Origin of Heiroglyphics

Origin of Heiroglyphics

Ancient Egypt conjures up thoughts of a
great civilization, one very advanced for its time. The Ancient Egyptians
invented all different forms of literature, including poetry and short
stories, and they were extremely advanced as far as art, medicine, science,
and religion went. One of the more mysterious aspects
to Ancient Egyptian civilization was their use of hieroglyphics.

Very few people to this day can understand the complex language. The origin
of these hieroglyphics seems to also to be misunderstood by many people.

Some think that since the Egyptians were such a close, rigid society that
they invented the form of writing called hieroglyphics, but that is simply
not true. The origin of using pictures to represent things can be traced
all the way back to caveman times, but the main influence for the Egyptians
came from the land of Sumer.

In fact, the beginning of Egyptian civilization
was very similar to that of the Sumerians. By 500 b.c., farming settlements
were established all along the Nile River (Warburton, 69). Civilization
in Egypt brought problems similar to those that arose in Sumer, but it
was the growing government bureaucracy, not business, that created the
need for writing, and the eventual development of hieroglyphics.

Because the Nile flooded every year, the

Egyptian farmers had begun to build dikes to keep the floodwaters out of
towns, basins to capture and hold the water after the floods receded, and
irrigation canals to distribute the water throughout the fields (Warburton,

70). Those projects required a very organized effort among every
one of the farmers, and a strong central government and bureaucracy developed
to manage and control this effort. Eventually, this bureaucracy,
including the king, the upper-class, and the ever powerful priests in charge,
became a huge, rigid network that managed everyone’s life. By 3100 b.c.,
when the Sumerians had invented their picture writing, it had become impossible
to run that network without an accurate record-keeping system (Warburton,


For a long time before then, the Egyptians
had been trading gold and linen with many other countries from throughout
the middle east. In exchange, they got timber, gems, copper, and perfume
(World Book Encyclopedia, 224). While trading in the land of Sumer,
the Ancient Egyptian traders must have noticed how helpful a written language
was and how it could help their governments bureaucracy function much more
smoothly. Then, they brought back the idea back to Egypt, where it was
quickly and openly accepted.

The Egyptians, however, did not acknowledge
the borrowing from Sumerian culture. Instead, they believed that
writing had been invented by their god of learning, Thoth, so they called
it "words of the gods" (Warburton, 70). And since written words came
from the gods, they had magical powers. By carving a person’s name on a
tomb or monument, the Egyptians believed that they were helping to keep
that person alive if they had passed on. Similarly, by erasing a person’s
name from the inscriptions would make the person disappear. Words
were so powerful that putting a written list of objects in a tomb was the
same as putting the objects in themselves. Since the Egyptians believed
that a person’s life was bound up in his name, the Egyptian Kings often
had five names, the most important being the throne and birth names (Harris,


Egyptians developed this gift from the
gods into their own unique writing system, using the pictograms they borrowed
from the Sumerians but drawing them in a very different style. When the

Egyptians first started writing, they used simple pictures to represent
objects, just as the Sumerians had. In combination, these pictures could
also narrate an event.

Egyptians, like Sumerians, must have quickly
realized the limitations of writing with only pictograms. Their population
and business was growing rapidly, requiring an even more accurate record-keeping
system. Also, the power of the kings was growing and so was their desire
to glorify themselves, especially on the massive tombs they had built.

They could not use pictograms to write "The King triumphed over his
enemies in a mighty victory" (Helfman, 42). The priests, who at the
time, were the only ones who could read and write, responded by developing
ideograms and then phonograms, as the Sumerians had.

Ideograms were pictorial symbols that were
used to convery abstract ideas (Encyclopedia Americana, 179). For
example, the symbol of the sun could also indicate the idea of ‘day’ or
‘light.’ The symbol for the thorn could also mean ‘sharp.’ At a later
stage, the picture symbols came to be used to write other words that merely
sounded like the name of the object drawn. A symbol used in this
way is called a phonogram (Encyclopedia Americana, 179). For