The comb was the size of a child's thumb and was found in central Israel. There were a number of teeth that had snapped. A bag of bones was added to it after it was discovered.

Scientists found a letter on the object that said "may this tusk root out the lice of the hair and the beard."

Michael Hasel, who was involved in the discovery of the comb, said that people laugh when he tells them what the inscription says.

The words turned out to be much more than that. Dr. Hasel and his colleagues dated the comb to around 1,700 B.C., making it one of the oldest examples of the writing of the Near Eastern people who developed the alphabet. The 17 letters on the comb are the oldest full, decipherable sentence ever found in an early alphabetic script.

Yosef Garfinkel, an Archeologist at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a co-author of the study who has unearthed evidence of King David's reign during his career, thinks this is the most important object ever found.

He said that this was the first sentence ever found in the alphabet.

The earliest known systems of human writing were found in Mesopotamia and Egypt. The script had a lot of letters and was very easy to read. They spread around the Near East due to that. A new type of writing appeared in the region that used only a few dozen letters and was shuffled around. The letters correspond to a single sound or phoneme.

This early alphabet is not well understood. According to Christopher Rollston, who studies the languages and writing systems of the Near East at George Washington University, there was consensus that the alphabet was invented by Semitic-speaking people.

ImageAn aerial view of the Tel Lachish site, with some roads and structures on a brown hill surrounded by farmland.
The Tel Lachish archaeological site where a Canaanite city once stood, about 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem.Credit...Menahem Kahana/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
An aerial view of the Tel Lachish site, with some roads and structures on a brown hill surrounded by farmland.

The Phoenicians standardized the shape and stance of the letters and adopted the earliest alphabetic script around 1,100 B.C. The Phoenicians did not invent the alphabet, according to Dr. Rollston. "They didn't"

From Phoenician to Old Hebrew to Old Aramaic to Ancient Greek to Latin, the alphabet continued to evolve. The earliest alphabet can be found in English and Hebrew, according to Dr. Garfinkel. The letter A is a bit like a cow staring at you. It is related to the Semitic word for ox. Dr. Garfinkel said that it can be seen in the A.

The function of the alphabet was simple. It was much easier to learn to read and write by matching one sound to another. The internet and the printing press gave new communities access to information and records. He said that the invention of the alphabet was the most important contribution to communication in the last 4,000 years.

The discovery of the letters on the ivory comb didn't begin with anyone looking for clues to how the alphabet came about. The artifact was collected from the ruins of Tel Lachish in 2016 and had been in storage. Thousands of items can be found at the site.

A researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem put a comb under a microscope to look for head lice. She said that she focused on the teeth. The pictures were under the microscope.

She took pictures of the comb with her phone, and when she looked at the engraving, she realized it was a picture.

ImageA small group of tourists walk among stone ruins of the archaeological site.
Visitors to the Tel Lachish site, where researchers say their team often digs up thousands of artifacts a week.Credit...Amir Cohen/Reuters
A small group of tourists walk among stone ruins of the archaeological site.

Daniel Vainstub is a paleographer at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. He was able to read them. The comb was sent to Dr. Vainstub for a more detailed analysis. All of the researchers were shocked that the writing hadn't been noticed for a long time.

Nobody saw the inscription because everybody had the comb in their hand.

Dr. Vainstub compared the 17 letters in the inscription to other writings. Many of the engravings on the comb were faint, which made the work difficult. The inscription on the comb pointed to a single translation. He knew he had figured it out after making out the word.

The study was praised by Dr. Rollston who was not involved in it.

There are a lot of new questions to ask, such as where the ivory comb was inscribed. Is it written by someone? The inscription served a purpose.

Dr. Garfinkel said that finding a comb with a plea against lice was similar to finding a plate with food on it. Our nature is simple, functional and reflective.

He said it was a very human thing. What did you think you would get? Do you mean a love song? There is a recipe for pizza.