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The Write Stuff - Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphics

Ancient Egyptian history spans the course of over 3,000 years. Over those 3,000 years, the Egyptians formed a rich culture and civilization. Today, the historical and cultural significance of ancient Egypt takes on many forms. A great deal of what is known about ancient Egyptian life comes from translations of their writings. The ancient Egyptians were excellent record keepers, using a system of writing called hieroglyphs. The term hieroglyph is derived from the Greek translation of heiro, meaning sacred and glyphein, meaning to carve or inscribe. This Egyptian form of writing covered temple walls, tombs, and public monuments.

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How about: woman+squiggly+foot+bird+mummy...?
This system of writing, hieroglyphics, was based on clearly distinguishable pictures to express sound and ideas. The hieroglyphics documented commerce, told stories and ideas and recorded religious rites. Different signs such as an alphabet, numbers, syllabic signs and determinative signs composed hieroglyphic writing. Certain conventions were followed in order to maintain consistency. Hieroglyphs were written from right to left and from left to right. In addition, hieroglyphics were written in lines or columns. The reading direction was determined by the direction that human and animal figures faced and continued in the opposite direction.

The Legend of Horus

Horus personified the rising Sun according to ancient Egyptian mythology. He was the son of Osiris, king of Egypt who was killed by his brother Seth over the throne. Once Horus grew and was old enough to take the throne, Horus and Seth fought a violent fight over the title of King of Egypt and over the death of Osiris. During the fight, Horus lost his eye. Legend says that the gods eventually intervened and declared Horus the rightful King of Egypt. In honor of his father Osiris, Horus offered the recovered eye to his father. His own wound was covered with the divine serpent, Uraeus. This is why this serpent was considered the emblem of the Egyptian Pharoahs.

Hieroglyphic Alphabet
Two different types of signs define hieroglyphics. The first are pictograms (object sign) and ideograms (idea or concept sign) and the second are phonograms (signs that represent a sound of one, two or three consonants). Words in hieroglyphics were often written as a combination of phonograms and ideograms. This ancient Egyptian writing used over 2,000 hieroglyphic characters. Each character was a picture of a common object, which represented the sound of the object. Hieroglyphs were combined together to form statements, similar to a picture puzzle.

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Let's see: bird+squiggly+snake+eye+squiggly means...?
Among two of the most significant Egyptian symbols were the Eye of Horus and scarabs. The symbol of the Eye of Horus was in the shape of a falcon and represented the cycles of life, death and rebirth. It was worn for the protection from evil. Another symbol of ancient Egypt is the scarab. Scarabs were good luck charms and seals with the names of the owner cut on the underside. These Egyptian objects were in the form of a beetle, the good luck beetle. These beetles, known as dung-beetles, symbolized rebirth and eternal life. These good luck charms were worn for strength. Often they were worn in graves and placed on or around the heart.

Vocabulary Box

syllabic - consisting of a syllable or syllables
intervene - to come between
crowning - providing a crown to

Hieroglyphics symbolizes the art of writing, with the beautifully inscribed texts. In addition, the ancient Egyptians were the first to solve the technological problem of manufacturing high quality writing materials such as pen, ink and papyrus (paper) to record, transmit and preserve their scripts. Hieroglyphics was the basis of two other writings. Hieratic (priestly) and demotic (popular) were the two simpler, cursive styles of writing which evolved from hieroglyphics.

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Are these people crouching under street lamps?
Hieroglyphics provide insight to ancient Egyptian civilization. The Rosetta Stone unlocked many secrets of the ancient Egyptians and their language. The first stone was written in hieroglyphics, while the next was in hieratic and the third in Greek. The hieroglyphics on the stone referenced the crowning of King Ptolemy V. The stone was discovered in the small town of Rosetta by the Nile River. In 1799, a French soldier named Pierre Poushar discovered this ancient Egyptian artifact. Later, a French scholar by the name of Jean Champollier translated the stone's writing. Today, the Rosetta Stone is in a British monument.

Ancient Egyptian civilization has had great significance throughout history, and still does today. With over 3,000 years of history and culture, the roots of this ancient civilization are deep. Hieroglyphic writing is a window into that world, as well as part of the foundation of the written text.


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