History Studies Itself

Updated: Oct 7


Today’s post is once more about Ancient Egypt. So, we’ve learned that Egypt is much older that what we once thought it was. It has a timeline of more than a million years, and we know this because of archaeological evidence and the study of ancient pottery fragments called potsherds.

We also know that the Ancient Egyptians had their own language system, during the Pharaonic period, and that they’ve been preserved, thanks to the modern technology and preservation techniques used by archaeologists. So, what happens now?

Now We Look At History

Well, what would you do if I told you that the archaeology of Egypt is much older than we thought it was? Of course, when you think of Egyptian archaeology, you’d probably think of the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb in the 1920s, and the man who discovered it, Howard Carter. You’d also think that all the evidence we have from Ancient Egypt were discovered in that time period too, but did you know that Egyptian archaeology can be dated back, even to the 5th Century BC?

That’s right, even the Ancient Greek and Romans were curious about Egypt too. An ancient nine-volume document, outlining Egypt’s history and natural history, was written by a 5th Century BC Greek historian called Herodotus. However, his accounts are under debate, considering some of the things written in them can be considered as “fairly fanciful explanations” (as described by Kathryn A. Bard in her book An Introduction To The Archaeology Of Ancient Egypt). This is because he includes some semi-mythical tales about some of the pharaohs, even other ancient historians discredited him, like Plutarch who wrote a series of essays called the “Malice of Herodotus”, and Manetho, who was said to have penned an essay called “Against Herodotus” (cited from ancientegyptonline.co.uk).

Of course, Herodotus isn’t the only ancient historian, who looked at Ancient Egypt. Another Ancient Greek historian and geographer, Diodorus Siculus, wrote about Egypt, during the late Ptolemaic times, and Strabo, a Greek geographer, wrote about Alexandria, during the Roman conquest of Egypt. That’s why, the archaeology of Egypt is called a “historical archaeology” (according to Kathryn A. Bard), because the subject is in and of itself a history too.

For All Intents And Purposes

However, there is also something that the ancient archaeologists have lost, since none of them could speak Egyptian at the time, or at least they weren’t diligent enough to actually write down how the language sounded or at least leave a few phrases behind. It’s because of this that the actual phonetics of the Ancient Egyptian language, or Archaic Egyptian, is pretty much lost. Archaeologists can only speculate about how the ancient language was spoken, thanks to the Coptic language that was used, before the Muslim conquest of Egypt, but even that is a corrupt version of the Ancient Egyptian language.

After the 7th Century AD, the use of Coptic eventually died out and Arabic replaced it. So, the true phonetics of the ancient hieroglyphics, and the cursive Coptic language can’t really truly be deciphered in its glory, since the language has actually been lost. The only way we can truly translate them is through the aid of the Rosetta Stone.

Now We’re Getting Somewhere

Ok, so what have we learned today? We know that even the Ancient Romans and Greeks were interested in Egypt’s history, and that despite preserving the hieroglyphics on temple walls and tombs, we don’t actually have a true phonetic alphabet that can tell us how the Ancient Egyptians spoke, but we do have a way to translate them.

Thanks to the Rosetta Stone, we can at least decipher what the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics mean, because not only does it have hieroglyphics on there, it has Ancient Greek and the Demotic script that was around during the time the hieroglyphics were used.

It’s because of the Ancient Greek script on the Rosetta Stone, archaeologists can decipher and read hieroglyphics. So, not all is lost, and every piece of hieroglyphic document that’s uncovered by modern archaeologists, can be translated into modern languages.

Let’s Leave It There For Now

Alright, that’s it for today’s lesson. I have homework for you to do! It’s easy to say we can decipher hieroglyphics, so why don’t you try it out for yourselves! There are many tools online where you can learn what each glyph means, and how to put them together to make a sentence. So, why don’t you! Write out “Hello, my name is…” and show me what you’ve got!

I’ll be waiting in the meantime! So, I’ll see you guys next time, where we’ll talk more about the history of Egyptian archaeology, because it doesn’t stop at the 5th Century BC. We still have to talk about how the Rosetta Stone was found, and who found it! So, don’t be late for the next class!

With love,

  • Black Facebook Icon
  • Black Twitter Icon
  • Black Instagram Icon