The last known hieroglyphic engraving from ancient Egyptian time in the temple of Philae in southern Egypt. It to be written about 1600 year ago. Quickly after, this written language was lost to background forever and also only live on as the talked language Coptic. So just how did we control to decode the mysterious inscriptions hundreds and also hundreds of year after the last of the ancient Egyptians died.

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The Rosetta Stone

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The prize lay in ~ a slab of black granite. In 1799 in the Nile Delta, in a town referred to as Rosetta, among Napolean’s soldiers discovered a special rock as they demolished one old wall surface to extend their fort. Later on named the Rosetta Stone, the artefact they discovered had three different languages engraved ~ above the side; hieroglyphics, demotic, and also Greek. Scholars to be unable to know the very first two languages, however they can read Greek writing. They discovered the composing was about king Ptolemy V, who as soon as ruled Egypt in 196 BC, and realised that the three languages should tell the very same story. This significant the moment It ended up being a very tiny ‘dictionary’ to the researchers attempting to recognize hieroglyphics, and also though this was critical progress, there were many daunting years ahead prior to anyone truly construed hieroglyphs.


Cartouche of Sekhemre-Heruhirmaat Intef or Intef VIII. 17th Dynasty. The Petrie Museum the Egyptian Archaeology, London.


Thomas Young 

A young English polymath was enthralled through the Rosetta rock and do a breakthrough ~ focussing top top a set of circled hieroglyphs referred to as a cartouche. He thought that due to the fact that these sets were made come stand out so lot that they must be significant, probably the surname of the Pharaoh Ptolemy which he knew was mentioned in the Greek translation. Young had the ability to decode the phonetics of the matching hieroglyphs since a pharoahs name would certainly be express very similar regardless of which language you were speaking. He spent time equivalent the letters of ‘Ptolemy’ permitting for the an initial correct understanding and verbalisation that hieroglyphs in practically a millennium and a half. But research went again the typically held id that hieroglyphs were ‘picture writing’ and also not a phonetic language that might be spoken, and rather just symbols because that items and also people. Though he was yes, really onto something, Young shed interest in his work, potentially with reluctance to challenge this widely embraced view. He explained his result as foreign names gift spelt out together there would have been no symbol because that them, but it wasn’t long prior to this concept was challenged and proved wrong.


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Hieroglyphs in Memphis through a statue of Ramses II in the background.

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Jean-François Champollion

Champollion choose up where Young left off and promised he would be the one to crack the ancient code after seeing a repertoire of Egyptian antiquities in 1801 as soon as he was just ten years old. In 1822 he got some cartouches that contained classic Egyptian names however found they to be still spelt out which straight disapproved the theory that spelling was just for international names. He supplied Young’s an approach on a couple of more cartouches, and also eventually found himself focussed on one cartouche that included just four hieroglyphs. The didn’t recognize the an initial two symbols however it had already been created that the two repeated at the finish must be ‘s-s’. Champollion had learnt to be fluent in Coptic as a teenager, and would write his newspaper in the antiquated language, yet had never thought that Coptic can be the language that the ancient hieroglyphs. He taken into consideration the an initial hieroglyph, and also assuming its sound come be that of the Coptic word because that sun, ‘ra’. This would certainly make the cracked code ‘ra-?-s-s’, and only one pharaonic name fit this – Rameses. And also with that, Champollion had actually cracked hieroglyphs and solved the centuries-old mystery. Egyptian hieroglyphs were the formal writing system used in old Egypt to compose the Coptic language, and also Champollion had opened the doors to knowledge these ancient communities and culture.

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