Tag Archives: hieroglyphics

The Rosetta Stone

Ptolemy VThe Rosetta Stone is an ancient Egyptian stone stele inscribed with a decree issued at Memphis in 196 BC on behalf of King Ptolemy V (see bust).  Originally displayed within a temple, the stele was probably moved during the early Christian or medieval period and eventually used as building material in the construction of Fort Julien near the town of Rashid (Rosetta) in the Nile Delta. It was rediscovered there in 1799 by a soldier  in the French expedition to Egypt. In 1801 when British troops defeated the French in Egypt, the original stone came into British possession. The Rosetta Stone was transported to London and has been on public display at the British Museum since 1802.

Rosetta_StoneAs the first Ancient Egyptian multi-lingual text recovered in modern times, the Rosetta Stone attracted a lot of  attention because it could be used to decipher the untranslated ancient Egyptian language. The decree appears in three scripts: the upper text is Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, the middle portion Demotic script, and the lowest Ancient Greek. Casts and copies of the text were disseminated widely among European museums and scholars. Comparing the Ancient Greek translation to the unknown Egyptian language provided the key to the modern understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphs. The translation was completed by Jean -Francois Champollion in 1824.  While other multi-lingual texts have been discovered since, the Rosetta Stone was the essential key to modern understanding of Ancient Egyptian literature and civilization. It is the most-visited object in the British Museum. Doubtful that Britain will turn it over to France or Egypt.
Tomorrow, The Ptolemy Pharaohs in Egypt & the Stone.   Rita Bay

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The Invention of Writing

Writing is another invention critical to the development of civilization.  The history of writing is complicated because there is no agreement on what constitutes writing and where and how it developed. For the blog purposes, Sumerian and Egyptian writing will be used as examples. True writing which is an encoded record of a spoken language was preceded by pictographs – pictures representing the object themselves and by proto-writing – a system of ideographs that have expanded beyond referring to only an object.

Egyptian Papyrus

True writing appears in Mesopotamia, specifically Sumer, and Egypt in 3200 BC. Cuneiform script, the original Sumerian writing system, originated from a system of clay tokens used to represent commodities. It evolved into a pictographic system incised into clay tablets with a stylus but by 2600 BC had become a set of syllables representing the Sumerian language.

The Rosetta Stone

Egyptian hieroglyphics followed a similar evolution. While some writing was inscribed on stone, ink and papyrus were also used. The system of hieroglyphics was difficult to learn. Scribes, part of an educated elite who had completed intense training, were used by the temples, pharaohs, and military to maintain records. Jean-Francois Champollion who used the Rosetta Stone to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics accomplished one of the great academic feats of the 19th century.   Tomorrow,  A System of Laws     Rita Bay

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