Roadside dig Reveals 10,000 Year Old House In Israel
Archeologists say that while digging at a construction site in Israel, they have uncovered some stunning finds, including stone axes, a “cultic” temple, and traces of a house 10,000 years old.
The discoveries provide a “broad picture” of human development over thousands of years, from the time when people first started settling in homes to the early days of urban planning, officials with the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said.
In preparation for the widening of an Israeli road, the excavation took place at Eshtaol, about 15 miles (25 kilometers) west of Jerusalem.
The site’s oldest discovery was an 8th millennium B.C. building during the Neolithic period.
“This is the first time that such an ancient structure has been discovered in the Judean Shephelah,” archaeologists with the IAA said, referring to the plains west of Jerusalem.
The building seems to have undergone a number of renovations and represents a time when humans were first starting to live in permanent settlements rather than constantly migrating in search of food, the researchers said.
Near this house, the team found a cluster of abandoned flint and limestone axes.
“Here we have evidence of man’s transition to permanent dwellings and that in fact is the beginning of the domestication of animals and plants; instead of searching out wild sheep, the ancient man started raising them near the house,” the archaeologists said in a statement.
The excavators also say they found the remains of a possible “cultic” temple that’s more than 6,000 years old.
The researchers think this structure, built in the second half of the 5th millennium B.C., was used for ritual purposes because it contains a heavy, 4-foot-tall (1.3 meters) standing stone that is smoothed on all six of its sides and was erected facing east.
“The large excavation affords us a broad picture of the progression and development of the society in the settlement throughout the ages,” said Amir Golani, one of the excavation directors for the IAA.
Golani added that there is evidence of rural society in Eshtaol making the transition to an urban society in the early Bronze Age, 5,000 years ago.
“We can see distinctly a settlement that gradually became planned, which included alleys and buildings that were extremely impressive from the standpoint of their size and the manner of their construction,” Golani explained in a statement.
“We can clearly trace the urban planning and see the guiding hand of the settlement’s leadership that chose to regulate the construction in the crowded regions in the center of the settlement and allowed less planning along its periphery.
The buildings and artifacts were discovered ahead of the widening of Highway 38, which runs north-south through the city of Beit Shemesh.
Throughout Israel, construction projects often lead to new archaeological discoveries. For example, during recent expansions of Highway 1, the main road connecting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, excavators discovered 9,500-year-old animal figurines, a carving of a phallus from the Stone Age and a ritual building from the First Temple era.
Ancient mosaic showing Jesus feeding the 5,000 is found in church ruins
A 1,500-year-old mosaic depicting Jesus’s feeding of the five thousand has been unearthed during an excavation of an ancient city near the Sea of Galilee.
The discovery of the so-called Burnt Church in Hippos, northern Israel, has enthralled archaeologists who have spent the summer combing it for historical evidence.
A fire destroyed the fifth-century church in 700AD but the mosaic-paved floor has been remarkably preserved throughout the centuries by a layer of ash.
Located in the heart of the Holy Land, Hippos overlooks the Sea of Galilee – also known as the Kinneret – where it was once the site of a Greco-Roman city.
The mosaic purports to capture one of the miracles referred to in the New Testament where Jesus used just five loaves and two fish to feed 5,000 people gathered on the banks of the water.
A team from the University of Haifa found the Burnt Church in 2005, but only began the dig this summer.
Head archaeologist Dr Michael Eisenburg said: ‘There can certainly be different explanations to the descriptions of loaves and fish in the mosaic, but you cannot ignore the similarity to the description in the New Testament.
‘For example, from the fact that the New Testament has a description of five loaves in a basket or the two fish depicted in the apse, as we find in the mosaic.’
He added that the generally accepted location of the miracle performed by Christ may have to be reconsidered in light of the new evidence.
The historian said: Nowadays, we tend to regard the Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha on the north-west of the Sea of Galilee as the location of the miracle, but with careful reading of the New Testament it is evident that it might have taken place north of Hippos within the city’s region.
