Decode the hieroglyphs

Decode the hieroglyphs

This was a transcendental task for linguistics and humanity that would open a door not only to the writing of one of the first historical civilizations, but also to their ancient culture.

For centuries, various scholars had tried unsuccessfully to unravel the riddle hidden behind these symbols, the key to which was lost 1500 years ago; In 1799, however, the Rosetta Stone was discovered during the French campaign led by Napoleon Bonaparte (1798-1801).

This granodiurite rock (compact black basalt) is a fragment of an Egyptian stele containing a decree written in 196 BC. in Memphis by a council of priests to honor Ptolemy V on the first anniversary of his reign.

Fortunately for human knowledge, the text appears in three modes of writing: the upper part in hieroglyphs (used at the time by the priestly caste), the middle part in demotic (used for everyday purposes in society), and the lower part in ancient Greek, the typical for the Ptolemaic dynasty and administration is Greek in origin.

It would be Jean-Fran├žois Champollion, historian, linguist and lover of Egyptian mysteries, who spent years of his life comparing the three texts and finally deciphering the meaning of the hieroglyphs, so long inaccessible.

At the age of 16, this scientist already mastered Hebrew, Arabic, Persian, Chinese and several other Asian languages. In 1820, motivated by the enigma, Champollion took on the project of deciphering hieroglyphic writing, eventually eclipsing the achievements of Thomas Young, who was responsible for the initial advances in the process before 1819.

With his knowledge of Coptic – from the last stage of ancient Egyptian, written in Greek letters – the Frenchman was able to establish connections between the symbols he was studying and the sounds of Coptic words he already knew, in order to later find their equivalent .. in the Greek text of the Rosetta stone.

Hieroglyphic writing contains signs that represent sounds and others that represent ideas; Scholars basically believed that this was only symbolic. The young philologist’s most important contribution was the discovery that they also have phonetic value.

On studying the rock (a paper copy as the original has been kept in the British Museum since 1802) he discovered that the Egyptians used an image to represent the initial sounds, for example the figure of a lion was used for the letter L and the vulture for A .

Following this reasoning, Champollion eventually completed an alphabet of hieroglyphs that made it possible to read papyri and inscriptions on the walls of tombs and temples. Because of the impetus he gave to Egyptology and the understanding of Egyptian culture, he is considered the father of this field of science.

(taken from orb)