beanz Magazine

Hieroglyphs and Reverse Engineering

Institute for the Study of the Ancient World

How scientists finally cracked the code behind the mysterious language of Ancient Egypt.

We’ve covered a lot of codes and ciphers in the past, but none of them match the age of one of the more fascinating languages ever made; the Egyptian hieroglyphs. Created by a civilisation thousands of years ago, hieroglyphs can still be seen today adorning tablets and structures all around Egypt’s historical sites.

It’s very important to realise the Egyptians didn’t write in hieroglyphs to confuse other people! It was their base alphabet, very much like our own ABCs. The problem was, they didn’t use letters like we did; instead, they communicated via small pictures, not too unlike the emoji we use today. Historians couldn’t crack this mysterious pictures for quite some time, making it a kind of code in spirit!

For a very long time, it was hard to decipher what hieroglyphs were. People didn’t know if the symbols were words, or letters, or if each one had a special, individual meaning. Progress didnt get very far, until a soldier in Napoleon Bonaparte’s army discovered a stone in the town of Rosetta in 1799.

This stone had writing on it in three languages; hieroglyphs, Demotic (an ancient Egyptian script), and Ancient Greek. Scholars couldn’t crack what the first two languages were, but Ancient Greek was well-known and could be translated. The idea was, if this one stone had three different languages on it, it was probably saying the same thing in each passage, just in a different language. If you’ve ever been to an airport and seen signs in various languages, you’ll know of this first hand. Therefore, once the Greek was translated, they would know what the other two scripts were saying and could work backward from there.

Two men used this discovery to launch their attempts to be the first to decipher this ancient language; Thomas Young and Jean-François Champollion.

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