‘According to the scripture, after the miracle Jesus crossed the water to the northwest of the Sea of Galilee, to the area of Tabgha/Ginosar, so that the miracle had to take place at the place where he began the crossing rather than at the place he finished it.
‘In addition, the mosaic at the Church of Multiplication has a depiction of two fish and a basket with only four loaves, while in all places in the New Testament which tell of the miracle, there are five loaves of bread, as found in the mosaic in Hippos.
‘In addition, the mosaic at the burnt church has a depiction of 12 baskets, and the New Testament also describes the disciples who, at the end of the miracle, were left with 12 baskets of bread and fish.
‘There is no doubt that the local community was well familiar with the two miracles of Feeding the Multitude and perhaps knew their estimated locations better than us.’
After centuries of falling into the hands of several empires and religious groups, Hippos was abandoned in around 600AD when an earthquake devastated the hilltop city.
Archaeologist Found 1,500 Year Old Rare Painting Depicting Jesus Found in Negev Desert
Archeologists have recently identified what is believed to be an extremely rare painting of Jesus Christ in an abandoned ruins church in the Israeli desert.
According to specialists, the painting is believed to date back at least 1,500 years.
The Picture previously considered an unknown piece of art was spotted at an ancient Byzantine Church in the Negev Desert.
The painting could date back to the 6th century and scholars argue the piece of art reveals Jesus Christ’s facial outline, revealing him as a young man with short hair.
The portrait, first spotted in the 1090s has now been studied using state-of-the-art techniques, which helped specialists to conclude it was a rare piece of art.
The rare painting was Found in the archeological ruins of Shivta, believed to be an old farming village and located in the Negev desert, some 25 miles (40 kilometers) southwest of Be’er Sheva, the largest city in the Negev desert of southerm Israel.
Shivta is thought to have been founded during the 2nd century and flourished for more than 6 centuries after it was eventually abandoned during the early Islamic period.
The results of the discovery were published in a daily paper in the journal Antiquity, where experts say that the mere presence of Jesus Christ is important by itself.
“Christ’s face in this painting is an important discovery in itself,” the researchers wrote in the paper.
“It belongs to the iconographic scheme of a short-haired Jesus Christ, which was especially widespread in Egypt and Syria-Palestine, but gone from later Byzantine art.”
The discovery is of great importance mostly because of the fact that the painting of Christ predates the typical religious iconography used in the Orthodox Christian Church.
“Thus far, it is the only in situ baptism-of-Christ scene to date confidently to the pre-iconoclastic Holy Land.
Therefore, it can illuminate Byzantine Shivta’s Christian community and Early Christians art across the region,” experts wrote.
The recent discovery is just one of the many Interesting finds that have recently been made in Isreal.
Earlier this year, experts confirmed the first full spelling of ‘Jerusalem+ in an ancient stone inscription found near Jerusalem’s Binyanei Ha’Uma International Convention Center.
Furthermore, in February of 2018, archaeologists Found a clay seal mark that is though to bear the signature of Biblical Prophet Isaiah.
Ancient Toilet: A Peek into King Hezekiah’s Reforms in the Bible?
It was one of the most zealous religious crackdowns in the history of Judaism and saw the numerous cults in ancient Judah smashed to pieces.
Now evidence of the reforms implemented by King Hezekiah, which are described in the Old Testament, around 2,800 years ago have surfaced in a surprising form.
Archaeologists digging at the site of an ancient gate to the ruined city of Tel Lachish in Israel have uncovered the remains of a shrine that was desecrated during the purges in the 8th century BC.
The Lachish city gate, as it is known, consists of six chambers which contain signs of city life at the time.
In one of the chambers, however, is a shrine that once had walls covered with white plaster and two altars decorated with raised corners – known as horns.
These, however, appear to have had their tops deliberately cut off, a sign that there had been an attempt to end the spread of religious cults and centralise worship in Jerusalem.
But perhaps the greatest sign that the shrine had been the site of one of King Hezekiah’s crackdowns was the installation of the toilet within the inner sanctum of the shrine.
