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.