Apparently this comb has an inscription on it which reads “May this tusk root out the lice of the hair and the beard.” It was made from an imported elephant tusk!
The comb measures just 3.5 by 2.5 centimeters (roughly 1.38 by 1 inches), with teeth on both sides, although only the bases remain; the rest of the teeth were likely broken long ago. One side had thicker teeth, the better to untangle knots, while the other had 14 finer teeth, likely used to remove lice and their eggs from beards and hair. Further analysis showed noticeable erosion at the comb’s center, which the authors believe was likely due to someone’s fingers holding it there during use.
The authors also used X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy, and digital microscopy to confirm that the comb is made of ivory from an elephant tusk, suggesting it was imported. The team sent a sample from the comb to the University of Oxford’s radiometric laboratory, but the carbon was too poorly preserved to accurately date the sample.
The inscription consists of 17 letters (two damaged) that together form a complete seven-word sentence. The letters aren’t well-aligned, per the authors, nor are they uniform in size; the letters become progressively smaller and lower in the first row, with letters running from right to left. When whoever engraved the comb reached the edge, they turned it 180 degrees and engraved the second row from left to right. The engraver actually ran out of room on the second row, so the final letter is engraved just below the last letter in that row. Still, said engraver had to be fairly skilled, given the small size of the lettering.