Deciphering ancient Egypt

Ever felt like writing your diary in a dead language? I can picture you saying, “I’m all for scholarship and intellectual brilliance, but I’m not silly. What point could there be in that?”

Jean-Francois_Champollion_2 PD Wikimedia

The picture shows Jean-Francois Champollion. It is a public domain image from wikimedia.commons.

It just so happens that one man did just that and his eccentric act led to unexpected benefits for the study of history. As a boy Jean-Francois Champollion, the man credited with the decipherment of hieroglyphics, used to write his journal in Coptic, the language used by the early Christian Church in Egypt, but long since dead. A language is considered dead when no living child speaks it as his mother tongue. No living child had spoken Coptic for almost two thousand years, but it turned out to be the only written language that could provide clues to the sounds of ancient Egyptian speech.


Never suspecting that Coptic might supply the vital link to understanding hieroglyphics, Champollion learned it as a teenager, along with several other dead languages. It was knowledge that he placed on the back-burner of his mind. One day that knowledge would burst into flame. One day it would illuminate the study of ancient Egypt.


In order to read the fascinating story behind the decipherment of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, go to this link:


As you read, look for answers to these questions (and perhaps write or type brief notes to add to your assignment):

  • There was a false hypothesis that hampered many scholars as they tried to decipher hieroglyphs. What was it?

  • What was the Rosetta Stone and why was it a key to understanding hieroglyphics?Rosetta Stone in BM, our photo

  • How did the recognition of the cartouche help with the process of decipherment?

  • When and how did Champollion finally work out that the hypothesis was wrong and that the “soul of hieroglyphics”, as he later wrote, was phonics?


There is of course a moral to this story. (There’s a moral to all my stories.) You may think something you’re learning now is nothing but whimsy on your part or a cruel imposition by your teachers. Put it on the backburner and let it gently simmer. One day in a decade or two it might help you to find a job, learn a new and wonderful skill, make another person happy, or change the world.

Kind regards,

Ms Green

Emit and Llatiwonk take off

Emit 1 copy

Whoops! I hope you don’t mind having a teacher who is out of the loop. Imagine that – I decide that I’ll give you your first test on a day when you’re all on camp. If you hadn’t kindly told me, picture the lonely classroom, the blank test papers…Well, honestly. I’m changing the date to Thursday 4 March. That way I can correct your tests over the long weekend. I wouldn’t want to spend too much time relaxing. My brain might become even more addled.

Now that you have your assignment sheet and are rocketing off with Emit and Llatiwonk, here are some internet links to help you find information. Of course you could find them on your own, but this will make your life easier, with any luck. And don’t forget to beat a path to your nearest public library. Where else can you go and check out an unlimited number of books and have people smile and wave at you?

Keep in mind that Emit is keen, curious and questioning. He can be wild and rash, take risks and do crazy things in his search for knowledge. Llatiwonk, on the other hand, is rational, careful and thorough. Who do you think is more like you? (You can do some self-analysis and leave an answer to this question in a comment if you like.)

Begin your adventure by looking at some of these sites on ancient Egypt…

Play the Mummy Maker Game at the BBC website by clicking here 

Read about the power of the Pharaohs hereEgyptian figure by Edy      Edy’s Egyptian figure (7F 09) 

View the treasures of Tutankhamen here

Convert your name to hieroglyphs here

Click on this link to find out more about the Nile River: (for serious readers only!)

Farming in Egypt today JB

This photo and the one in the header were taken by John Bayley, a friend who could easily get a job with National Geographic but instead lets me use his photos to my heart’s content without any monetary reward.


Sources suggest that peasant farmers made up about 80% of Egypt’s population. The most likely way to raise one’s status was through learning to write, but this would not have been easy for many peasant farmers to do. They had many other onerous tasks and they paid a very substantial proportion of their grain in tax – some sources suggest over half.

Here are some links about the lives of peasants: (This site explains that it was peasant farmers rather than slaves who were responsible for the great monuments of ancient Egypt.)

 For a detailed account of how the ancient Egyptians made beer and bread, go to:

To read about Hatshepsut, a rare woman pharaoh, go to:

To read about the rights of Egyptian women, go to:

In order to compare Egyptian women’s rights to those of the ancient Greeks:

Absences, Excursions and Work for Today

Pompeii plaster figureHi, 7E! I’m sorry I’ve deserted you yet again. On Monday I was sick, yesterday you were doing that special seminar, and today I’m going to a conference. Tomorrow I promise to meet you face to face once again.

