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Literature and Writing


Egyptian monuments, Egyptian hieroglyphs, Archaeological discoveries, ancient Egyptians, Old Egyptian

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>  General Characteristics and Form

>  Using Hieroglyphs

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>  Hieroglyphs in Other Cultures

Hieroglyphs, characters in any system of writing in which symbols represent objects (such as tools, animals, or boats) and ideas (such as motion, time, and joy). The word comes from a Greek term meaning 'sacred carving,' which the ancient Greeks used to describe decorative characters carved on Egyptian monuments. The term is now mainly used to refer to the system of writing used by the ancient Egyptians.

Archaeological discoveries suggest that Egyptian hieroglyphs may be the oldest form of writing. The earliest evidence of an Egyptian hieroglyphic system is believed to be from about 3300 or 3200 bc, and the Egyptians used hieroglyphs for the next 3,500 years. They were most prevalent during a 1,700-year period when the Egyptians spoke and wrote Old Egyptian (3000 bc-2200 bc) and Middle Egyptian (about 2200 bc-1300 bc). Only a small portion of the Egyptian population, primarily royalty, priests, and civil officials, used hieroglyphs because they were difficult to learn and time consuming to create. Ancient cultures in China, Mesopotamia, and the Americas used similar writing systems, but these systems were not related to Egyptian hieroglyphs.


Hare, Thomas, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Japanese and Comparative Literature at Stanford University. Author of "ReMembering Osiris: Number, Gender, and the World in Ancient Egyptian Representational Systems".

Article key phrases:

Egyptian monuments, Egyptian hieroglyphs, Archaeological discoveries, ancient Egyptians, Old Egyptian, Ancient cultures, Mesopotamia, ancient Greeks, Egyptians, small portion, time consuming, animals, priests, China, royalty, joy, boats, bc, time, symbols, tools, Americas, motion, ideas, objects, years

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