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Pictures and Photos of Egypt Pictures and Images of Egypt Pictures and Photos of Egypt


Cartouche of Tutankhamun
of the 18th Dynasty
Cartouche of one of the

The History:

Hieroglyphs were the symbols used by the ancient Egyptian Priests and Scholars to represent, what we today would call, writing. Hieroglyphics is the word used for the art of writing with hieroglyphs. Even though the 'pictures' were visually descriptive, these were in fact phonetic symbols, just like our present alphabet, but it did take quite some time for this to be established.

Rosetta Stone
Up to the 18th century these symbols were considered pagan and therefore not to be investigated. From 1797 an Englishman called Thomas Young examined the famous Rosetta Stone, which had been confiscated from the French, and found that 3 different scripts on the stone all had the same meaning. The top one was in Hieroglyphs (a Sacred text), the middle in Demotic (text of the People) and the bottom one was in Ancient Greek - which could be understood. By careful examination he was able to establish that Ptolomes in Greek was mimicked in the top script by an equal number of symbols in a cartouche. Unfortunately he was unable to make much further progress and abandoned his research.

In 1822 when Young's research was sent to Paris for review, the investigation was eagerly continued by Jean Francois Champollion. With the help of some drawings sent by a friend from Abu Simbel and an understanding of the Coptic script of the Egyptian Christian Church, JFC was able to interpret the name Ramses from a cartouche on the temple carvings. Following twenty years of research, it was only a matter of time before JFC found the key for the majority of Hieroglyphs. Very shortly after this task he died from a heart attack aged 41!

The Alphabet:

In total it was discovered that there were more than 700 Hieroglyphs in regular use and many more as variations or used in obscurity. Many represent just one letter, some represent a combination of letters and syllables and some represent a specific term of reference. Some are even used to qualify the purpose of the word, otherwise known as determinatives - e.g. motion, female, a place ...

It should be mentioned that in the ancient Egyptian writing, hieroglyphs were not used to write vowels, only consonants. Consequently the set shown below is merely a selection of hieroglyphs which resembles some of the sounds of our modern alphabet.

For some letters we use the same hieroglyph - C and K for example. That is because in English a C either sounds like K or S or is combined to make to make a composite sound like CH. There appears to be no real equivalent of L, and O is a derivative of a soft 2-consonant sound - not exactly O! The symbol for U comes directly from that for our double-U and the A is more of a strangulated stutter from the back of the throat! E is taking a liberty with a pronunciation of Y and uses one of the hieroglyphs closely representing that sound! The hieroglyph used for I is more like the sound of the Y in Yes.

Z Tu

For further information on this most fascinating writing, visit Amazon at their
on-line site and search their 'shelves' for a whole range of books on the subject.

Recommended reading: 'How to Read Egyptian Hieroglyphs:
A Step-by-Step Guide to Teach Yourself'
by Mark Collier, Bill Manley and Richard Parkinson (ISBN: 0714119105)

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