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 lecturers 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 just 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 turning into “the muse for historical Greek, Latin and most fashionable languages in Europe immediately.”
The comb itself, dated to round 1700 BC, bears a easy Canaanite message: “Might this tusk root out the lice of the hair and the beard.” As Pattern notes, “historical combs have been created 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 will need to 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 goal did the inscription serve?”
As our lice-combating expertise has developed 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, turning into the premise for immediately’s fashionable English characters.” And that wasn’t its solely path: Korea, the place I stay, has a very totally different alphabet of its personal, however one which caught on for a similar causes as its distant cousins elsewhere on the earth. The secret’s simplicity, as in opposition to older writing methods wherein 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 immediately, wouldn’t undergo the lice comb slightly than observe their ABCs.
Associated content material:
How you can Write in Cuneiform, the Oldest Writing System within the World: A Quick, Charming Introduction
The Evolution of the Alphabet: A Colourful Flowchart, Masking 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 Yr: An Animated Map
The Atlas of Endangered Alphabets: A Free On-line Atlas That Helps Protect Writing Methods That Might Quickly Disappear
An Historic Egyptian Homework Project from 1800 Years In the past: Some Issues Are Actually Timeless
What the Rosetta Stone Really Says
Primarily based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and tradition. His tasks embody the Substack e-newsletter Books on Cities, the guide The Stateless Metropolis: a Stroll via Twenty first-Century Los Angeles and the video sequence The Metropolis in Cinema. Comply with him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Fb.
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