Ros cartoon 2008 with colour and bubbleBy the way, I had a good report from your teacher on Monday, Mr Quinn. He said you worked with a will. It warmed my heart to hear it.

Now be honest. Have you handed in your excursion form? Get moving if you haven’t! The excursion to Pompeii is less than a week away. We really need your forms by this Friday. If you have lost your form, don’t worry, just go to the office and throw yourself on the mercy of the office staff. They’re always kind to me; they’ll happily print you a new one. Then take it home, get it signed and bring it back. Simple!

Did I mention that we’re having lunch at Melbourne Central after the museum visit? You don’t want to miss that. So get your forms in, pronto!

Emit small front shot copyToday you have two choices:

  • Work on your Emit Repoons assignment, or
  • Do some preliminary research on a possible notable person to study for the Night of Notables.

To aid you in this second task, if you choose it, here are some websites to peruse:



See you tomorrow, everyone!

class mummyBy the way, I’m planning the mummification for late next week. Next week is going to be full of hands-on history activities – some more gruesome than others.

Kind regards from

Ms Green.

Notable Possibilities

The first Night of Notables was held at our school in 2003. This means that every student in the school can recall the fun they had in Year 7, dressing up as a famous person and showing their parents and the rest of school how creative and thoughtful they could be. And here’s an amazing thing: older students love to come and see what the new kids on the block are doing for the Night of Notables. Those new kids on the block are YOU! Which notable person will you choose? How will you make the night special and memorable?

Here’s a tip: choose someone that no one else has ever chosen. Choose someone YOU don’t know very much about. That way there will be a mystery for you to solve and many people will be curious to know about the person you have chosen.

So here are some notable people who, despite their great achievements and determination to improve human life, have (at least to my knowledge) never been chosen by students before. I’ve taught Year 7 every year since the Night of Notables was introduced, so I do have a pretty good idea. For each person below, I’ve tried to give a little description or at least include a link to a reputable site that will tell you about the person. I am hankering for someone to choose one of these people, instead of the obvious people who are chosen every year. Be original! Go for it!

PS: You won’t be able to watch any of the You-Tube videos at school, I’m afraid. Our computers crack up when you ask too much of them. But don’t despair: these videos should work at home.

Notable People who have never been N O T A B L E at our School:

IMG_0040_DevilsMarblesKath Walker (Oodgeroo Noonuccal) She was an Aboriginal writer and activist who gave back her MBE in protest against the treatment of her people. Influential in winning the vote for Aborigines, she was a writer of great purpose and conviction. For instance, she wrote: “We need help, not exploitation.” One of her saddest poems was about an old man who was the last of his tribe. There was noone left who could speak to him in the language of his people. The poem shows her sense of loss and the desperate isolation of the old man. Oodgeroo Noonuccal wrote many moving poems. She was also partially responsible for gaining the vote for Aboriginal people. Click on this link to read a brief introduction to her life:

  • Harriet Tubman was nicknamed the “Moses of her People” for her role in saving slaves through the so-called Underground Railroad in America.
  • Jane Austen was one of the great authors of the English language. In her novels she described the narrow social world of the English country towns where she lived; she explored the limited social experiences of her characters. That doesn’t sound all that impressive, does it? And yet, and yet…Somehow these stories, set in the early 1800s, have had an abiding impact on her readers. They have inspired many films, discussions and debates. For Austen’s insights into human nature are astounding. This brilliant woman, who never married and who died in her forties, had an acute understanding of human love and cruelty, a sharp wit, a measured cynicism and a power with the English language that few, if any, have been able to match. (***Whoops! Claire tells me her older sister Lizzie chose Jane Austen just last year. So she has been chosen before…Still, she deserves another run and she certainly hasn’t been chosen very often. Sorry, Lizzie!)

