Sunday, November 23, 2008

Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs.

Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs.
Andre Willers
23 Nov 2008

Discussion :

Overview :
Hieroglyphs consist of
1.Ideograms (logograms (the pictures) and determinatives(silent organizers like our commas and punctuation marks , but a bit more extensive.)
2. Phonograms (alphabetic signs , biliterals (ie two sounds combined) , triliterals (ie three sounds combined) ).
3. Vowels e , o ,u were not catered for .
4. Consonants L and V were absent .
(Notice the dichotomy about L and R also seen in Chinese . This has an actual neurological root cause . During the paring-down phase of neural child-development , the tendency is toward either L or R . )

Evolution of Hieroglyphs :
Ideograms (picturograms) developed first , grouped in boxes .
Then the more efficient alphabet . But unlike Microsoft , they had to cater for backward compatibility of previous writings literally carved in stone over thousands of years .

The single quotation mark ( ' )
They did this by putting a vertical slash determinative in front of the glyph to denote that the hieroglyph must be taken literally (ie as a picture , not an alphabetical character) .
What is truly amazing is that this convention is still followed today after about 5 000 years . It is the single quotation mark . The closing single quotation mark developed later . The double quotation mark developed to handle an inflation of quotes .

This meant that the alphabetical system (30 characters) was a simple subset of the hieroglyphs , stable across literally thousands of years .

Ditto .( " )
Another survivor , beloved by bureaucrats . Two vertical slashes below a character denoted a duplicate . Exactly the same as today .

Reading/writing from the right .
The default was from right to left (still is for Arabic and Hebrew) .
This was determined by human handedness : only about 15% of humans are left-handed .
A right-handed person will hold the hammer in his right hand and the chisel in his left hand .
To accurately position the chisel-point , he has to work from the right to the left . (Try it and see.)
This bias was literally cast in stone .
When barbarians like the northern Greeks learned to write for commercial purposes , they used papyrus or skin with inked quils. It is much easier and more accurate to drag an inked-point from left to right than to push it the other way . (Ask any poor left-handed guy that grew up with pen-nibs) .

An interesting speculation :
It is too easy to spoil (by chipping) a whole stone-block by chiseling from left-to-right at the right-hand edge , and the other way at the left-hand edge . Thus , there was a niche for left-handed chisellers to close inscriptions on the left-hand edge of blocks .
The same would be true for any expensive material used as base .
There would be specialist openers and closers , with more journeymen in the middle .
The very term journeyman means this .
Cf Book of Kells .

This helps to explain the survival of handedness
It also means that there must be a roughly equivalent population percentage with extreme right-hand skills . Easily missed , because no is looking .

Stencils .
Important stones or documents were done with stencils .
A highly skilled scribe would plan and map out the lay-out . He would form a stencil of a line of hieroglyphs and transfer it to the stone . Skilled first-cutters would make the first cut . Then a horde of openers , middlemen and closers would descend on the slab and chisel out the rough cut , under the anxious supervision of the foreman . This is where a good opener and closer earned his keep . A single mistake could chip the edge and spoil the whole block .
Then bow-grinders smoothed the grooves . Finally , hand-polishing gave a professional finish . The whole process took a few hours per line .
The important thing to note is that once the stencil is laid in , the rest is by rote by many men of who need not be very highly skilled . None of this nonsense of one guy laboriously chiseling each glyph one-by-one .

Mistakes .
It depended on how important the client was . Mistakes were fudged . But if it was somebody important , the whole surface or block had to be re-sawn
(see “Ancient Egyptian Technology” )
Vellum could be scraped (but not for important legal documents : like tippex today) . Papyrus thrown away .
Clay tablets used in the Middle-East were cheap , but also easy to alter until they were baked . Security was an ever-present problem .
“Many a slip between the stylus and the oven” was probably an old Babelonian proverb .
Exactly the same problem as with encryption today .
A special class must have evolved to deal with this problem (like notaries) .

