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In AD 391
the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius I closed all pagan
temples throughout the empire. This action
terminated a four thousand year old tradition and
the message of the ancient Egyptian language was
lost for 1500 years. It was not until the discovery
of the Rosetta stone and the work of Jean-Francois
Champollion (1790-1832) that the Ancient Egyptians
awoke from their
long slumber. Today, by virtue of the vast quantity
of their literature, we know more about Egyptian
society than most other ancient cultures.
Hieroglyphs are written in
rows or columns and can be read from left to right or from right to
left. You can distinguish the direction in which the text is to be
read because the human or animal figures always face towards the
beginning of the line. Also the upper symbols are read before the
2. Syllabic signs represent
a combination of two or three consonants.
The ancient Egyptians were
possibly the first civilisation to practice the scientific arts.
Indeed, the word chemistry is derived from the word Alchemy which is
the ancient name for Egypt. Where the Egyptians really excelled was
in medicine and applied mathematics. But although there is a large
body of papyrus literature describing their achievements in
medicine, there are no records of how they reached their
mathematical conclusions. Of course they must have had an advanced
understanding of the subject because their exploits in engineering,
astronomy and administration would not have been possible without
The conventions for reading and writing numbers is quite simple; the higher number is always written in front of the lower number and where there is more than one row of numbers the reader should start at the top.
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