Significant Inscriptions Found in Egypt: From the Earliest Huge Hieroglyphs to Greek-Roman Period Graffiti
A team of Egyptologists has discovered giant rock-art hieroglyphs so big the team was “absolutely flabbergasted” at their size. They date back an estimated 5,200 years on some rock faces in a desert that they say may represent signs for the solar cycle and luminosity.
The oldest inscriptions are the largest discovered thus far in Egypt and are being called greatly significant in Egyptian writing system history.
Egyptologist John Coleman Darnell, a professor in Yale University’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and co-director of the Elkab Desert Survey Project, is quoted in Yale News as saying:
‘This newly discovered rock art site of El-Khawy preserves some of the earliest — and largest — signs from the formative stages of the hieroglyphic script and provides evidence for how the ancient Egyptians invented their unique writing system.’
‘This discovery isn’t new in the sense that this is the first time that anyone has seen these hieroglyphs; this is the first time that anyone has seen them on such a massive scale. These individual hieroglyphs each measure just over a half meter in height, and the entire tableau is about 70 centimeters (27.5 inches) in height. Previously found signs were only one or two centimeters in size.’
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The researchers discovered the four signs arranged in one panel dating back an estimated 5,260 years that were written from right to left. That was the main direction of writing in more recent ancient Egyptian texts. These signs portrayed a bull’s head on a pole, with two back-to-back saddlebill storks and a bald ibis bird between them and above. This arrangement was commonly used later in Egypt to represent the solar cycle and the concept of luminosity.
From the top of a tall scaffold, Yale Egyptologist John Darnell examines large hieroglyphs discovered along an ancient trade route. ( Yale photo )
“These images may express the concept of royal authority over the ordered cosmos,” says Darnell.
They found these inscriptions by examining rock faces on ancient trade routes based on known road networks. Rock inscriptions that Darnell has encountered are on roads parallel to the Nile River or roads leading into the desert. They are not randomly placed but rather in places where people may have paused in their journey, he said.
The Egyptologists came across more rock art of a herd of elephants that they estimate dates back to around 4000 to 3500 BC. One elephant has a baby elephant inside, which Darnell called a rare way of representing a pregnant animal.
This season the team includes expedition co-director Dirk Huyge; Colleen Darnell; Massimilliano Montanari; Elizabeth Hines; Reed Morgan; and staff from Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquties Aswan and Edfu inspectorates.
Ancient Tourist Graffiti Reads Like Social Media Posts
In other inscription news out of Egypt, Science and Scholarship in Poland reports on its website that graffiti in the tomb of King Ramesses VI in the Valley of the Kings has been found that resembles modern postings on Facebook or in tourist forums. The tomb dates to 1136 BC.
Research done by Adam Łukaszewicz of the University of Warsaw found the following comments:
- "I visited and I did not like anything except the sarcophagus!"
- "I admired!"
- "I cannot read the hieroglyphs!"
Archaeologists from Poland document the walls of the tomb of Ramesses VI. ( Photo by A. Łukaszewicz)
Professor Łukaszewicz said: “The Valley of the Kings was a tourist destination already in antiquity. Like today, tourists often signed their names in the places they visited. Among the more than sixty tombs in this area, in at least ten there are inscriptions made by ancient travelers. The greatest number of inscriptions come from the Greek-Roman period, that is, from the time of the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great to the division of the Roman Empire in the 4th century.”
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Sometimes visitors to the tomb added to the inscriptions their home towns or their jobs. They placed their writings so as not to destroy earlier decorations, the website reports. Sometimes there were longer texts and poetry. Some were written by doctors or philosophers.
Prof. Adam Łukaszewicz during research in the tomb of Ramesses VI. Photo by K. Braulińska
“There were also people very high in the social hierarchy—including the prefects of Egypt, those who ruled the country on behalf of the Roman emperor, and governors of various parts of the country,” said Prof. Łukaszewicz.
These included Armenian Prince Chosroes of the 4th century AD; and the Arab conqueror of Egypt, Amr ibn al-As in the 7 th century. “This is one of the greatest inscriptions made by visitors to the tomb of Ramesses VI. The letters are about 25 cm tall,” he said.
Top image: Egyptologists found new inscriptions along ancient trade routes. This one features a huge rock art panel with a bull and three birds that may represent the solar cycle and luminosity. ( Yale photo )
By Mark Miller