This stone with a hole cut through the centre would have been the ultimate desecration of the Holy site.
Sa’ar Ganor, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said: ‘Steps to the gate-shrine in the form of a staircase ascended to a large room where there was a bench upon which offerings were placed.
‘An opening was exposed in the corner of the room that led to the holy of holies. ‘To our great excitement, we found two four-horned altars and scores of ceramic finds consisting of lamps, bowls and stands in this room.
‘It is most interesting that the horns on the altar were intentionally truncated. That is probably evidence of the religious reform attributed to King Hezekiah.’
According to the narrative given in the book of Kings in the bible, King Hezekiah oversaw a widespread effort to abolish the religious cults and idol worship that had sprung up in Judah.
It states in II Kings 18:4: ‘He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles…’ Tests at the site showed that while the toilet stone appears to have been installed to desecrate the shrine, it was never actually used.
Archaeologists instead believe it had been placed there symbolically and the inner sanctum of the shrine was sealed shut.
The gate itself was initially partially unearthed several decades ago by an expedition led by archaeologists from Britain and Tel Aviv University.
Now the entire gate, which measures 78 feet (24 metres) long by 78 feet wide, has been excavated.
In the first chamber, archaeologists found stone benches with armrests along with numerous jars and grain scoops scattered on the floor.
Dr Ganor said: ‘The size of the gate is consistent with the historical and archaeological knowledge we possess, whereby Lachish was a major city and the most important one after Jerusalem’.
‘According to the biblical narrative, the cities’ gates were the place where ‘everything took place’.
‘The city elders, judges, governors, kings and officials – everyone would sit on benches in the city gate. These benches were found in our excavation.’ There were also jar handles that bear an official seal impression indicating ownership.
Does 2,800-Year-Old Statue Head Depict a Forgotten Biblical King?
Archaeologists are in the midst of a mystery of forgotten identity. They are trying to discover the name behind a 2,800-year-old face found in the ancient city of Abel Beth Maacah in northern Israel.
They are perplexed by the head of a statue which may have been made to portray the likeness of a biblical king.
The head is a small 2 by 2.2 inches (5.1 by 5.6 centimeters) artifact which archaeologists believe once belonged to a statuette which measured approximately 8 to 10 inches (20 to 25 cm) in height, according to Live Science .
It is the representation of a man who had long black hair, a black beard, almond-shaped eyes and a yellow and black headband. His expression portrays the image of someone who had authority and demanded respect.
Which sent the team out to excavate the Abel Beth Maacah site, states that the statuette’s head was found in a possible administrative building. Azusa Pacific University’s Robert Mullins described the discovery .
Mullins that the location and high quality of the carving of the head suggest that it was meant to represent a member of Abel Beth Maacah’s elite class, “We’re guessing probably a king, but we have no way of proving that,” Mullins said.
An art historian who examined the small head has suggested it depicts a king or other important Aramean official. However, Mullin understands that more research will need to be completed before that claim could become a conclusion.
Nonetheless, the idea is an intriguing one for Mullin, who writes , “If the head proves to depict an Aramean, it would suggest that the local Aramean population continued to live there as Israelite citizens long after Abel Beth Maacah fell under the sway of the United Monarchy and the northern kingdom of Israel.”
Researchers received a timeframe of 902-806 BC when some material found near the sculptured head was radiocarbon dated.
Mullins said that Abel Beth Maacah changed hands many times during that period as it was bordering the kingdoms of Israel, Tyre, and Aram-Damascus.
Perhaps more information will be gathered when excavations start up again this summer at the administrative building of the Abel Beth Maacah archaeological site.
The intrigue of the artifact has garnered much attention. It has become a subject for a discussion at the 44th Annual Archaeological Congress at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, the topic for a paper which will be published this month in the journal Near Eastern Archaeology , and it is a fascinating addition to the collection of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
Roman House With Phallic Amulets, Frescoes Found in Northern Israel
A house dating back around 1,900 years, which is decorated with frescoes showing scenes of nature, has been discovered at the archaeological site of Omrit in northern Israel. Phallic amulets were also found at the site.
