Hieroglyphs: Unlocking Ancient Egypt at the British Museum
The fascination that surrounds Ancient Egypt has always been rife, and the subject continues to intrigue people worldwide. Countless books and museums have retold the stories of this rich civilisation and its elaborate laws and rituals. The vast body of invaluable knowledge available to us, however, it would have been impossible to access without the efforts of those who dedicated their lives to decoding the elusive language known as hieroglyphs.
The British Museum highlights and celebrates this key passage, namely the deciphering of hieroglyphs, and the long, fascinating journey that led to it, which is often overshadowed by the knowledge that was subsequently uncovered. For a long time, it was widely accepted that hieroglyphs were magical symbols destined to remain a mystery, as all attempts to understand them had failed. The centuries-long quest to decode their meaning finally began to bear fruit in the early 19th century with the efforts of British polymath Thomas Young and the young French philologist, Jean-Francois Champollion, who finally cracked the code in 1822.
The exhibition starts by focusing on the enigma, moves on to acknowledge the considerable scholarly efforts involved, then offers an overview of the world that opened up thanks to the ability to translate hieroglyphs – that is, essentially, 3,000 years’ worth of history unlocked. Almost 250 objects are on display, ranging from ancient manuals and papyruses to objects of varying size and purpose, including sarcophagi or stone and ceramic sculptures, all inscribed with the ancient symbols. Naturally, at the centre of the exhibition is the Rosetta Stone – the stone slab that bears the same writing in ancient Greek, Demotic and Egyptian hieroglyphics, which was discovered in 1799 and famously provided a vital key to eventually unveil the hitherto inaccessible culture.
Captivating and delightfully presented, Hieroglyphs: Unlocking Ancient Egypt really transports visitors through the rollercoaster of emotions that characterised the long and arduous journey to decipherment. The excitement, frustration and anticipation of the scholars is palpable. Visitors will marvel at the meandering paths that led to the uncovering of an ancient culture, in awe of the academic process itself as well as the wondrous civilisation it helped reveal.
Hieroglyphs: Unlocking Ancient Egypt is at the British Museum from 13th October until 19th February 2023. For further information visit the exhibition’s website here.