BY Stephen Nartey, 12:00pm December 04, 2022,

Ivory combs were made for influential Egyptians to remove lice and untangle knots thousands of years ago

Ivory comb/Photo credit: Atlas obscura

The ivory-carved comb has six thick teeth on the side that helped those in high social standing in Egyptian society to untangle knots in their hair. On the flip side of the comb is an additional 14 teeth, which were used to search and take away lice and their eggs from the hair.

According to Heritage Daily, it is a double-edged comb with the objective of bringing relief to untidy hair being ravaged by lice. In mathematical terms, the comb measures an estimated 3.5 by 2.5 centimeters on each side.

The intriguing feature of this comb however is the 17 Canaanite letters inscribed on it. Historians say it shows the early development of alphabet script in Egyptian society. Archaeologists have devoted years to explaining the meaning of the Canaanite letters up until 2022 when it was interpreted to mean, “may this tusk root out the lice of the hair and the beard”.

Researcher and Semitic epigraphist at Ben Gurion University Dr. Daniel Vainstub said the challenge they had in decoding the inscription was because of its shallow nature which made it obscure at the first instance of observation. He indicated that a subsequent post-processing exercise conducted in 2022 enabled them to make meaning out of the text.

The archaeologists explained that they initially assumed that the Canaanite language was Israel because that was the sense they inferred from the sentence. But, it dawned on them that the Ugarit region in Syria is also inhabited by Canaanites.

However, a digression in the text was that the Canaanite cities were mentioned in Egyptian documents, the Amarna letters that were written in Akkadian and in the Hebrew Bible. The archaeologists established that the inscription on the comb had a connection with the usage of the alphabet in the everyday life of the Egyptians some 3,700 years ago.

The comb was discovered at Tel Lachish in Israel in 2017 by a team from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Southern Adventist University in the United States. Researcher Professor Yosef Garfinkel said the inscription reveals the height of early man’s knowledge and their ability to communicate through writing.

Early and archaic combs were originally carved out of wood, bone or ivory. The rare nature of elephant tusks made ivory expensive in the production of comb for the market. However, there are no elephants in Canaan during the date assigned to the ivory meaning that there was a high possibility of the comb originating from nearby Egypt.

The archaeologists were of the view that even those elite positions of Egyptian society battled with lice in their hair. The archaeologists indicated that when they placed the comb under the microscope and photographs expanded from both sides of the comb it showed it had interaction with lice.

The fossil remains of the lice suggested it measured 0.5–0.6 mm in size. The researchers said the discovery has given them an understanding of how the Bronze Age men of Canaan dealt with their challenges and the kind of investment they made to that effect.

The archaeologists noted that the inscription also gave them insight into the language spoken by the Canaanite inhabitants of Tel Lachish.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: December 4, 2022


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