Photo of Hieroglyphs on Cleopatra's Needle
Photo of Hieroglyphs on Cleopatra's Needle. © Michael P. San Filippo


Ancient Writing > Egyptian Hieroglyphs

We call the sacred picture writing of the ancient Egyptians hieroglyphs. Hieroglyph is formed from two ancient Greek words: hieros 'holy' + glyphe 'carvings' which described the ancient holy writing of the Egyptians.

The Maya of Mesoamerica also wrote using hieroglyphs. Typically, hieroglyphs are inscribed (carved) pictures, but hieroglyphs were also written on papyrus, by the Egyptians, and bark, by the Maya. [See Maya Hieroglyphs.]

Egyptians also wrote in a cursive Egyptian script known as demotic. Hieroglyphic writing was deciphered by means of the Rosetta Stone on which the same information was repeated in Greek, hieroglyphs, and demotic writing.

Hieroglyphic is the adjectival form of the word hieroglyph, but hieroglyphic writing is really redundant, so we speak of the Egyptian hieroglyphs rather than the Egyptian hieroglyphics or -- at least most of the time -- the Egyptian hieroglyphic writing. See Is it hieroglyphic or hieroglyphs? for more information.

Also Known As: hieroglyphic

Common Misspellings: hireoglyph


When you look at hieroglyphs, you will often see recognizable objects, like feathers, beetles, or birds. The hieroglyphic name of a pharaoh may be enclosed in a cartouche, an oblong with a base.

The Narmer Palette is one of the earliest examples of Egyptian hieroglyphs.

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