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Less than 1% of the population of Ancient Egypt could read or write. The profession of scribe required a lengthy education and would be taught in the temple. The scribes belonged to the elite of Egyptian society and enjoyed many privileges. The significance of the scribe is portrayed in numerous scribe statues found in grave furniture. They depict the scribe in his typical position – sitting cross-legged on the floor with his writing implements on his lap. These comprised a palette of stone or wood with two recesses for black and red ink, a small bowl with water for mixing the ink and writing brushes.
The Egyptians used various kinds of script, of the most well known is the hieroglyph script, principally used for inscriptions in stone. For everyday use the Egyptians used hieratic script a simplified form of hieroglyph script. Hieroglyph script is composed of more than 6,000 signs, which may depict beings and objects or parts of them. As the signs can represent whole words as well as individual letters and the script can read from right to left or left to right, from above or below - hieroglyphs presented many puzzles. Real decryption came as late as the 19th century with the work achieved by French scholar Jean-Francois Champollion.
The Secret of the Hieroglyphs
Egyptian script was invented around 3,000 BC in the period when the two kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt were unified. For a long time around 1,000 signs of stylised depictions of everyday things: humans, animals, plants, tools and objects etc., sufficed. Slowly at first the sign system was extended and by the Late Period in Egyptian Culture, between 664 and 332 BC, the hieroglyph script had grown by several thousand signs. This vast number of various signs and significations presented the scholar and his subject with many a conundrum and puzzle. Only in 1822 did French scholar Jean-François Champollion decrypt the first hieroglyphs by means of the Rosetta stone. In so doing, he laid the foundations for Egyptology, the study of Ancient Egypt its language, culture and artefacts.
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