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Learning the basics of the language and culture of ancient Egypt greatly adds to your sense of discovery and involvement - whether you'll be visiting Egypt or a local museum with Ancient Egyptian artefacts - or even if you're an armchair traveller!

Many of these books incorporate ancient texts - allowing ancient authors themselves to show you their perception of the Egyptian way of life . . . and death - as you learn to read Egyptian hieroglyphs.

hieratic script

Hieratic script

ANCIENT EGYPTIAN WRITING MATERIALS

There was a choice of writing materials in Ancient Egypt. Chisel was used on stone (directly onto buildings and pillars, sometimes), and on ceramic ostraca (limestone flakes) or small ceramic pieces (potsherds).

A reed pen (the end of the stem bashed and bruised until it became brush-like) was used to draw or bush strokes with pigments made from carbon black or red ochre - onto a surface of papyrus rolls, wood, ivory or plaster. Later, the Greco-Roman writing tools were more pen-like.

Inscribed stones were frequently used for building materials, and ceramic ostraca were just tossed into waste pits. Papyrus, however, was stored in boxes for safekeeping, and more have survived. Palimpsests are manuscripts that have been erased and reused.

HIEROGLYPHIC SCRIPT

Pocket Guide To Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs The Ancient Egyptians believed that their hieroglyphic script (in which beauty is more important than spelling) was a sacred gift from the god Thoth. Our word 'hieroglyph', coined by Clement of Alexandria, combines two Greek words: hieros (sacred) and glypho (inscriptions).

The hieroglyphic system appears unnecessarily complicated considering that it includes a perfectly good alphabet. Presumably the alphabet was invented later - and as scrapping any of the hieroglyphs would offend Thoth, 'god of writing', every one of the symbols stayed put. They were used until Christianity arrived in Egypt and the Coptic alphabet took over. Sometime after the late 4th century AD knowledge of the hieroglyphic script was lost - not to be re-discovered until the early 19th century. The Coptic language itself no longer has any official status in Egypt, being considered nearly extinct - but it survives as a liturgical language of the Coptic churches (along with Arabic).

Hieroglyphics may no longer be a living language, but they are fascinating!

The hieroglyph of a sparrow

When this appears at the end of a word it adds the concept of 'evil, weak or small'.

The glyphs may be highly detailed and colourful, or just simple outlines, and sometimes have a cultural reference. For instance, the word for "god" ('netcher') looks like a flag on the flagpole found at ancient Egyptian temples; the flagpole symbol came to represent what was worshipped at a temple (ie. the god). The little sparrow is often put at the end of a word to mark it out as evil, weak or small.

The glyphs give clues to the direction of reading - no, it is not fixed, although right to left and top to bottom is most usual. Usually the glyphs face the beginning of the line. There are no punctuation marks or word breaks.

HIERATIC SCRIPT

How Hieratic Script and Hieroglyphs were used

For everyday writing the hieratic script - a simplified, cursive form of Egyptian hieroglyphs - was used. Calligraphic hieratic was usually used for funerary papyri and temple rolls, government records and literary manuscripts. Cursive hieratic - so much faster to write - became the standard script for scribal record-keeping, a shorthand script for everyday stuff like informal accounts, private letters, legal documents, poems, tax records, medical texts, mathematical treatises and instructions.

DEMOTIC SCRIPT

Late Egyptian evolved into Demotic by the 7th century BC, with its more cursive script. Although Demotic remained a spoken language until the 5th century AD, it was gradually replaced by Coptic beginning in the 1st century AD.

COPTIC SCRIPT

Finally a script using the Coptic alphabet was adopted, based on the Greek alphabet, became the standard in the 4th century AD when Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire, and hieroglyphs, which had been used for formal decoration of temples and tombs were now considered idolatrous.

How To Read Egyptian Hieroglyphics & Hieratic Script

HOW TO READ EGYPTIAN HIEROGLYPHS: A STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE TO TEACH YOURSELFHOW TO READ EGYPTIAN HIEROGLYPHS: A STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE TO TEACH YOURSELFby Mark Collier, Bill Manley and Richard Parkinson (University of California Press; Rev. ed. 2003)


HOW TO READ EGYPTIAN HIEROGLYPHS: A STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE TO TEACH YOURSELF HOW TO READ EGYPTIAN HIEROGLYPHS: A STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE TO TEACH YOURSELF by Mark Collier, Bill Manley and Richard Parkinson (University of California Press; Rev. ed. 2003)

This book features the types of hieroglyphs you might actually see in a museum, especially funerary writings and tomb scenes. The approach it uses is rewarding - by the end of chapter one you are decoding short sentences; half-way through the book you are interpreting quite complex inscriptions.

