The last known hieroglyphic engraving from old Egyptian time in the temple of Philae in southerly Egypt. It to be written roughly 1600 years ago. Soon after, this composed language was lost to background forever and also only live on together the spoken language Coptic. So how did we regulate to decode the mysterious inscriptions hundreds and 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 dubbed Rosetta, one of Napolean’s soldiers discovered a special rock as they demolished one old wall surface to extend their fort. Later named the Rosetta Stone, the artefact they uncovered had three different languages engraved ~ above the side; hieroglyphics, demotic, and Greek. Scholars were unable to know the first two languages, however they might read Greek writing. They uncovered the writing was about king Ptolemy V, who once ruled Egypt in 196 BC, and realised the the 3 languages must tell the exact same story. This significant the moment It became a very small ‘dictionary’ to the researchers attempting to recognize hieroglyphics, and though this was an important progress, there were many daunting years ahead prior to anyone truly understood hieroglyphs.


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


Thomas Young 

A young English polymath was enthralled by the Rosetta stone and do a breakthrough after ~ focussing top top a collection of circled hieroglyphs referred to as a cartouche. He believed that because these sets were made to stand out so lot that they need to be significant, possibly the name of the Pharaoh Ptolemy which he knew was discussed in the Greek translation. Young had the ability to decode the phonetics of the equivalent hieroglyphs because a pharoahs name would certainly be pronounce very similar regardless of which language you were speaking. He spent time corresponding the letter of ‘Ptolemy’ enabling for the very first correct understanding and verbalisation the hieroglyphs in practically a millennium and a half. But research went again the frequently held belief that hieroglyphs to be ‘picture writing’ and not a phonetic language that can be spoken, and rather simply symbols because that items and also people. Despite he was yes, really onto something, Young shed interest in his work, possibly with reluctance to an obstacle this widely embraced view. He explained his result as international names being spelt out as there would have been no symbol for them, but it wasn’t long before this concept was challenged and also proved wrong.


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Hieroglyphs in Memphis with a statue the Ramses II in the background.

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Jean-François Champollion

Champollion picked up wherein Young left off and promised he would certainly be the one to cracked the old code after see a arsenal of Egyptian antiquities in 1801 once he was just ten year old. In 1822 he received some cartouches the contained timeless Egyptian names but found they were still spelt out which straight disapproved the concept that assignment was just for foreign names. He used Young’s technique on a few more cartouches, and also eventually discovered himself focussed ~ above one cartouche that contained just 4 hieroglyphs. The didn’t recognize the very first two symbols but it had already been established that the two repeated at the finish must be ‘s-s’. Champollion had learnt to be fluent in Coptic as a teenager, and also would create his newspaper in the antiquated language, however had never ever thought the Coptic might be the language of the ancient hieroglyphs. He taken into consideration the an initial hieroglyph, and assuming that sound to be the of the Coptic word because that sun, ‘ra’. This would make the cracked password ‘ra-?-s-s’, and only one pharaonic name fit this – Rameses. And with that, Champollion had actually cracked hieroglyphs and solved the centuries-old mystery. Egyptian hieroglyphs to be the officially writing device used in ancient Egypt to write the Coptic language, and also Champollion had opened the doors to knowledge these old communities and also culture.

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