The house was constructed during the late first or early second century A.D., and was likely two stories tall, said Daniel Schowalter, a professor at Carthage College in Wisconsin.
“The floor [of the house] was plastered and its walls were covered in frescoes,” Schowalter told an audience in Toronto at the joint annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America and the Society for Classical Studies in January.
The frescoes show images of trees, bushes, birds, fish and plants; one includes two ducks huddled together.
It’s not certain who owned the house in ancient times. “One would guess that it might have been commissioned by a Roman official who was stationed in the area, but it could also be the home a local elite who adopted some traditional Roman motifs in decoration,” Schowalter told Live Science in an email.
Only part of the house has been excavated so far. The excavated area “was probably a courtyard, since the doorway we have opens into the ‘house’ proper. In other words, you could be locked out in that area,” Schowalter said.
The house appears to have been demolished during the early third century, as archaeologists found a layer of fill on top of the remains of the house. On top of that layer, a new building that resembles a “stoa” (a covered walkway or portico) was constructed, Schowalter said.
Several phallus-shaped amulets were found in the layer of fill that covered the demolished house, Schowalter said. “That fill was probably put down in the early third century. So the amulets date to before that time, but since it is fill, we aren’t sure how long before.”
Amulets in the shape of peniseshave been found in many parts of the Roman Empire and may have been worn to help prevent misfortune.
The excavation is part of the Omrit Settlement Excavations Project, which is co-directed by Schowalter, along with Jennifer Gates-Foster, a professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Michael Nelson, a professor at Queens College, City University of New York; Benjamin Rubin, an independent scholar; and Jason Schlude, a professor at the College of Saint Benedict & Saint John’s University.
2,000-year-old burial complex discovered in Tiberias
A magnificent Roman-era burial cave was fortuitously found in the northern Israeli city of Tiberias when a contractor clearing ground for a new neighborhood realized the significance of the void his bulldozer almost fell into, and immediately called in the Israel Antiquities Authority.
“A good citizen,” observes archaeologist Yardenna Alexandre of the IAA. The underground mausoleum unearthed this month is between 1,900 to 2,000 years old, judging by the architectural style, she told Haaretz.
The main central chamber has several burial niches – shelves carved into the cave walls, and a small inner chamber. The archaeologists also found ossuaries, which are boxes used for the secondary burial of bones.
That means the bereaved would lay the dead on niches carved into the cave walls, and wait for the bodies to decompose. Then the bones would be reburied in boxes typically made of stone or clay that were only as long as the longest bone, Alexandre says.
The ossuaries, which were made of stone and pottery, are the tell-tale artifact marking the catacomb as belonging to Jews. Nobody else is known to have practiced secondary burial in the Roman era – with one exception.
“One single case is known in Israel of a non-Jewish secondary burial in an ossuary – a Nabatean. Maybe it was a Nabatean who was influenced by the Jews,” remarks archaeologist Dr. Mordechai Aviam of Kinneret College.
It is true that there is much older evidence of secondary burial in pottery ossuaries, but that’s from the Chalcolithic period – also known as the Copper Age, which is before Judaism existed. For some reason the practice arose anew thousands of years later, in the 1st century B.C.E., and vanished once and for all in the early 3rd century.
The underground mausoleum in Tiberias’ north had been skillfully carved out of the yielding limestone, possibly starting from a convenient rain-carved depression in the bedrock. Its walls were decorated with colored plaster, as was the custom at the time.
More information will have to await proper excavation, which has not begun yet, Alexandre stresses. But meanwhile it can be said that the archaeologists also found the names of the dead, carved onto the ossuaries in Greek.
The multicultural Jews of Tiberias
Jewish names in Greek on graves in the Holy Land? Absolutely. It was very much the practice. Half the graves in ancient Jerusalem from the same era are also inscribed in Greek, Aviam says. Other inscriptions found in Tiberias itself, linked to Jews from the 3rd century, were in Greek too.
