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.

Papyrus along the Nile in Ancient Egypt

Cultivated papyrus at the Pharonic Village

Cultivated papyrus at the Egyptian Museum Cairo


Ancient papyrus manuscript  

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