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.