“It just means that the people buried in the cave had been people who knew Greek. It doesn’t speak to their Judaism but to their internationality, their multiculturalism,” Aviam explains. “They would have had cultural ties with Greek-speaking people. Jews could keep their mitzvot and write on their graves in Greek.”
Greek inscriptions also decorate ancient synagogues found across the Holy Land, including one found in Tiberias. The sage Abbahu who lived in Israel from 279 to 320 and who had studied in Tiberias famously spoke Greek as well as Hebrew. “It’s just like Jews in Brooklyn today pray in English,” Aviam points out.
But if the Jewish burial cave in Tiberias dates to the 1st or even the early 2nd century, there’s a snag. At least according to the Jewish-Roman historian Josephus, Tiberias wasn’t supposed to have Jews yet.
Josephus waxes imaginative
Tiberias was founded in the year 18 by the Jewish vassal king Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, on the banks of the Sea of Galilee. Herod Antipas build it as his capital and named it as a submissive gesture to the irritable incumbent Roman emperor Tiberius.
As said, Herod Antipas built Tiberias from scratch as an entirely new Roman city-state, which has led to an intriguing conflict of opinion between Josephus and contemporary researchers.
Josephus, who was originally named Joseph ben Mattathias and who wrote quite a bit about Tiberias and nearby Sepphoris (Tzipori), says that Jews were squeamish about moving to newly-established town because it had been built partly over ancient graves. (And maybe it was; Jewish tradition says Tiberias was built in part on an even older village.) Because of the tombs, the land was unclean, says Josephus, and Jews shunned the city until purification rituals had been performed.
First of all, Herod Antipas may have been a toy-royal of the Roman emperor but he was also the Jewish king of the Galilee, a predominantly Jewish area. So if he built a city in the Galilee, Jews would have moved in too, Aviam argues.
Secondly, the issue of the ancient graves is circumventable, in his opinion. “Today the state simply pours money onto the problem,” says Aviam: if it wants to build a new neighborhood or highway and graves pop up, so to speak, it builds tunnels or bridges or just builds anyway.
Back then, in the 2nd century, the answer lay in rituals – possibly devised by the 2nd century sage Simeon Bar Yochai, who counseled the Jews after the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in 70 C.E., Aviam says. The rituals were supposed to either cause the ancient graves to sink deeper into the ground, preventing contamination of the living, or rise higher so the dead could be reburied elsewhere.
In any case, Aviam points out, at some point the Jews clearly circumvented the problem of living atop the dead because in the 2nd century, Tiberias greatly expanded, and yet again the issue of building on graves would have arisen. Since the city became central to Jewish life of the time, evidently the Jews were solving this conundrum.
Aviam further speculates that the deceased dwellers of the burial cave weren’t among the very first Tiberians. Most likely Herod Antipas peopled the city with low-status workers at first, and elite classes would have come later, possibly from the second half of the 1st century onwards. Among them would have been multicultural Jews speaking Greek.
Or, the cave might not have belonged to Tiberians at all. Aviam notes that it is nowhere near ancient Tiberias, so either the Jewish family in question had quite a trek to the site, or they didn’t live in the city itself but in a nearby village.
If human remains are found, more can be said. The cave has yet to be excavated, Alexandre stresses, so we do not know at this time whether anybody is there. Also, it is very likely the cave has been robbed of any valuables long ago.
Carved stone doors stood at the entrances into the rooms, which nobody can see because the authorities lost zero time in blocking the cave off to protect it from future grave robbers and vandals.
1,600-Year-Old Pottery Workshop Has First Known Rock-Hewn Kiln in Israel
During the construction of a new residential quarter, north of the new Yaʽarit neighborhood, a team of archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority uncovered a Roman era pottery workshop, where jars were manufactured.
The kiln, used to fire the jars, is the only one known to date in the country to have been hewn entirely in bedrock.
