Picture by Dafna Gazit, Israel Antiquities Authority
I don’t recall any of my elementary-school classmates wanting ahead to head-lice inspection day. However had archaeological progress been a number of many years extra superior on the time, the academics might need turned it into a significant historical past lesson. For it was on a comb, designed to take away head lice, that researchers in southern Israel lately discovered the oldest identified sentence written in an alphabet. Invented round 1800 BC, that Canaanite alphabet “was standardized by the Phoenicians in historical Lebanon,” writes the Guardian‘s Ian Pattern, later changing into “the muse for historical Greek, Latin and most trendy languages in Europe at this time.”
The comb itself, dated to round 1700 BC, bears a easy Canaanite message: “Could this tusk root out the lice of the hair and the beard.” As Pattern notes, “historical combs had been constructed from wooden, bone and ivory, however the latter would have been costly, imported luxuries. There have been no elephants in Canaan on the time.”
Regardless of its small measurement, then, this comb should have been a big-ticket merchandise. The New York Instances‘ Oliver Whang writes that these details have already impressed a brand new set of questions, a lot of them not strictly linguistic in nature: “The place was the ivory comb inscribed? Who inscribed it? What objective did the inscription serve?”
As our lice-combating know-how has advanced over the millennia, so have our alphabets. From the Canaanite script “the alphabet continued to evolve, from Phoenician to Previous Hebrew to Previous Aramaic to Historic Greek to Latin, changing into the premise for at this time’s trendy English characters.” And that wasn’t its solely path: Korea, the place I reside, has a totally completely different alphabet of its personal, however one which caught on for a similar causes as its distant cousins elsewhere on the planet. The secret is simplicity, as towards older writing methods during which one character represented one phrase or syllable: “Matching one letter to 1 sound made writing and studying far simpler to be taught,” Whang writes. Not that some college students, even at this time, wouldn’t undergo the lice comb moderately than follow their ABCs.
Associated content material:
How one can Write in Cuneiform, the Oldest Writing System within the World: A Quick, Charming Introduction
The Evolution of the Alphabet: A Colourful Flowchart, Protecting 3,800 Years, Takes You From Historic Egypt to In the present day
How Writing Has Unfold Throughout the World, from 3000 BC to This 12 months: An Animated Map
The Atlas of Endangered Alphabets: A Free On-line Atlas That Helps Protect Writing Programs That Could Quickly Disappear
An Historic Egyptian Homework Task from 1800 Years In the past: Some Issues Are Actually Timeless
What the Rosetta Stone Truly Says
Based mostly in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and tradition. His initiatives embody the Substack e-newsletter Books on Cities, the guide The Stateless Metropolis: a Stroll by Twenty first-Century Los Angeles and the video collection The Metropolis in Cinema. Observe him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Fb.