Say What? Egypt

Egypt Map
Who: Egyptians


How have the symbols become more simplistic?

When? 3100 BC – 400 AD

Where?  Earliest Egyptian writing was found in Tomb U-j of Umm el’Qa’ab, at the site of Abydos in Upper Egypt, Africa.

Why?  Egyptians needed a writing system to handle a growing and increasingly complex society and to gain administrative control (e.g. to record deliveries, materials, labor, and property).

The word hieroglyph comes from the Greek hieros (sacred) and glyphos (words or signs). The ancient Egyptians called their writing mdju netjer (words of the gods).

Carvings onto small bone, ivory, clay, or stone; ink on papyrus; painted walls.

Egyptian glyphs are divided into two groups: phonograms, which represent sounds, and ideograms, which represent objects or ideas. The Egyptians constructed words by using a combination of glyphs.   The ancient Egyptian writing system had 700-800 glypghs. Only royalty, scribes, priests, and government officials could use hieroglyphic writing.

Hieroglyphs are time consuming to produce and require a great deal of skill and knowledge, so it is only in the early period that we find hieroglyphs written on every type of material and for every purpose. By the first dynasty (around 2900 BC), Egyptians created a simplified cursive script known as hieratic. During the 7th century BC, they began using demotic (a cursive script even more simplified than hieratic) for business and literary texts.

Egyptian Hieroglyphs

Can you read the equation?

Learn more about Ancient writing systems from different cultures.

  1. How Ancient Writing Began… and Ended
  2. Say What? China
  3. Say What? Egypt
  4. Say What? Mesoamerica
  5. Say What? Mesopotamia
  6. Say What? The Rosetta Stone
  7. Say What? Object Slideshow