“What makes the pottery works so special is its unique kiln, which was hewn in bedrock and is unlike most of the kilns known to us that were built of stone, earth and mud” said Joppe Gosker, head of the IAA excavations, in a press release.
The 5 th century A.D. workshop included a system for storing water, storage compartments, a kiln, etc,
“The kiln was meticulously constructed. It consisted of two chambers – one a firebox in which branches were inserted for burning, and a second chamber where the pottery vessels were placed that were fired in the scorching heat that was generated” added Gosker.
Stone kilns were used in ancient Palestine because of the abundance of bedrock. More recently in that land such kilns have been built on hillsides, the hill forming part of the rear wall.
The kilns have been constructed of rough stones without mortar, the spaces between the stones being filled with clay but with a large open flue at the top. After the interior was properly packed with crushed limestone, a hot fire made from brush would be started in the fireplace at the base of the kiln.
The strong draft entering through a tunnel in the bottom of the kiln would carry the flames up through the limestone, heating it until it was converted into lime. This process would normally continue for several days.
“We can explain the quarrying of this rare kiln right here because of the special geological conditions found in the area of Shlomi: here there is chalk bedrock, which on the one hand is soft and therefore easily quarried, and on the other is sufficiently strong to endure the intense heat”, said Anastasia Shapiro, a geologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority who is researching the production of pottery vessels.
From the ceramic debris that was piled up around the kiln the archaeologists surmised that two types of vessels were manufactured at the workshop: storage jars that could be transported overland, and jars with large handles ( amphorae) that were used to store wine or oil which were exported from Israel by sea.
Archaeological surveys performed in Shlomi have documented remains of a royal structure with a gate – probably from the Late Roman period, which coincides with the use of the pottery workshop.
In addition, remains of the walls of buildings were identified that probably date to the Byzantine period, and as in the case of the unique kiln their builders took advantage of the natural stone in order to hew high foundations in the bedrock.
Archaeologists Discovered A 9,000-year-old Underground Megalithic Settlement of Atlit Yam
In a groundbreaking discovery, archaeologists have uncovered a skeleton in the ancient underground city of Atlit Yam, which is believed to be around 9,000 years old.
The well-preserved city, located near the coast of Israel, has been the subject of extensive research for decades, but this recent find has the potential to reveal even more about the people who once inhabited the area.
The skeleton was found in a well-preserved state, with its bones and teeth intact. Experts are currently analyzing the remains in order to determine the gender, age, and cause of death.
The discovery of the skeleton is particularly significant because it provides a rare glimpse into the lives of the people who lived in the city during the Neolithic period.
Atlit Yam is a unique archaeological site that has been the subject of much interest over the years. The city was built on a small hill and was protected by a massive seawall, which is still visible 2023.
The city is believed to have been inhabited from around 8000 BCE until 5500 BCE and was likely a major center of trade and commerce in the region.
The discovery of the skeleton is just the latest in a series of exciting discoveries at Atlit Yam. In recent years, researchers have uncovered a number of artifacts and structures that provide insight into the daily lives of the people who once lived there. These discoveries include pottery, tools, and even a ritual bath.
The discovery of the skeleton is a major breakthrough in the study of Atlit Yam and has the potential to shed new light on the ancient city and its inhabitants.
As researchers continue to analyze the remains and other artifacts found at the site, we can expect to learn more about the fascinating history of this remarkable place.
Human Remains to Reveal the Oldest Known Case of Tuberculosis
Ten flexed burials encased in clay and covered by thick layers of sand were discovered, both inside the houses and in the vicinity of Atlit Yam, and in total archaeologists have uncovered 65 sets of human remains. One of the most significant discoveries of this ancient site is the presence of tuberculosis (TB) within the village.
The skeletons of a woman and child, found in 2008, have revealed the earliest known cases of tuberculosis in the world. The size of the infant’s bones, and the extent of TB damage, suggest the mother passed the disease to her baby shortly after birth.
What Caused Atlit Yam to Sink?
One of the greatest archaeological mysteries of Atlit Yam is how it came to be submerged, a question that has led to heated debate in academic circles.
