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History of Books and Writing
Elegant Hieroglyphics

Elegant Hieroglyphics
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 9 to 12
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   7.8

     challenging words:    annoying, ideogram, pictograms, fortitude, obelisk, scribes, decipher, hi-tech, scribe, sandstone, parchment, precision, palette, reading, writing, avid
     content words:    Jean Champollion, Thomas Young, Perhaps Thoth

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Elegant Hieroglyphics
By Colleen Messina

1     One of Egypt's most creative gods had the head of a bird and the body of a man. Thoth supposedly invented all the arts and sciences. Egyptians also called him the scribe who wrote the story of reality (he was a busy god)! He always held a reed brush and ink palette in his hands, probably to record his ideas. This dynamic being also invented a writing system called hieroglyphics, which means "sacred carvings." Whether by divine inspiration or human invention, elegant Egyptian hieroglyphics appeared about 5,000 years ago.
2     We would never be able to read hieroglyphics if a Frenchman had not deciphered the characters on an ancient stone slab. The whole thing started by a fortunate accident in France in 1799. One of Napoleon's engineers took a walk along the Nile and discovered a black, rock slab sticking out of the ground. The slab stuck out about four feet from a mound near the village of Rosetta.
3     Napoleon's officer was curious about the stone covered with weird characters, and word about the mysterious "Rosetta stone" spread quickly. Napoleon himself got wind of this discovery. Since he had an avid interest in ancient artifacts, he hired experts to study the stone and figure out what it meant. The only thing the experts agreed on was the stone's importance! The British heard about the strange stone too. In fact, when Napoleon was defeated, the French had to give the Rosetta stone to the British as part of their surrender treaty!
4     The characters on the Rosetta stone were a fantastically hard puzzle that tried the patience of everyone who tried to decipher them. Imagine how hard it would be to look at squiggles on a rock for years and still have no clue about their meaning! Fortunately, Jean Champollion had the fortitude for the task. He finally figured out some of the symbols with the help of another Englishman, Dr. Thomas Young. They compared the stone to another obelisk from the Nile that had both Greek and Egyptian letters on it. This comparison led to the first breakthrough in deciphering the Rosetta stone.
5     Part of their difficulty was that there were over three thousand hieroglyphics! Many of the symbols contained animals because the creatures were important in the Egyptian religion. Sometimes scribes gave human faces to the animals. The Egyptians gods were often part lioness, owl, serpent, or eagle! One of the most beloved symbols of ancient Egypt, the great Sphinx, has a lion's body and a man's head. The Egyptians also developed other styles of writing, although they seemed to prefer pictures to letters.

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