It's a nicely paced book - each chapter introduces a new aspect of hieroglyphic script or Middle Egyptian grammar, backed up with vocabulary lists and interesting practical exercises (answers in the back) based on original ancient texts are an interesting aid to improve your 'fluency' in reading hieroglyphs. It includes useful sign lists and a dictionary.

Collier and Manley explain the ways hieroglyphs are used - occasionally as words, but usually phoenetically, to represent a sound - and a transliteration system so that you can pronunce the language - which no one has ever heard spoken by 'native speakers'!

How To Read Egyptian Hieroglyphs is illustrated with drawings/photographs of actual stelae inscriptions displayed in the British Museum.

MIDDLE EGYPTIAN: AN INTRODUCTION TO THE LANGUAGE AND CULTURE OF HIEROGLYPHS by James P. Allen

AMARIGNA & TIGRIGNA QAL HIEROGLYPHS FOR BEGINNERS: PERFECT FOR TRAVELERS TO EGYPT AND STUDENTS OF ANCIENT GEBTS by Legesse Allyn (Vesta, paperback, 2009)

No review available

HIEROGLYPHS FOR TRAVELERS: WHAT DO THOSE LITTLE PICTURES MEAN? by Thomas F. Mudloff and Ronald E. Fellows

A field guide for travellers to Egypt. Learn enough to interpret rulers' names and to recognize - and actually translate - some of the glyphs you see on cartouches and other engravings on tombs, temples, monuments in Egypt - and in museums all over the world. One example used is the curse at the entrance to the tomb of Idu, the king's letter scribe.

Pocket Guide To Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs THE POCKET GUIDE TO ANCIENT EGYPTIAN HIEROGLYPHS: HOW TO READ AND WRITE EGYPTIAN ANCIENT HIEROGLYPHS (British Museum Pocket Guides) by Richard Parkinson (British Museum Press)

ON THE HIERATIC PAPYRUS OF NESI-AMSU, A SCRIBE IN THE TEMPLE OF AMEN-RA AT THEBES, ABOUT B.C. 305 by E. A. Wallis Budge

HIERATIC INSCRIPTIONS FROM THE TOMB OF TUT'ANKHAMUN (TUT'ANKHAMUN TOMB) by Jaroslav Cerny (Hardcover, 1965)

FOR CHILDREN & TEACHERS

SEARCH TRADITIONAL EGYPT
for more about HIEROGLYPHICS

LONELY PLANET EGYPTIAN ARABIC PHRASEBOOK

A fascinating section helps you understand hieroglyphics for yourself

This book is described on our LANGUAGE: EGYPTIAN ARABIC page.

more 'general' books
about Hieroglyphics

HIEROGLYPHICS IN SCHOOL

Includes books to support the
Scottish Standard Curriculum
& National Curriculum Key Stage 2

HIEROGLYPHICS ACTIVITIES

HIEROGLYPH IT! Discover the Picture Language of Ancient Egypt by Sue Weatherill, illustrated by Steve Weatherill (Verulam Publishing Ltd)

An activity pack with a booklet and of facts and activities.
HIEROGLYPH IT! combines art project and exploration to help children learn the mysterious picture-writing of Ancient Egypt. Learn the meaning of many hieroglyphs from a brightly illustrated chart and create your own messages using the hieroglyphic stencil card and the sheet of hieroglyphic stickers. Papyrus-textured paper, cards and envelopes are included.

Note: A correction is required when you use this book with children - heiroglyphs are not the oldest form of written language (cuneiform is).

WRITE YOUR OWN EGYPTIAN HIEROGLYPHS: NAMES, GREETINGS, INSULTS, SAYINGS by A McDonald (Paperback, 2009)

PYRAMIDS! 50 HANDS-ON ACTIVITIES TO EXPERIENCE ANCIENT EGYPT (Kaleidoscope Kids) by Avery Hart

This is more than 'dressing up' - this book provides inspiriation for the many cross-curricular opportunities: Writing in hieroglyphics for literacy, making a sledge like those used by pyramid-builders for technology - and food (eating Egyptian honey-barley flatbread) is a great way to give insight into another culture. Grab a child's attention with these activities- and give them a better understanding of what ancient Egypt is all about.

Egyptian Activity Book  With Hieroglyph Stencils EGYPTIAN ACTIVITY BOOK WITH HIEROGLYPH STENCILS (Creative Fun) by Sue Weatherill and Steve Weatherill (Paperback - Jun 2006)

egyptoplogy for children EGYPTOLOGY CODE-WRITING KIT: From the Desk of Miss Emily Sands with Sticker and Envelope and Postcard and Paper by Helen Ward (Candlewick Press, stationery, 2007)

and (under a slightly different title)
AN EGYPTOLOGIST'S WRITING KIT (Templar, 2006)

This award winning book - in the form of an ornate writing kit - teaches children about hieroglyphics and code-cracking secrets. Children can invent their own pictograms and a cartouche for their own names - and send secret messages to their friends. Contained in the slipcase are code-making instructions plus 16 sets of notepaper and envelopes, 6 postcards and 2 sheets of stickers.

