[00:00.00]NARRATOR: Listen to part of a lecture in a history class. [00:03.72]The professor has been discussing Egyptian Hieroglyphs.[00:07.42]FEMALE PROFESSOR: Egyptian Hieroglyphs are the ancient Egyptian writings found in ancient Egypt on walls, monuments and on the inside and outside of temples. [00:18.39]Hieroglyphic writing ended abruptly about 1600 years ago.[00:22.81]And it mystified the most brilliant minds in the study of Egyptian artifacts and archaeology for many many centuries. [00:29.96]Finally, the possibility of deciphering hieroglyphs came about with the discovery, in 1799, of the Rosetta Stone.[00:38.55]The Rosetta Stone is arguably the most famous archaeological artifact ever discovered. [00:47.38]It contains the same exact text written in three different alphabets: Greek, demotic, and hieroglyphic.[00:55.65]But we didn't even know at first that the three texts on the Rosetta Stone contain the same information. [01:05.33]And two of the three alphabets are ancient Egyptian scripts that stop being used: the hieroglyphic and the demotic. [01:13.20]The demotic script found on the Rosetta Stone, well, demotic was not as elaborate as hieroglyphic writing.
[01:21.21]It was used for more mundane matters, oh, like administrative documents. [01:26.40]These ancient Egyptian scripts were replaced by Coptic scripts. [01:31.20]But eventually, the Arabic language replaced Coptic and this cut off the linguistic link between ancient and modern Egypt.[01:39.83]Now, the Rosetta Stone was remarkable because as I said, on it, was the same text in three different alphabets-- Greek, demotic and hieroglyphic. [01:50.77]The Stone was essentially the dictionary that scholars needed to interpret the meaning of the hieroglyphs. [01:56.94]And it took a uniquely equipped researcher to finally decipher and understand what was written on the stone.[02:03.76]Thomas young, an English scholar, was the first to seriously attempt to decipher the symbols on the Rosetta Stone. [02:14.46]He suspected rightly that the hieroglyphs were phonetic symbols, that they represented its sounds rather than pictures. [02:22.40]Until then, all scholars assumed that hieroglyphs were pictographs, that they symbolize objects or concepts.[02:30.43]Thomas Young focused his attention on one set of hieroglyphs that he thought would probably spell out a single word: the name of a King or Queen. [02:40.18]He guessed that the symbols represented the name of the early Egyptian ruler Ptolemy, since Ptolemy was also written in Greek on the stone and was indeed a Greek name.[02:51.32]And Young did actually prove that these hieroglyphs represented sounds rather than whole words.[02:58.62]Strangely, though, he gave into the dominant thesis of the day that hieroglyphs were pictographs. [03:05.34]He actually dismissed his own findings as an anomaly because the Ptolemaic dynasty was Greek, not Egyptian. [03:14.12]In other words, he figured it was an exception to the rule.[03:17.97] It was phonetic because it was Greek, not Egyptian. [03:22.18]How else could an Egyptian depict a Greek name other than spell it out?[03:26.85]And that brings us to the hero of our story: Jean-Francois Champollion.[03:34.83]Champollion built on Young's work, showing that different hieroglyphs spelled the names of Kings and Queens like Alexander or Cleopatra. [03:47.08]But his critics noted that this was still not traditional Egyptian names.[03:52.63]He hadn't done any more than Young had been able to do, so he couldn't disprove the dominant theory.
[03:58.79]Then in 1822, Champollion was shown a set of hieroglyphs that contain traditional Egyptian names.[04:08.10]The first two of these symbols were unknown, but Champollion knew that the repeated hieroglyphs to the far right symbolized an "S" sound. [04:21.54]He then drew on his linguistic knowledge to arrive at the solution to the problem.
[04:26.45]You see, unlike any of the other scholars who had tried to crack the code, Champollion happened to be fluent in Coptic. [04:34.27]He wondered, and this was the real breakthrough, if Coptic was the language symbolized by the hieroglyphs on the Rosetta stone. [04:42.51]And if so, then perhaps that first disc-shape symbol might represent the Sun. [04:49.05]And the Coptic word for Sun is "ra". [04:52.51]See where this is headed?
[04:54.55]So if the symbol were Coptic, the first symbol would be "ra". [04:59.52]And then an unknown symbol followed by a double "S" sound. [05:04.26]Was this, Champollion wondered, the name Rameses? [05:09.11]He was eventually able to confirm that it was. [05:12.61]So, he had figured it out. [05:14.80]Hieroglyphs were mainly phonetic, they represented sounds, not pictures, and the underlying language was Coptic. [05:23.32]A lot of work remained, but Champollion had cracked the code.