Writing in Ancient Egypt
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Writing in Egypt

Book of the Dead
Book of the Dead

September 2016 - Writing in Egypt goes back to pretty much the earliest writing anywhere. Nobody really knows yet whether the Egyptians figured out how to write for themselves, or whether they learned it from the Sumerians, who also began writing about the same time, about 3000 BC. The Egyptian form of writing, hieroglyphs, does not look the same or work the same as the Sumerian form of writing, cuneiform. So if they did get the idea from the Sumerians, the Egyptians certainly changed it a lot.

What we have left of Egyptian writing, like Egyptian art, mostly comes out of tombs. Because of this, most of what we have left is prayers (because that is the kind of thing you put in people's tombs). Other kinds of writing like laws, letters to your mom, and lists of who gave their fair share to the temple mostly have been recycled or composted, over the years.


Buy your own real Egyptian
papyrus to draw hieroglyphs!

The most famous prayer from Egyptian tombs is the Book of the Dead. The Book of the Dead was a set of instructions for how to get from the world of the living to the world of the dead. In the New Kingdom, starting about 1500 BC, people put copies of the Book of the Dead in their tombs to help them along the way.

Bonus fact: did you know that the earliest version of the famous story of Cinderella comes from ancient Egypt? and that in this version, the reason she's being excluded is that she's white?

Learn by doing: writing hieroglyphs
More about hieroglyphs
More about papyrus

Bibliography and further reading about ancient Egyptian writing

Hieroglyphs
Papyrus
Egypt
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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