  • Emily Bronte was a great author and poet. Her poem “Remembrance” is deeply moving and her novel, “Wuthering Heights”, is one of the great works of English literature. Yet she was writing at a time when women usually had to take the name of a man to have any chance of being published.
  • Vera Brittain was an author and peace activist between the World Wars in Britain. Although she was accused of being disloyal for trying to seek peace, her name was ultimately found on a list of people the Nazis would like to assassinate, which improved her reputation with the English people! Her famous book, “Testament of Youth”, told the tragic story of the young men she loved who died in WWI, including her brother and fiancee.
  • Judy Horacek is an Australian cartoonist who takes a strong feminist stand and is politically astute and cynical, yet with that whimsical edge to her work that many great Australian cartoonists seem to have. A champion of the rights of minority groups and a social commentator, she would be a fine choice for the Night of Notables. Her cartoons can be viewed at the National Library of Australia website. Here is the link:

  • W.E.B. DuBois was an African American activist and writer in the 1920s who spread the story of the murders and lynchings in the south. He tried to promote the right of African Americans in the south to live without persecution, prejudice and arbitrary attacks. In his publications he exposed the cruelty of those who wanted to ensure that, even though the slaves had been freed, they should still be forced to live like slaves. He gave a voice to people who had no voice.
  • Sir Mark Oliphant was a brilliant Australian scientist whose work in nuclear physics was partially responsible for the creation of the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He was forever regretful at the calamity they had caused, however, and later spoke out against the use of science for immoral ends.

  • William Wilberforce was a campaigner against slavery in Britain in the 19th century. He died just a few days after the bill abolishing slavery succeeded.
  • William Barak was an artist, an activist and a leader of his people, the Wurundjeri clan, who lived in Melbourne before the coming of the Europeans, and whose descendants still live here today. The government continually took land and rights from the Aboriginal people and Barak, despite his growing sense of futility and despair, continued to plead, protest and fight for decency, fairness and equality.

    Sofonisba Anguissola was a great woman painter of the Renaissance. Until the internet came into being I didn’t even know she existed. Woman artists rarely make it into art books. Yet some of her paintings are just lovely. They warm my heart because they show people enjoying life and doing quite ordinary things – even smiling! One of her most famous paintings shows a few young girls playing chess and smiling. This was quite rare in those days. There’s also a self-portrait of the artist at her easel.

    • Golda Meir – Israeli Prime Minister

    Ancient Egyptian Writing

    Rosetta Stone in BM, our photo

    A photo of the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum (taken in 1995)

    Here’s a quotation from an article about the 20-year history of the internet, by Guy Rundle in The Age on Sunday 15 March:

    Five thousand years ago, the invention of writing in Mesopotamia [Sumer] separated information from presence – a few strokes of cuneiform on a clay tablet established that meaning, intent, communication could be separated and transmitted without a person there to present it.

    From this event flows every modern institution of the state…”

    Sphinx and Great Pyramid JB

    Photo of the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx kindly provided by John Bayley

    Ancient Egyptian writing:

    Use this site to write some notes on the nature of hieroglyphic writing for your Emit assignment.

    A Biography of Jean-Francois Champollion

    The Story of the Decipherment of Hieroglyphics

    These links tell you the story of a man who started learning dead languages (and writing his diary in them) when he was as young as you are. He knew that understanding an ancient language would unlock secrets. Read the story of his determination and final achievement.

    Legacies of Ancient Egypt

    A legacy in this context means a special contribution that a civilisation leaves behind. It might include:


    Clipart kindly provided by A famous piece of ancient architecture. Can you think of other arenas based on this concept?

    • a memorable idea such as a special way of organising a society or dealing with a problem;

    • some kind of scientific knowledge;

    • an invention;

    • a monument;

    • a skill;

    • an impressive achievement in art, government, literature, etc;

    • something that later societies have admired and sought to emulate.

    For instance, ancient Sumerians are believed to have been the first to create a writing system. They pressed wedge-shaped marks into clay tablets. Many historians believe that this is what gave the Egyptians the idea of developing hieroglyphs.


     Here’s a quotation from an article about the 20-year history of the internet, by Guy Rundle in The Age on Sunday 15 March:

         “Five thousand years ago, the invention of writing in Mesopotamia [Sumer] separated information from presence – a few strokes of cuneiform on a clay tablet established that meaning, intent, communication could be separated and transmitted without a person there to present it.

           “From this event flows every modern institution of the state…”

    That’s some legacy!

    Cuneiform – clipart kindly provided by I always think that it would be wonderful if the first writing was created to write love poems or great literature. But no – someone wanted a receipt. Sigh. This is a material world.



    The ancient Egyptians had many achievements over the course of their long history. Their beautiful tomb paintings, for example, show us all about their lives on the Nile River. They drew figures in a way that changed little over the years. Can you think of other great and inspiring achievements that others might have built upon?


