What are hieroglyphs?

Hieroglyphs are an ancient writing style used by the ancient Egyptians to record their history, achievements, stories, and sacred texts. They are a pictographic form of writing, meaning that they are made up of small pictures representing sounds. The word hieroglyph comes from ancient Greek meaning ‘sacred writing’. Many ancient hieroglyphs can be seen today in monuments across Egypt and on artefacts in museums all over the world.

How do we read hieroglyphs?

Each image represents an object or a sound. So a picture of a bee can mean ‘bee’. But, if an image of a bee were to be placed together with an image of a leaf, we may find that together they spell ‘belief’ or ‘bee-leaf’.

The Egyptians had over 2000 hieroglyphs in their language and used a very complex grammatical system to record their texts. As well as sounds from the English alphabet, the Egyptians also had signs representing sounds that we would use two letters to represent, such as ‘ch’ and ‘sh’ shown in the alphabet on our downloadable resource below. Ancient Egyptian language didn’t have many vowel sounds and so we can add the sound ‘e’ to make reading the words easier. For example, the biliteral sign mn might be pronounced as ‘men’ today, or nb as ‘neb’. So how might you say nfr?

Our pack includes an Egyptian sound alphabet so you can write your name on a cartouche bookmark. We've also included some information about what hieroglyphs are, how they were written, and how we can read them today. 

Download further information and activities here