This title - and the book which inspired it, "The Egyptology Handbook: A Course in the Wonders of Egypt" - are reviewed on our Egypt: Crafts & Activities page.

FUN WITH HIEROGLYPHS EGYPTIAN ACTIVITY BOOK WITH HIEROGLYPH STENCILS (Creative Fun) by Sue Weatherill and Steve Weatherill (2006)

FUN WITH HIEROGLYPHS STATIONERY by The Metropolitan Museum of Art

HIEROGLYPHICS IN NOVELS:
JUNIOR FICTION

Mummy Math: An Adventure In Geometry MUMMY MATH: AN ADVENTURE IN GEOMETRY by Cindy Neuschwander, Illustrated by Bryan Langdo (2009)

(click on the image for the current edition.)

Designed as an introduction to solid geometry, this fictional adventure story encourages observation and maths skills in order to unravel clues hidden in the hieroglyphics and escape from the pyramid.

This book is reviewed on the Egypt: Maths books page

The Shipwrecked Sailor: An Egyptian Tale with Hieroglyphs THE SHIPWRECKED SAILOR: AN EGYPTIAN TALE WITH HIEROGLYPHS by Tamara Bower (Atheneum Books)

THE SCRIBES FROM ALEXANDRIA, by Caroline Lawrence, 2008 THE SCRIBES FROM ALEXANDRIA, 2008 by Caroline Lawrence (Orion Childrens)

audio CDpb

Other audio and print editions available:
The Scribes From Alexandria: Audio CD (19 Jun 2008) | The Scribes From Alexandria: Hardback (26 June 2008) | The Scribes From Alexandria: Paperback (3 Nov 2008)
A wonderful adventure which leads the child detectives them down the river Nile to pyramids and sphinxes, temples and tombs, crocodiles and hippos. Can they solve the codes, riddles, anagrams and hieroglyphics? And how will the journey end - with treasure - or death?

>> Read full review on our EGYPT: CHILDREN'S NOVELS page.

PEPI AND THE SECRET NAMES by Jill Paton Walsh

The adventure and mystery start when Pepi challenges a lion at the desert's edge. Readers are involved in deciphering the 'secret names' from hieroglyphs - great fun and beautifully illustrated.

"Pepi And The Secret Names" is reviewed on the Children's books page

MIU AND THE PHARAOH by Sally Wallace-Jones

Hidden hieroglyph messages buried throughout the story of a cat and a pharaoh add an extra fun element (with the solution revealed at the end).

Fuller review:
See our review of"Miu and the Pharaoh" on the Children's books page

THE EGYPT GAME by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (Yearling Books, 1996)

April and her friend decide to re-create ancient Egypt, complete with statuary and hieroglyphics - but other children are drawn in - and things get dangerous.

For a full review - and a review of "The Egypt Game - Teacher Guide" and "The Egypt Game: A Study Guide" see our EDUCATION BOOKS page

LEARNING ABOUT HIEROGLYPHICS:
GAMES & ACTIVITIES FOR CHILDREN

TUT, TUT (Time Warp Trio) by Jon Scieszka

The Time Warp trio end up in a hilarious hieroglyphic tangle. Fun for all ages!

"Tut, Tut"is reviewed on the Children's books page

TUTANKHAMUN: ULTIMATE ACTIVITY BOOK (British Museum Press, 2007) by Hendrikje M. Nouwens

Writing a letter in hieroglyphs is just one of the activities in "Tutankhamun: Ultimate Activity Book". The activities are based on pull-out card pages with easy-to-follow instructions.

"Tutankhamun: Ultimate Activity Book" is reviewed on the Children's books page

For a fuller review, see our EGYPT: KING TUTANKHAMEN page.

The Everything Kids Mummies, Pharaohs, and Pyramids Puzzle and Activity Book: Discover the Mysterious Secrets of Ancient Egypt THE EVERYTHING KIDS MUMMIES, PHARAOHS, AND PYRAMIDS PUZZLE AND ACTIVITY BOOK: Discover The Mysterious Secrets Of Ancient Egypt (Everything Kids Series, 2008)

Hieroglyphics and other puzzles for kids.
More books with Hieroglyphics puzzles are reviewed on our EGYPT: PUZZLES page.

MUMMY MYSTERIES: THE SECRET WORLD OF TUTANKHAMUN AND THE PHARAOHS with Pop-up pyramids - Hieroglyph decoder - Mummy mask by Joyce A. Tyldesley

Cryptic hieroglyphic writing. with the help of the Hieroglyph decoder is just one to the attractions of this book.

For a fuller review, see our EGYPT: KING TUTANKHAMEN page.

Secrets Of The Pyramids: National Geographic Maze Adventures SECRETS OF THE PYRAMIDS: NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAZE ADVENTURES (Maze Adventure) Age 4-8

Deciphering hieroglyphics is an integral part of this book.

For a fuller review, see our EGYPT: PUZZLES page.



ANCIENT EGYPT WALL CHARTS: Hieroglyphs, Cuneiform, Demotic & Hieratic

EGYPTIAN HIEROGLYPHS POSTER by N.B. Millet and Douglas Champion (Royal Ontario Museum;)

THE ROSETTA STONE, CUNEIFORM & DEMOTIC

1993

THE ROSETTA STONE

RIDDLE OF THE ROSETTA STONE: KEY TO ANCIENT EGYPT (School / Library Binding) by James Cross Giblin, illustrated by Patricia Tobin

An easy to read, brief (85 page) introduction for beginners or young people, illustrated with photographs, prints and drawings.

SECRETS OF THE ROSETTA STONE (The History Channel) (A&E Television Networks; 1 disc, 50 minutes; Region 1 DVD - 2006)

EGYPTIAN DEMOTIC

Egyptian Demotic looks a little like a hybrid of our own shorthand and cursive writing. It is simpler than the hieroglyphic system and easier to understand.

ANCIENT EGYPT by David P. Silverman (Oxford University Press, 2003)

This overview of Egypt's 4000+ year history includes a section on hieroglyphs and demotic.

EGYPTIAN CUNEIFORM

'Cuneiform' is one of the earliest forms of writing. It began as a system of pictographs in the 30th century BC.

THE LIBRARY OF ALEXANDRIA: REDISCOVERING THE CRADLE OF WESTERN CULTURE by Roy MacLeod (Tauris)

THE WRITING REVOLUTION: CUNEIFORM TO THE INTERNET (The Language Library) by Amalia E. Gnanadesikan (WileyBlackwell)

Features an engaging range of examples, from the first cuneiform clay tablet, Egyptian hieroglyphs, and Japanese syllabaries, to the printing press and the text messaging.
Great reviews, including:
"The author has a gift for bringing dusty old scribes to life, showing their relevance in the history of writing, one of the major achievements of human beings. The writing is exceptionally clear, making it quite accessible to those without a strong technical knowledge of linguistics." Henry Rogers, author of Writing Systems: A Linguistic Approach
"This is a rare find: a work of impeccable scholarship that is also enormously witty and entertaining." - John J. McCarthy, University of Massachusetts Amherst

VISUAL AND WRITTEN CULTURE IN ANCIENT EGYPT by John Baines (2007)

Visual And Written Culture In Ancient Egypt

WRITING SYSTEMS OF THE WORLD: ALPHABETS, SYLLABARIES, PICTOGRAMS by Akira Nakanishi (Tuttle Publishing, paperback, 1998)

THEY WROTE ON CLAY by Chiera (Chicago University Press)

Here's a book based on archaeology which will hold your interest even if you think you are not interested in the subject. The archaeological finds and the story they tell is the theme of this volume on the Babylonian tablets. A renowned "Assyriologist" makes clear to the layman the romance of the excavations and the excitement of the chase in tracing the information so long concealed. There are the business and religious details deciphered, the gales, the aspects of life in those times as it parallels life today and as it throws light on Biblical stories. It really is good reading, in a new field for the layman. (Kirkus Reviews)

CUNEIFORM TEXTS AND THE WRITING OF HISTORY (Approaching the Ancient World) by Marc Van De Mieroop (paperback, 1999)

UNEXPECTED LINKS BETWEEN EGYPTIAN AND BABYLONIAN MATHEMATICS by Joran Friberg (World Scientific Publishing, 2005)

Mesopotamian mathematics is known from many Babylonian cuneiform texts but Egyptian mathematics is known from only a small number of papyrus texts. These extensive studies takes a new direction, explaining the author's methods for analysing all kinds of Egyptian mathematical texts, hieratic, demotic, or Greek-Egyptian.

Many new insights into the nature of Egyptian mathematics result from comparisons of many of individual Egyptian mathematical exercises with Babylonian parallels, and show that Egyptian and Babylonian mathematics display greater similarities than may have been expected.

Usefully detailed diagrams and figures, with an index.

SPECIALIST BOOKS: HIEROGLYPHICS, CUNEIFORM, DEMOTIC & Hieratic

THE GREAT DEDICATORY INSCRIPTION OF RAMESSES II: A SOLAR-OSIRIAN TRACTATE AT ABYDOS (CULTURE AND HISTORY OF THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST) by Anthony Spalinger (2008)

ADMONITIONS OF AN EGYPTIAN SAGE FROM A HIERATIC PAPYRUS IN LEIDEN by Sir Alan Henderson Gardiner (Hardcover - Dec 1990)



More General Hieroglyphics titles:

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