    Egyptian peasants during harvest – note the side-on presentation of the bodies in classic Egyptian style
    Image in public domain from wikimedia.commons

    See what you can find out about the legacies of the ancient Egyptians at these sites.


    General: (Scroll down to find ideas about legacies.)


    This is a pdf on the pyramids and monuments.


    Ancient Egyptian ideas about pi:

    Ancient Egyptian art: 

    Ancient Egyptian water engineering and inventions: 

    (You’ll need to scroll down to read the vital information.)

    Managing time – calendars and clocks:

    Ancient Egyptian writing:

    Your task: Create an attractive A4 page divided into four parts. Your heading is “Legacies of Ancient Egypt”. In each quarter of the page paste a picture and write (using your own words) about the legacy you have chosen and why you think it is impressive, significant or influential in history.


    Then write a comment in answer to this cruel but fascinating question: What legacy would you as an individual like to leave behind?

    Another way to put this could be: How do you intend to leave the world a better place than you found it?

                     My legacy…



    Primary Search

    A primary source about history is any source created at the time being studied. It could be a building, an art work, a poem, a story, a flag or even a mummy! Here are some examples:


    A tablet from the first writers, the Sumerians of Mesopotamia, who created CUNEIFORM…

    This is believed to have happened in about 3300BC.



    A stone axe from the Old Stone Age, showing the skills of the early tool-makers…

    The first tools were made about 2 million years ago.



     Eurekaflag public domain

    The flag from the Eureka battle in Ballarat in 1854.



    War medals of Australian soldiers from WWI – photo taken by John Bayley.


    A fossil from the Bathurst Museum – photo taken by John Bayley.


    Ancient Aboriginal rock art from Kakadu National Park – photo taken by John Bayley.

    See what primary sources you can find on the internet by looking at the sites below. For each item you find, save it to your hard drive and then paste it into a text box on a WORD page. Try to fit 4–6 text boxes on the page. You could use a table as I have above if you think you know how. Add a heading, “Primary Sources”, to your page and a brief description of each artefact you have found.



    When you have finished this page, email it to me at and I’ll print it out for you.


    If you have time after this, write a comment in which you nominate a primary source that could be used to study your life when you become famous and people want to write your biography.


    With kind regards,

    Ros/ Ms Green.

    Stone Age Action

    Use your 21st century mind on this Stone Age Quiz. Click on the caveman below:

    Happy caveman


    One of the changes in the New Stone Age was the domestication of animals. Go to this site for a timeline of animal domestication.

    Animal domestication link

    List the first six animals to be domesticated and the approximate date. Then click on your favourite to find out the evidence about when, how and why they were domesticated by humans.

    Dog at tree barb Sheep with lamb from Leigh trimmed_1 These were some of the earliest domesticated animals. The ones in these photos are more modern breeds than the Stone Age ones! (Photos taken by my sister Barb and used with her permission)

    Plants were also domesticated. This means that humans bred the plants for the qualities they most wanted in them. Plants with larger wheat grains were chosen just as goats were chosen for smaller horns. Gradually the domesticated population varied significantly from the wild one.

    Table of plant domestication

    Write down four of the important crops and the approximate date of domestication.


    Image from and used with gratitude

    Now go back to the time before homo sapiens were the only human beings on the planet. Have a look at each link below to view some fascinating speculations about Neanderthals:

    Their brains were 20% bigger than ours, they were better adapted to the cold and they could probably talk. So why did they die out? Look at this site (BBC Science and Nature) which tackles this question.

    Neanderthals might have had more difficulty with childbirth. Look at this site (National Geographic) to find out the details of this discovery.

    Neanderthals could have had red hair and freckles…like the Weasleys.

    Neanderthals may have been less likely to suffer from mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia.

    Of course, many of these ideas are theory rather than fact.

    Don’t forget that if you find a fascinating site or interesting piece of information you can leave a comment with the details to inspire and interest others.

    Kind regards,

    Ms Green.


    Roman Rulers

    Click on this animation to see what happens. It was made by my son Patrick and published with his permission. You can try your own stick figure animation by going to PIVOT STICK FIGURE ANIMATOR. It’s fun!

    But today you can’t do that because you need to learn about Roman rulers. They were a mixed lot. Here are just a few…

    Detective Work in Ancient Greece

    All the photos on this post were taken by my brother Ern on his recent trip to Greece. I am using them with his permission. Thanks, Ern!

