That's the oldest message that we have today that is written in alphabet letters. It's inscribed on an ivory comb.
Quoted in "An Ancient People’s Oldest Message: Get Rid of Beard Lice. Archaeologists in Israel unearthed a tiny ivory comb inscribed with the oldest known sentence written in an alphabet that evolved into one we use today" (NYT).
The NYT tells us the comb is from "around 1,700 B.C., " and I'm interested to see the survival not just of the comb but of "B.C." — rather than "B.C.E." — in the NYT.
I do a little research and dig up — not quite archeologically — something from 1997 A.D. (or should it be C.E.?), and I'm telling you about it because it's written by long — but not that long — gone William Safire, "B.C./A.D. or B.C.E./C.E.?":
As a White House speech writer, I had a hand in writing the text on the plaque marking the spot where Apollo 11 astronauts first set foot on the moon. To slip in an unobtrusive reference to God, I wrote, ''July 1969 A.D.'' When some alien from a U.F.O. lands there in a few thousand years, it will surely know that the initials stand for the Latin Anno Domini and get the point that our first explorers feared only God.
My mistake was putting the A.D. after the date. Correct dating usage is to put B.C., ''before Christ,'' after the year and A.D., ''in the year of our Lord,'' before the year.
Ah. So that's very interesting but not relevant to the question that brought me to the column. But Safire moves on, saying maybe he "goofed in more ways than one" and he shouldn't have written "A.D." at all, but C.E., "in deference to Muslims, Jews and other non-Christians."
He quotes Harold Bloom — ''Every scholar I know uses B.C.E. and shuns A.D.'' — and others.
Evidently many think B.C.E./C.E. is religiously neutral; others hold that the change is silly because the count remains from the birth of Jesus Christ and confuses those who think the C stands for ''Christ'' and not ''Common.''
Here's my take: I'll stick with B.C. because Christ, in American usage, refers directly to Jesus of Nazareth as if it were his last name and not a title conferring Messiah-hood. For non-Christians to knock themselves out avoiding the word Christ, when it so clearly refers to a person from whose birth we date our secular calendar's count, seems unduly strained and almost intolerant....
A.D. is another story. Dominus means ''lord,'' and when the lord referred to is Jesus, not God, a religious statement is made. Thus, ''the year of our Lord'' invites the query ''Whose lord?'' and we're in an argument we don't need.
I think "Christ" expresses as much divinity as "Lord."
And I think you should go one way or the other on B.C./A.D. or B.C.E./C.E. To split and go with B.C. and C.E. — based on the comparative religiosity of "Lord" is just bizarre. But maybe that's what the NYT has been doing all these years, and I'd never noticed.
Am I nit picking?
Back to the comb: The archeologist said "finding the comb with a plea against lice was like 'finding a plate that says, "Put food on this plate."' It’s simple, functional and reflective, in some ways, of our nature. It’s something very human. What were you expecting? A love song? A recipe to make pizza?'"
We find the oldest message and it states the obvious. So much for the deep mysteries of the past. They had a comb and it was a comb.