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Egyptian Writing

The Egyptians - Reading Hieroglyphs

Painted limestone figure of the scribe Paaq holding a stela or writing block, 18th Dynasty c.1550-1295 BCReading hieroglyphs is difficult because it uses hundreds of signs. Words can be built up using hieroglyphs, but some signs represent one sound while others may represent two or three or even a whole word. Some words are very difficult to draw in pictures. It would be hard to draw a picture to show the word 'life'; the Egyptians were clever and solved this problem by drawing a picture of a sandal! The word for sandal was ankh, also meaning life. It is a bit like drawing an eye when you mean 'I'.

Even this was confusing so the Egyptians also used some special signs called determinatives. These gave you a clue as to what the word was about. The word scribe, meaning a person who writes, can also mean a piece of writing. The determinative shows a man or a piece of paper to help you guess the meaning. You also have to remember which direction to read. The animals always look towards the start of the writing so, to begin reading a piece of text, you need to see which way the animals face. Sometimes letters were written in a different order from usual to make the writing look neater.

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