walk like an egyptian

This week’s art lesson was like a step back in time. not just to Ancient Egypt, but to 1978 when my parents took me to the King Tut exhibit at the de Young in San Francisco and I threw up in a porta-potty. Despite the inauspicious beginnings, that trip was the start of my life-long love affair with all things Ancient Egyptian. From that moment forward, I wanted to be an Egyptologist (and then a Veterinarian, a Pediatrician, a Librarian and, for about a month, a Canadian). So imagine my utter delight at sharing my love of this time and this place with my students! First of all, a few fun facts about hieroglyphics:

  • Hieroglyphic writing began around 5,000 years ago.
  • Egyptians wrote in hieroglyphics up until around 400 AD, after that they wrote in a cursive style called “demotic.”
  • In 1799, a soldier digging in a fort in Rosetta, Egypt found a large black stone with three different kinds of writing on it. The writing was in hieroglyphics, demotic and Greek. People used the “Rosetta Stone” to translate hieroglyphics so that we can understand what the Ancient Egyptians were writing!
  • Some hieroglyphics stand for entire words, while others represent individual sounds, groups of sounds or even syllables.
  • To write an English word in hieroglyphics, you must listen to the sounds that make up the word. Some of the sounds we know in English don’t even exist in hieroglyphics, so any translation, particularly of names, is done with a certain amount of guessing!
  • Hieroglyphics were sometimes read right to left and other times left to right and even top to bottom

Today we talked about the world of Ancient Egypt and the amazing written language developed at that time. We discussed the use of papyrus and stylus instruments in the writing process and tried to decipher what different hieroglyphic symbols might represent. We looked at a variety of books about Ancient Egpyt, a map of the area and got to feel what a real piece of papyrus feels like. Each child was then given a piece of parchment and a rough translation of their name to create their own Egpytian cartouche! These name plates were then placed in frames to be displayed at home.

For some extra fun at home, there are a number of “hieroglyphic translators” available online…I used the “Virtual Egypt” site for this particular class. Try going online and translating your name or other family members’ names! Also, the best way to understand the true wonder of Ancient Egypt is to see some of the artifacts firsthand. For a truly local treasure, the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose is really one of the best museums in the entire Bay Area and is an absolute goldmine of Egyptian relics, artifacts and information. Visit http://www.egyptianmuseum.org/ for more information.  And invite me to go with you! : ) And finally,  James Rumford wrote an amazing book about the translation of the Rosetta Stone titled Seeker of Knowledge: The Man Who Deciphered Egyptian Hieroglyphics. Find it at your local bookstore or library today!


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