Imperial Language .
Like Latin , Egyptian Hieroglyphics was an Imperial language .
Subjects were forced to deal with it , but pidgin adaptations of the alphabetical-subset became the basis of Phoenician , Hebrew ,Arabic Greek ,Roman alphabets .
The radiative spread of the concept of an alphabet via mercenaries is well-known .

A very good question is : what about Minos ? The evidence suggests that Greek forms developed from Minoan forms . Thus , that Egypt and Crete had a master-client relationship .

Religion .
Religious concepts likewise radiated outward . Even today , many religions originating on the Mediterranean seaboard show heritages of Egyptian influence .

This is a contentious subject , so the following is pure speculation .

EL – the Middle Eastern name for God .
Egyptians could not pronounce L , so this was probably in resistance to the Egyptian imperialism . Egyptians would have pronounced “El” as “eeru” .
(The long ee is inferred from present pronounciations of “Isra-eel” by local populations .)

Babel would be b’abeeru .
The glyph they used for L was a lion crouching down .This can still be seen on the walls of Babel (the meaning is “City of God (B’ab’eeL)” ) .
Which came first is moot .
The concept of the Lion as King probably comes from this . It was conspicuously absent from the ancient Egyptian pantheon , probably because it is a less efficient predator than the hyena . (As the Sahara dried up , lions would have been squeezed between humans and hyenas . The lion-social structure is not as survival-fit as the hyena . There are still many more hyenas than lions around .
They are better at hiding and does not need such a large territory to survive .)

Another interesting omission at the top is the leopard , specifically the hominid hunting variants like Dino Felis .

But note cats and cheetahs . Egyptian favourites , but very watered-down versions of the wild article .

Remember , Egyptian religion was a very practical , ecologically orientated religion . Each significant animal had its own priesthood dedicated to its preservation .

HH , Tetragrammaton and Monotheism .
This might be controversial and is purely speculative .
(see )

The Egyptian gods (or principle) of Infinity were written as HH , with two forms : active (male: as in going on indefinitely ) and passive(female: as in enduring) .

An Egyptian would have written in a square block :


This original tetragrammaton ( a pleasing symmetry) would be shortened to

" " (read ditto)

In Hebrew from right to left : " H " H
The second-from-right ditto sign , when written cursively in the Hieratic form between letters morphed to the Egyptian glyph for W (it looks like an extended question mark) .
The last-from-right ditto sign is not between any two letters and morphed to the Egyptian glyph for Y (it looks like two forward slashes ie // )

Hence YHWH .

But why monotheism ?
Arguing in language , an infinite god can only be one and one god must be infinite . Thus , HHHH must be monotheistic .

Arguing in mathematics , refer to Kantor , Weierstrass , Dedekind (all 19 th century AD) . May you have joy of it , since the Omega-infinity argument brings you straight back to the original language point .

The Israelites .
It might thus be argued that they were not so much an ethnic group as a sect that skipped town just in front of the Egyptian equivalent of the inquisition .

Palm-fronds .
HH is shown with a palm frond as a headdress , and a palm frond in his hand . The palm frond symbolizes infinity . Hence the use of palm leaves in the New Testament to indicate either the God or a representative (ie a priest) .
Laying down palm-leaves for Jesus to walk on was a direct challenge to the Sanhedrin and the Romans , and they responded accordingly .



Appendix A .
Personalities with obsessive-compulsive tendencies trained in the Roman , Greek , Hebrew or Arab alphabets can (and have been) sucked into spiraling compulsive study of Egyptian hieroglyphs .
The reason is that these alfabets all descended from a subset of the hieroglyphic system .
This not-too-big difference is sufficient to trigger that “tip-of-the-tongue” feeling : ie it activates the predator-prey response . This is , of course , a variant of the obsessive-compulsive system .

So much for that .

Sources :
An excellent introduction is
"Discovering Egyptian Hieroglyphs" by K . Zauzich
ISBN 0-500-27694-3
This is the second English reprint of the German original .
This means that quite a number of people have been sucked into this compulsive behaviour .

And of course , the Internet . But do serious cross-checking .


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