Scientists Discover Ancient De-Licing Combs

A microscope reveals the true purpose of colorful, ancient combs found in Chile.

Lice have plagued humankind throughout history. Spreading from person to person by close contact, they latch onto hair with hooklike claws and pierce the scalp to suck up a meal of blood. The result is often a very itchy head. Relief comes only with the removal of all traces of infestation—the insects, each about the size of a sesame seed, and the tiny eggs they lay, known as nits.

Picking off the parasites one by one is tedious, so many cultures have crafted fine-tooth combs to hasten the job. Combs of wood, bone, and ivory have turned up at ancient sites in the Old World, but solid evidence for such tools in the Americas was lacking until a recent study in northern Chile.

That research focused on a museum collection of double-sided combs made from common reeds. All came from cultural groups that flourished in river valleys in the Atacama Desert between about A.D. 500 and 1500.

Read This Next

Mysterious purple coating found on Mars rocks
Did hallucinogenic booze fuel politics in ancient Peru?
On the trail of Colombia’s sloth cartel

Go Further

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet