Digging up the past

Chapter 1 Land of the pyramids

Ancient inscriptions

Temple inscription

Writing skills were developed at an early stage. The beautiful hieroglyphic writing was in use by the time of the first king of united Egypt. This complex script consisted of about 750 separate symbols or pictures.

Sometimes one picture represented a whole word; while sometimes one picture represented a phonetic syllable and in other instances, one picture represented a single consonant. Egyptian hieroglyphs had no vowels, so we cannot be sure how Egyptian words or names were pronounced. This is why many Egyptian names are spelt differently in various books.

Hieroglyphs could be written from left to right, right to left, or top to bottom. The direction in which a particular script was written was indicated by the direction in which the symbol was facing. If the figure faced to the left, it indicated that the line was to be read from left to right.

About 700 BC, a popular script called Demotic was invented.
It was written from right to left and quickly became the common form of writing for business and literary purposes. It ultimately developed into the Coptic script. Being a simplified cursive script, it was easily learned and written and was used more extensively than the more difficult hieroglyphics.

Writing in Egypt was done on either stone or papyrus. Reeds of the papyrus plant grew profusely in ancient Egypt.

Papyrus along the Nile in Ancient Egypt

Cultivated papyrus at the Pharonic Village

Cultivated papyrus at the Egyptian Museum Cairo


Ancient papyrus manuscript  

The hard outside layer was stripped off, the soft inner core was cut into thin strips and soaked in water. These were then laid side by side to the required width and others laid on top at right-angles to the first strips. An absorbent material was then placed on top and the whole subjected to pressure for some days. The result was a tough but flexible sheet on which scribes wrote with a reed pen dipped in black or red ink.