The Earliest Known Written Sentence

From The Week 19 November 2022 p19


The earliest known sentenceĀ 
The Canaanite people are believed to have been the first to have used an alphabet. Now, researchers in Israel have for the first time identified and translated a sentence written in that script. Engraved on a 3,700-year-old ivory comb, it reads simply: “May this tusk root out the lice of the hair and the beard.” The 3.5cm-long artefact was unearthed in 2017 at Lachish – a major Canaanite city in the Biblical kingdom of Judah – but it was only this year that the faint inscription was spotted.

“The comb inscription is direct evidence for the use of the alphabet in daily activities some 3,700 years ago,” said Prof Yosef Garfinkel, who led the team from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “This is a landmark in the history of the human ability to write.”

In a design that is still in use today, the comb had two sides. On one, there were six thick teeth that would have been used to detangle hair; the other had 14 fine teeth, for the removal of lice and their eggs. Made of elephant ivory, it would have been a luxury item for a rich family; poorer people probably used combs made of wood.