The old ivory comb shows that self-care is as old as time

The old ivory comb shows that self-care is as old as time

Centuries before skincare influencers sold tips like silk pillowcases for hair loss and wrinkles, sheet masks for an all-natural glow, and use of mayonnaise as a hair mask, there was a comb with a spell to treat one of humanity’s oldest pests. : louse.

A small ivory comb dating back to about 1700 BC was found engraved with an amulet of hope against the wingless insect that loves to invade human hair. The inscription says, “I hope so [ivory] Canines eradicate hair and beard lice,” according to a study published last month in Jerusalem Journal of Archeology. The seventeen letters on the comb consist of seven words and belong to an early form of the alphabet used by the Canaanites.

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The Canaanites lived in an area comprising parts of present-day Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan called Canaan. The area is mentioned throughout the Hebrew Bible and historical texts dating back to 3600 BC. The comb was discovered at Tell Lachish, the remains of a major Canaanite city-state from the second millennium BC. From 1800 to 1150 BC, Lachish was the main center for the use and preservation of the Canaanite alphabet. To date, 10 Canaanite inscriptions have been found at Tell Lachish, but they did not contain a complete phrase – until now.

“This is the first sentence that is found in the Canaanite language in Israel. There are Canaanites in Ugarit in Syria, but they are written in a different script, not the alphabet used even today,” Joseph Garfinkel, An archaeologist at the Institute of Archeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a co-author of the study, said in a statement. Canaanite cities are mentioned in Egyptian documents, Amarna letters written in the Akkadian language, and in the Hebrew Bible. The comb engraving is direct evidence of the alphabet’s use in everyday activities around 3700 years ago. This is a milestone in the history of the human ability to write.”

The comb is about 1 inch long and 0.9 inches wide and has teeth on both sides that are likely used to remove lice and their eggs from the hair, similar to the two-sided lice combs still used today. The combs were made of bone, wood, or fine ivory. Ivory was probably the most expensive material that was imported. The authors believe that the comb most likely came from Egypt, as there were no elephants in Canaan during this time period. The import of this lavish bug picker shows that even the wealthy and powerful were not immune to the annoyance of lice.

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Small remnants of some actual head lice (about 0.02 inch) were found on the second comb teeth. The weather and climate in Lakish did not allow the preservation of a whole louse on the comb, but the outer chitin membrane of an insect in the nymph stage survived.

According to the study, many of the comb’s special features (despite its small size) help researchers bridge knowledge gaps about the Bronze Age Canaan culture, which lasted from 3000 to 1000 BC. It shows a complete verbal sentence written in the dialect first spoken by the Canaanite inhabitants of Lakish, so that scholars can compare it with other written languages ​​of the Bronze Age. The inscription also highlights some aspects of normal everyday life, but not well understood at the time, such as hair care and dealing with itchy lice.

It also represents the first discovery in an inscription area indicating the purpose of the object on which it was written and showing the skilled inscription of the anonymous engraver. They were able to successfully carve small letters less than an inch, which could aid in future studies on literacy and sculpture in Bronze Age Canaan.

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