Hieroglyphs at Kom Ombo, Egypt, n.d.

Historical Context
There are more than 2,000 characters, or hieroglyphs, in ancient Egyptian writing. The hieroglyphs stood for the sound of an object or for an idea related to the object. Hieroglyphs were usually used only for consonant sounds, not vowels. Vowels were part of the Egyptians' spoken language but not part of their written language.

Without vowels, several words could look the same but have completely different meanings. In order to clarify what a word was, sometimes context clues from the rest of the writings were used. Often, a silent hieroglyph called a determinative was added at the end of a word to give the reader a clue to the meaning. There were thousands of determinatives, which made learning to read and write hieroglyphics a very difficult job.

Hieroglyphs could be written from left to right or from right to left. The direction that the figures faced determined which way the writing should be read. If they faced left, the writing went from left to right; if they faced right, it went right to left.
Essential Question
What is the relationship between language and culture?
Check for Understanding
Describe the images in this document and explain the influence of culture on this language.
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Document Description
A stone relief carving of Egyptian hieroglyphs on an outer wall at Kom Ombo showing servants bringing food to the Pharoah. Photograph taken in 1930.
  1. These are Egyptian letters and words.  How are they different from our writing? 
Historical Challenge
Research the Rosetta Stone. Find out how this stone helped archaeologists and historians learn more about Egyptian hieroglyphics.
Find out what sorts of hieroglyphs were written in tombs and pyramids.
Interdisciplinary Connections
Math: Use Egyptian numbers to create addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problems. Also try writing fractions. Since the numerator was always 1 in ancient Egypt, this may be a challenge. (For example, ¾ has to be broken down into ½ and ¼).
Science: Find ways that scientists and archaeologists tell how old something is.
Science: What would be the best implement to use for carving or writing in stone?
English Language Arts: Write a poem about Egypt in hieroglyphics. Trade poems with classmates and translate.
  1. Rumford, James. Seeker of Knowledge: The Man Who Deciphered Egyptian Hieroglyphs. Houghton Mifflin Company, June 2003. ISBN: 0618333452