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Ideograms and Phonograms
by Wayne Blank
Egyptian hieroglyphics existed as far back as the First Dynasty about 3000 BC, and apparently only began to decline by the time of the Middle Kingdom (see The Ancient Egyptians), but still remained in use for centuries afterward.
There were slightly over 600 symbols commonly used in various ways, some logically straight forward, others more complex. For example, a picture of a man represented a man, while a picture of an owl meant the sound of an "m" because the Egyptian spoken word for owl had the sound of an "m" as its dominant consonant.
The Rosetta Stone
The Rosetta Stone is an ancient inscribed stone slab from Egypt that made possible the understanding of hieroglyphics. It was discovered in 1799 near the town of Rosetta (Arabic Rashid) in northern Egypt, about 30 miles / 48 kilometers from Alexandria. Discovered by the French, it was transferred to the British in 1801, and is now in the British Museum.
The Rosetta stone is an irregularly-shaped piece of black basalt, measuring about 45 inches / 114 centimeters long, and 28 inches / 72 centimeters wide. Broken long ago, the single piece is all that has been found.
The stone's inscriptions, as written by the priests of Memphis, listed contributions of Ptolomy V Epiphanes (see The Ptolemies). It was written in the ninth year of his reign (i.e. about 196 B.C.) to mark his accession to the throne.
The Rosetta Stone's importance to history and archaeology are the consequences of its identical records having been written in two languages, Egyptian and Greek, and three alphabets - hieroglyphic, demotic (a form of Egyptian hieroglyphics) and Greek. With two already known, understanding of the third was then made possible.
The actual painstaking work of deciphering was done by Thomas Young of England and Jean-Francois Champollion of France. It was largely through their efforts that the translation of all ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic writing was made possible.
Fact Finder: In what part of Egypt did the Israelites live for over 4 centuries until the Exodus?