    Emit has a new mission and needs your help. He’s in ancient Greece and it is your job to find out as much information as possible with him.


    You need to gain as many points as you can, working in groups of no more than three students, and using a dictionary, your textbook and the internet sites suggested below the questions.


    Write your answers in sentences in a WORD file and email it to me when you’ve finished, with the names of all participants in your group. Prizes will be given for the best efforts! Good luck!



    One-point questions

    &     What does the word “philosophy” mean? (There are eight definitions given. Look for the one you find easiest to understand.)

    &     Where did the Greeks believe the gods and goddesses lived?

    Read this site to discover the answer to this question.

    &     Name a famous landmark from ancient Athens.

     Look at this picture (you can save it and colour it if you like) for ideas.

    &     What form of government did Athens create? OR SEE YOUR TEXTBOOK!

     &     What was the word for the market place in Athens?

    This site has an interactive map and many details about ancient Athens (and modern tourism!).

    &     Name the two most famous city-states of ancient Greece.

    &     What invention of Archimedes was used to lift water?

    &     Name three famous ancient Greek philosophers.

    &     What was Euclid famous for?

    &     How did Socrates teach?


    Two-point questions

    &     What happened to Socrates and why?

    &     Name one aspect of Athenian life that was not at all democratic!

    &     What does the word “Spartan” mean when used to describe lifestyle or upbringing in the modern day (e.g. in the sentence, “He lives a Spartan type of existence”)? How does this relate to ancient Sparta?

    &     What was the name of the war between Athens and Sparta in 431 to 404 BC? Who triumphed?

    &     Who was Homer? Name his two famous works.

    &     Aristophanes wrote a play called Lysistrata in which the women plot to stop their men from going to war. What was their plot?

    &     Describe what happened when the Spartan soldiers held the pass at Thermopylae against the Persians.

    &     Who was Sappho?

    &     What were Spartan slaves called and how were they treated?

    &     Draw a simple diagram with an accompanying formula to show Pythagoras’ theory about right-angle triangles.

    A Notable Night

    Get dressed up! Show off your knowledge! Impress your friends and fill your parents with pride and joy! Make your teacher glow with happiness (that’s me)!

    ◊    ◊    ◊    ◊    ◊    ◊

    On the Night of Notables you get to do all this. There are two great points about this project: you choose your own person to study (with conditions) and you choose your working partner (if you want one). This means you have the perfect excuse to have researching weekends with your best friend; and your teacher can’t tell you what to do (but she can influence you, veto your choice and be critical – after all, what are teachers for?).

    ♥  ♥  ♥  ♥  ♥  ♥  ♥

    I’m pretty easy-going really!

    ♦ All I ask is that your notable person is admirable and memorable. He or she should have inspired other people and contributed something of value to human life or human beings. That’s not much to ask, is it? 

    ♦ I want no mass murderers, no violent criminals, no brutal dictators and no vicious tyrants: just great people who have given us hope, remedies, knowledge, understanding, music, ideas, new ways of thinking, inventions, plays, books and so on. 

    ♦Your notable person might have saved us too – from poverty, tyranny, injustice, slavery or suffering.

    ♦You could choose a musician, a poet, an inspirational gardener, an environmental campaigner, a great cook or a brave leader who stood up to oppression.

    ♦Don’t forget Australians. Don’t forget women!


    There are some sites below to give you ideas…

    CLICK HERE to go to a site about notable Australians…


    CLICK HERE to go to a site about inspirational people, including great humanitarians:


    CLICK HERE for some inspirational quotations:

    CLICK HERE for more brainy and interesting quotations:


    Another Game and Some Websites

    This photo was taken in 1987. Can you figure out who the person sitting on the ancient stones might be?


    Thanks for your comments, everyone! Steph and Laura have left some suggested websites to help everyone with their assignment:

    Hi all,
    This is a website where you can make your name in hieroglyphs!
    From Laura

    Miss Green, this is a good website to check out – could you add it to the blog?

    Thanks, girls!

    Here’s a link to the BBC Website’s Pyramid Builder Game:


    A hint for playing this game: it is generally believed that the people who built the Great Pyramid were not slaves but peasant farmers who worked while the flood waters were covering their farm land. Keep this in mind when you are playing this game.

    More Websites:


    Good luck from Ros.