Station 1: Hieroglyphics

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Station 1: Hieroglyphics

The Egyptians began to use writing about 3200 or 3300 BCE. They used picture symbols called hieroglyphs. Later they imitated the Greek alphabet.

Several other countries developed picture-writing before Egypt. Some historians think the Egyptians may have copied the writing from Sumer in Mesopotamia. Others are not sure this is true.

The Egyptians called their writing the “words of gods.” Later, the Greeks called these pictures hieroglyphics, or “sacred carvings.” They saw the pictures on temple walls and ceilings. So they thought it was holy.

Writing in hieroglyphs was difficult. The Egyptians needed many pictures to write a message. It was hard to learn all of the hieroglyphs. So, few people learned to read or write.

People who could read and write were called scribes. Scribes spent long hours in school. They learned each hieroglyph. They carved important messages in stone.

Some hieroglyphs stand for the sounds in a word. These work like the English alphabet. In the alphabet each letter has a different sound.

Other pictures stand for a group of sounds. And some pictures stand for ideas. Also, not everyone spelled words the same way. This made hieroglyphs very hard to read.

Certain pictures were used for numbers. One finger pointing up meant 10,000. A finger pointing down stood for 100,000.

The Egyptians thought the names of rulers were important. They wrote them inside a frame. That made it look like they had circled the name. These frames are called cartouches.

At first the Egyptians carved hieroglyphs into stone. Later they wrote on papyrus. Papyrus is a type of paper made from the papyrus plant. Writing with ink was faster than carving in stone. They changed some pictures to make them easier to write quickly.

These new forms of writing were called hieratic and demotic. Priests used hieratic writing. But common people used demotic.

In 332 BCE, the Greeks took over Egypt. After that, hieroglyphic writing died out. The Egyptians began to write like the Greeks.

Soon no one remembered what the pictures stood for. Hieroglyphs remained a mystery for about two thousand years.

Then in 1799 a French soldier found the Rosetta Stone in Egypt. This large stone had three different kinds of writing on it. It had hieroglyphic, demotic, and Greek.

Scholars could read the Greek. That helped them figure out the meaning of the ancient Egyptian symbols.

A French scholar named Jean-François Champollion figured out their meanings. Historians could now read hieroglyphs in tombs and temples. They learned many things about Egyptian customs and lifestyles. The riddle of hieroglyphs was finally solved.

Source Citation   (MLA 7th Edition)

"Hieroglyphics." Ancient Egypt. Detroit: Gale, 2011. Kids InfoBits Presents. Kids InfoBits. Web. 10 Dec. 2015.

Egyptian hieroglyphics, the characters that make up the ancient Egyptian system of writing.

 Picture Citation:

"Egyptian hieroglyphics." Photos/Illustrations. Corel. World History: Ancient and Medieval Eras. ABC-CLIO, 2015. Web. 10 Dec. 2015.


  1. What did the ancient Egyptians call their writing? What did the ancient Greeks call the Egyptians system of writing?

  2. What were the people who could read and write called?

    1. Why did the people who could read and write belong to higher social class?

  3. What material did the ancient Egyptians first record hieroglyphs on? Later what material did they use?

    1. Why did they make this change?

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