Hieroglyphs was the formal writing system of the ancient Egyptians. The ancient Egyptians carved these pictures and symbols onto the walls of their temples and monuments and wrote them on pottery, wood, papyrus, and other writing surfaces. For centuries after the end of the great Egyptian civilization people tried to decipher the meanings of these symbols. There meanings remained a mystery until a discovery in 1799 enabled their meanings to be revealed in the early 1800s. The list of interesting facts below provides information on how the meaning of hieroglyphs was unlocked, where these symbols were used, and why only a few ancient Egyptians knew how to write hieroglyphs. This information is written for both kids and adults.
Hieroglyphic Interesting Facts
The word hieroglyphic is Greek. It means sacred (or holy) carving (symbol); "hiero" means holy and "glyphic" translates to a carved symbol.
The oldest discovered hieroglyphics date back to approximately 3000 B.C.; archaeologist have found pottery jars and plaques with hieroglyphics on them dating back to this time.
In 1799 a French soldier discovered the Rosetta Stone. On this stone is carved the same text in both ancient hieroglyphics (in 2 forms) and Greek. In 1822 Francois Champollion deciphered the hieroglyphs on the stone unlocking their meanings.
Prior to the discovery of the Rosetta Stone and Francois Champollion's use of it to decipher hieroglyphics many attempts were made to understand these ancient Egyptian symbols. These attempts failed due to the belief that hieroglyphs represented ideas and not the sounds of spoken language.
Hieroglyphics were written on many types of writing surfaces; not just on the stone walls of temples and monuments. They were also written on papyrus, wood, ceramic, ivory, bone, metal, and leather.
Since writing hieroglyphics was extremely complicated most of the ancient Egyptian people could not write or understand it. Certain Egyptians, called scribes, were trained at how to write hieroglyphics. Scribes had a high social status in ancient Egypt.
The ancient Egyptians did not call this form of writing hieroglyphics; that word came later from the ancient Greeks. The Egyptians called it "mdju netjer" (words of gods) based on their belief that writing was created by one of their gods, Thoth.
Since hieroglyphics was so complicated eventually the ancient Egyptians created a shortened simpler form called hieratic; around 2,800 BC. The Egyptians continued to use Hieroglyphs on their temples, monuments, and other structures but hieratic was used for writing manuscripts. Around 600 BC, an even simpler form of writing called "demotic" was created.
The ancient Egyptians were not the first civilization to event a writing system. The Sumerian civilization, which predates ancient Egypt, created a writing system prior to hieroglyphics. In fact, the ancient Egyptians probably got the idea to express words in writing from the Sumerians.
When Egypt became a Roman province in 30 BC the official form of writing became Latin; hieroglyphics soon became an extinct language with no one having the ability to read or write it.
Types of Hieroglyphics
This ancient form of writing used approximately one thousand symbols. These symbols could be classified into 3 different types (see below).
These symbols represented a word or phrase. These symbols usually had a vertical stroke below them to indicate it represents a whole word or phrase. An example is the hieroglyphic symbol for a house.
Syllabic symbols represented a vocal sound. For example, the symbol for a mouth usually corresponded to the sound "r" in the English language. Phonograms were used to spell out whole words.
These symbols had no meaning on their own but rather were put after words. Almost every ancient Egyptian word was followed by a determinative. For example, after the symbol of a horse may be a symbol indication that the horse is jumping.
Hieroglyphic Writing Facts
An interesting fact about hieroglyphics is that unlike how we write, which is from left to right, this ancient form of writing could be in any direction. For example, it could be top to bottom, left to right, or right to left.
This form of writing did not use punctuation marks such as question marks or commas.
There were no spaces between words in this form of writing.
The ancient Egyptian gods are represented by hieroglyphic symbols. For example, the god Anubis is represented by a figure with the head of a jackal. The god Horus was depicted as a falcon.