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Egyptian Writing

The Egyptians - Decipherment of Hieroglyphs

The Roman Emperor Theodosius closed the temples of Egypt in 384 AD, and when the last priests died the secret of reading hieroglyphs died with them. No one could read the writing for over a thousand years. Then in 1799 some Frenchmen excavated an inscribed stone. It was nicknamed the Rosetta Stone after the place in Egypt where it was found. This was the key. Scholars realised that the inscription was written in three languages, hieroglyphs, demotic and Greek. They also guessed that all three said the same thing. Even so, people were unsuccessful at reading the stone until, in 1822, a Frenchman called Champollion published his work on the problem. Champollion could read many languages including Greek and Coptic. A scholar called Kircher had shown that Coptic was related to ancient Egyptian.

Other scholars, including J.D. Akerblad and G. Zoega, had also worked on the problem and identified some important features of hieroglyphs. Champollion was able to use their work and his knowledge to compare the Greek and the hieroglyphs and to decipher the meaning of the signs on the Rosetta Stone. Later checking against other inscriptions proved his ideas, but Egyptologists still argue today about what some hieroglyphs mean.

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