The early adopters of the alphabet cared about their private hygiene, judging by the inscription on the aspect of an historic ivory comb
9 November 2022
The oldest readable sentence written utilizing the primary alphabet has been discovered on the aspect of an ivory comb. The phrases are fastidiously inscribed in letters 1 to three millimetres vast and take the type of a plea: “Might this tusk root out the lice of the hair and the beard.”
Writing emerged in Mesopotamia and Egypt about 5200 years in the past. These early writing programs have been non-alphabetic: They often used indicators to symbolize phrases and syllables. The alphabet got here later. It was most likely invented in or close to Egypt, with sure historic Egyptian hieroglyphics being repurposed to type the acquainted alphabetic letters – every of which represents a small unit of speech referred to as a phoneme.
The earliest historical past of the alphabet is mysterious due to a scarcity of archaeological proof. It isn’t even clear precisely when the alphabet was invented: Many researchers argue for a date round 3800 years in the past, however there may be some proof the alphabet was in use as early as 4300 years in the past. Additionally it is largely unclear how individuals used the alphabet, as a result of the earliest texts we’ve got discovered are brief and tough to decipher. Because of this the inscription on the ivory comb is so necessary.
Yosef Garfinkel on the Hebrew College of Jerusalem and his colleagues unearthed the comb in 2016 at Tel Lachish, an archaeological website in southern Israel. It got here from a degree of the location courting again roughly 2700 years, however from the fashion of the writing engraved on the comb, Garfinkel’s crew argues this explicit artefact is about 1000 years older.
The writing comprised 17 letters, two of which have been broken. Crucially, they appear to type a whole and comprehensible sentence written in an historic Canaanite language spoken at Tel Lachish. “That is the earliest sentence we’ve got within the alphabet,” says Garfinkel. The earlier oldest identified sentence is about 400 years youthful than the one on the comb.
Christopher Rollston at George Washington College in Washington DC says it’s a vital discovery. “Early alphabetic inscriptions are typically very temporary – only a handful of letters – and infrequently encompass the title of an individual or the title of an object,” he says. A number of longer inscriptions exist from the identical time interval because the comb, however researchers have struggled to learn them as a result of it’s unclear what the texts have been about.
Rollston says it was simpler for Garfinkel’s crew to learn the newly found inscription as a result of it was carved on a comb that also carries bits of the exoskeletons of useless lice, providing clues concerning the textual content’s probably subject material. “This doesn’t change the truth that that is nonetheless a superb decipherment,” says Rollston.
He additionally finds it fascinating that the inscription is about peculiar life. “All through human historical past, lice have been an issue,” says Rollston. “We will solely hope that this inscribed comb was helpful in doing that which it says it was imagined to do: Root out a few of these pesky bugs.”
Journal reference: Jerusalem Journal of Archaeology, DOI: 10.52486/01.00002.4
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