In the temple of the goddess Isis on the island of Philae, a few miles to the south of the city of Aswan, one wall bears a brief hieroglyphic inscription. Its significance is not in its content or meaning but purely its date – it was written on 24 August ad 394, and as far as we know it was the last time that the hieroglyphic script was used. The language of ancient Egypt survived considerably longer (Philae temple also contains the last graffiti in the more cursive ‘demotic’ script, dating to 2 December ad 452), and in a sense it still exists in fossilized form in the liturgical texts of the modern Coptic church. Nevertheless, it was around the end of the 4th century ad that the knowledge and use of hieroglyphs effectively vanished, and until the decipherment of hieroglyphs by Jean-François Champollion in 1822, the written world of the Egyptians was unknown, and scholars were almost entirely reliant on the accounts left by Greek and Roman authors, or the sections of the Bible story in which Egypt features. Classical and biblical images of Egypt therefore dominated the emerging subject of Egyptology until almost the end of the 19th century.


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Ancient Egypt - A Very Short Introduction - Ian Shaw