Discovery- In 391 AD Theodosius the first closed all
pagan temples throughout the empire. This action terminated a
4,000 yr old tradition and the message of the ancient Egyptian
language was lost for a whole 1,500 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 eternal sleep. Today, by virtue of the vast quantity of
their literature, we know more about Egyptian society than most
of the other ancient civilizations that are out there. The writing
was developed around 4,000 BC and there was also a decimal system
of numeration up to a million! Strangely, and unlike other ancient
civilizations, the early picture forms were never changed or thrown
out, probably for the reason that they were appealing to the eye
and easily noticable. Hieroglyphicss were called by the Egyptians
"the words of God" and were used mainly by the priests.
Hieroglyphics were written in columns and rows. You
could read them from either left to right, or right to left, you
would know which way to read according to how the animals and
people were facing in the various sentences.
Hieroglyphics were divided into four categories:
1. Alphabetic signs would represent a single sound.
Unfortunately, for modern day people, the Egyptians took most
vowels for granted, and, did not represent them. So, we may never
know exactly how the words were formed.
2. Syllabic signs were used to show a combination of
two or three constonants.
3. Word-signs are pictures of the objects/letters they
represented. They are followed by a storke put in an upright position,
to indicate that the word is complete in one sign.
4. A determinative is a picture of an object which
helps the reader. For example; if a word expressed an abstract
idea, a picture of a roll of papyrus(Ancient Egyptian Paper) tied
up and sealed was included to show that the meaning of the word
could be expressed in writing although not pictorially.
On the left is a key of letters.