6. Development of the Egyptian Script
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The complex hieroglyphs design wasn’t suitable for fast writing. The pictorial form gradually became stylized. The “hieratic” script finally emerged around 2800BC. It now had a more user-friendly and simplified look compared to the earlier hieroglyphic symbols. But the hieratic script didn’t replace the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics entirely. The latter was retained for inscriptions on monuments and tombs, while hieratic was used for manuscripts. Around 600BC, a more abbreviated script without the symbols was developed. Known as demotic, it would later go on to replace the hieratic.
7. Indicator of Literacy Levels
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Egyptians were mostly farmers, herdsmen, and craftsmen. They had no access to resources of the elite and royals. The hieroglyphs on monuments were largely for the elite to see. The glyphs about taxation, administration, religion, economic control, royal achievements and similar things were also for the elite. Less than one percent of Egyptians in the Old Kingdom (2686—2160BC) were literate. Many of them could manage to read and write hieratic, but not the actual hieroglyphs. Outside the elites, some could write their names for administrative purposes.
8. Gift from the Gods?
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According to Egyptian mythology, Djehuti taught the Egyptians to write and make them wiser. Ra (Egyptian God) objected, saying that writing will weaken humans and instead of recalling the past from memory, people will rely on documents. Writing, Ra thought, will make them lazier. Djehuti ignored Ra’s warning and taught Egyptians to write. But he imparted the knowledge only to a select group: the scribes. Hieroglyphs are also known as “medu netjer” (the word of gods). The word hieroglyph, interestingly, is derived from the Greek words “hiero” (holy) and “glypho” (writing).
9. The Magic Angle
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Egypt had a tradition of magic that was connected to both written and spoken words. Whether they were incantations, magic spells, or other rituals, none could be done without words. And hence, Egyptian hieroglyphs were an important part of ancient magic. Many magical formulas and texts, written on papyri in hieratic, have been found in Egypt and the neighbouring region. Magic was used in ancient Egypt to cure scorpion and snake bites, aid the sick and ailing, curse enemies, and of course seek help from gods.
10. Portable Writing Surfaces
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Besides carvings and paintings on walls, ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics were written on easily transportable surfaces. These included small labels carved from ivory or wood, or inscriptions on stone, metal and ceramic surfaces. Clay tablets (terracotta) were popular in Mesopotamia, while papyrus was widely used in Egypt. Their scribes also used wooden writing boards. These boards were often covered with a white plaster layer so that they could be washed and re-plastered for reuse.