An Italian study led by Maria Pareschi of the Italian National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Pisa indicates that a volcanic collapse of the Eastern flank of Mount Etna 8,500 years ago would likely have caused a 40-meter-high tsunami to engulf some Mediterranean coastal cities within hours.
Some scientists point to the apparent abandonment of Atlit Yam around the same time, and the thousands of fish remains, as further evidence that such a tsunami did indeed occur.
However, other researchers have suggested that there is no solid evidence to suggest a tsunami wiped out the settlement. After all, the megalithic stone circle still remained standing in the place in which it had been constructed.
One alternative is that climate change caused glaciers to melt and sea levels to rise and the settlement became flooded by a slow rise in the level of the Mediterranean that led to a gradual abandonment of the village.
Whatever the cause of the submerging of the settlement, it was the unique conditions of clay and sandy sediment under salty water that enabled this ancient village to remain so well preserved over thousands of years.
Israel archaeologists find ancient comb with ‘full sentence’
It’s a simple sentence that captures the hopes and fears of modern-day parents as much as the bronze age Canaanite who owned the doubled-edged ivory comb on which the words appear.
Believed to be the oldest known sentence written in the earliest alphabet, the inscription on the luxury item reads: “May this tusk root out the lice of the hair and the beard.”
Unearthed in Lachish, a Canaanite city state in the second millennium BCE and the second most important city in the kingdom of Judah, the comb suggests that humans have endured lice for thousands of years and that even the wealthiest were not spared the grim infestations.
“The inscription is very human,” said Prof Yosef Garfinkel, an archaeologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who helped direct the Lachish excavations.
“You have a comb and on the comb you have a wish to destroy lice on the hair and beard. Nowadays we have all these sprays and modern medicines and poisons. In the past they didn’t have those.”
The comb, which measures 3.5cm by 2.5cm, was discovered at the site in south-central Israel in 2017, but the shallow engravings on the surface were only spotted in December last year.
Analysis of the markings confirmed the writing to be Canaanite script, the earliest alphabet, which was invented about 3,800 years ago.
Efforts to obtain an age for the comb from carbon dating proved futile, but researchers believe it was made around 1700 BCE.
The comb is worn and has lost its teeth, but the remaining stumps show that it once bore six widely spaced teeth for removing hair tangles on one side, and 14 narrowly spaced teeth for removing lice and eggs on the other.
Further evidence for the comb’s purpose came when researchers examined it under a microscope and identified the tough outer membranes of half millimetre-long nymph stages of head lice.
The letters on the comb spell out seven words that form the first completely deciphered sentence in a Canaanite dialect, written in Canaanite script, said the researchers in the Jerusalem Journal of Archaeology.
Ancient combs were made from wood, bone and ivory, but the latter would have been expensive, imported luxuries. There were no elephants in Canaan at the time.
The world’s first writing systems originated in Mesopotamia and Egypt around 3200 BCE, but these were not alphabetic.
They relied on hundreds of different signs to represent words or syllables and as such required years to master, said Christopher Rollston, professor of northwest Semitic languages at George Washington University in the US.
The earliest alphabet was invented around 1800 BCE by Semitic-speaking people who were familiar with the Egyptian writing system, said Rollston.
Known as Canaanite or early alphabetic the system was used for hundreds of years, particularly in the Levant, and was standardised by the Phoenicians in ancient Lebanon.
It went on to become the foundation for ancient Greek, Latin and most modern languages in Europe today.
“The fact that this inscription is about ordinary life is especially fascinating,” Rollston said. “Throughout human history lice have been a perennial problem. And this inscription nicely reveals that even the rich and famous in ancient times were not exempt from such problems. We can only hope that this inscribed comb was useful in doing that which it says it was supposed to do – root out some of these pesky insects.”
This article was amended on 9 November 2022 to clarify in the headline that the discovery is not believed to be the oldest written sentence, but the oldest sentence written in the first alphabet. A reference to the site of the find being in south-central Israel was also added.