NOVA Online: Pyramids—The Inside Story (see bottom of page for navigation)
(see bottom of page for navigation)
Hieroglyphs are part of a system of picture writing called hieroglyphics. When picture writing first began, the pictures represented the actual object they depicted. These were called pictograms. For example, a picture of a sun within a family scene signified that the sun was part of that scene. Later, pictures came to represent ideas, so that if you saw a sun in a scene, it might symbolize not only the sun, but also daytime, warmth, or light. These were known as ideograms.

Finally, the pictures began to represent not only the appearance of an object and related ideas, but also the sound of a spoken word used to it describe it. Sun, then, might also mean son, or be part of the word Sunday. So each picture took on a unique sound that could be used to form thoughts and ideas. If you used everyday objects to do the same thing, you would write the word "hi there" as follows:

Hi there hieroglyphs

The simplified code below shows you what each sign sounds like using our alphabet. Actual Egyptian hieroglyphics has no vowels (pictures for them have been added here to help you with your translation). Also, unlike these simple hieroglyphs, each hieroglyph found in pyramids and tombs often symbolized more than one consonant. Not only that, but actual Egyptian hieroglyphs were a combination of sound-signs, pictograms, and ideograms. No wonder it was so hard to decode them!

Now look again at the hieroglyphs you are trying to decipher:

Hieroglyphs to be decoded

Can you use the code below to figure out what they mean? (Note that some pictures represent more than one letter. You need to pick the one that works best.)

answer key

Think you've gotten it yet? Take a peek at the answer and see.


Pyramids Home | Pyramids | Excavation
Contents | Mail

NOVA Home | WGBH Home | PBS Home
Search | Feedback | Shop
© 1997 WGBH and PBS
PBS Mail Site Map Excavation Explore NOVA: Pyramids—The Inside Story NOVA PBS NOVA NOVA: Pyramids—The Inside Story