Laughter is the Best Medicine

Cracking Ancient Codes: Egyptian Hieroglyphs – with Andrew Robinson

[APPLAUSE] Thank you very much. I’m talking about
Egyptian, of course, which is a later script. I’m going to really
focus on the decipherment and how it was done. I’ll be frank with
you, it will be a somewhat, in fact
strongly biographical talk about how Thomas Young
and Champollion worked on it. And it’s a real honour to be
in the same place that Thomas Young was all those
two centuries ago. Now, this building is
a rather unusual place called the Egyptian Hall. It was in Piccadilly. But nobody will remember
it now because it was demolished in 1905. It was built in 1812. And it lasted, you
know, a century or so. And it was inspired
by Egyptomania, which started really with
Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt. A very strange and wonderful
exhibition opened in May 1821 in the Egyptian Hall. And 2,000 visitors paid half
a crown on the first day– that’s quite a lot
of money– to see it. And it lasted a whole year. And inside what was remarkable
was the first scale model of an Egyptian tomb to be
shown in London 15 metres long and two full-size reproductions
of chambers in the tomb. And it was from what was later
called the Valley of the Kings. So there was a huge
crowd to see it. Paintings were made
on site in Egypt. And here are some of them. The artist was Alessandro Ricci,
who is not very well known now. But he was a medical
doctor from Siena, Italian. And he’d saved the life of the
Egyptian pasha’s son in Egypt. And then he travelled
extensively in Egypt and became a painter. At the top of this bas-relief
is the vulture goddess Nekhbet And underneath the
oval signs, I think they’re pretty clear
here, are cartouches. They’re called cartouches,
as you probably know. And the signs inside
them were thought to be the names of goddesses
and gods and pharaohs. But, of course, nobody could
read them in 1821, nobody at all. The most remarkable thing,
I think, in the exhibition was this sarcophagus
made out of alabaster. It arrived rather late from
Egypt, actually, in August, well after the opening
of the exhibition. But it was soon the
centre of attention. It was almost three metres long. And it’s carved
with hieroglyphs. The colour is originally
known as Egyptian blue. It’s actually calcium
copper tetrasilicate. And the sarcophagus was then
sold about three years later. It was given to
the British Museum who decided not to buy it. And it was sold to Soane the
architect, John Soane, Sir John Soane in 1824 for 2,000 pounds. And you can see
it today in London in the Soane Museum in the
basement rather atmospherically lit. And I do recommend it. It’s well worth a visit
if you haven’t seen it. Now, the man who had
discovered the tomb in 1817 was this man Giovanni
Belzoni, another Italian. And as you may know– because he’s quite
famous in his way– he was a circus strong
man turned Egyptologist, rather an odd combination. And he was a flamboyant showman. On the very day that
the exhibition opened, he appeared in
front of the press and the audience wrapped
in mummy bandages. And they were then
unwrapped to reveal him. Now his book, which is
a great pictorial study of his Egyptian adventures,
came out in 1820. And almost a century
later, Howard Carter, the English archaeologist,
was inspired by that book, Belzoni’s book
to look for another tomb. And of course, he found it,
the tomb of Tutankhamun. Now according to Belzoni,
the tomb he discovered, which was on show in
the Egyptian Hall, was assumed to be or presumed
to be the tomb of Psammis, P-S-A-M-M-I-S. Now, nobody could be sure
because, as I’ve said, nobody could read
the hieroglyphs, not even the Greeks and
Romans could read them. The knowledge was lost, except
to the Egyptians themselves and their priests. So this was guesswork. And the guess had come
from Thomas Young, who’s already been mentioned. Now, Young I don’t probably
need to say much about. Perhaps I can
summarise him by saying I’ve written a biography of
Young called The Last Man Who Knew Everything. Jokingly, but I must
say when I worked on it, I got pretty exhausted even
learning how many subjects he had got involved with. He was foreign secretary
to the Royal Society. He was former professor of
natural philosophy at the RI. And he was a doctor and he
was a physiologist of the eye. And of course, if
you’re a physicist, you know Young’s
slits, very famous. And he was a linguist. He invented the term
Indo-European and really a lot of other things,
including work in life insurance of all things. Quite well paid. Now he was unsure about Psammis
as the name of the pharaoh buried in the tomb. It was a speculation. And when the tomb was
taken, the exhibition was taken to Paris by Belzoni
in 1822, the following year. It’s an interesting fact
that Psammis was not given the name of the
pharaoh in the catalogue. There’s no sign of Psammis. And the reason for that is that
the notes for the catalogue and in fact the whole catalogue
had been written by not Thomas Young and not
Belzoni, but the key figure in this story,
Jean-Francois Champollion. And here he is in later life. Now, in 1822 at the
time of the exhibition, Champollion in France had
made a startling announcement, that he could read
the cartouches of some late Egyptian rulers
like Alexander, Cleopatra, and Ptolemy. But he was not yet confident
of reading the earlier Egyptian rulers before the Greek
period, such as, in quotes, “Psammis.” And obviously the
owner of the tomb was an early Egyptian
ruler, not a late one. So he didn’t identify it. And what happened next
is that Champollion, as we’ll come to in
more detail later, suddenly started
making progress. So after 1822, the decipherment
took off in the 1820s, and soon he was able
to actually come up with the name of the ruler. And it turned out, of the tomb,
to be Setos or Seti the first, who had died, we
now know in 1279 BC. And probably more
famously, his son was Ramses II, Ramses the Great. So we now know that
thanks to Champollion. Now the key, of course,
to the decipherment was the Rosetta Stone. And I’m not showing you the
familiar image of the Rosetta Stone yet, as you
can easily see. This is a model from France. The stone was originally
discovered in 1799 by the French army in Egypt. It’s now in the British Museum. It was captured in Egypt by
the British army in 1801. That is actually
written in English on the side of the stone
if you go and have a look. It’s quite hard to read,
but it is still visible. Now, the copy I’m showing
you is from a French town called for Figeac in
southwestern France on the edge of the
Massif Central. And this model is 100 times
the area of the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum. And it’s made out of black
granite from Zimbabwe by an American conceptual
artist in 1919. And the date is important. Because that’s the
bicentenary of Champollion in Figeac in 1790. So this was created to
celebrate his bicentenary. There’s the street
in which he was born. He was born on the
upper level on the right in one of those rooms up there. And it’s now, the street is
called the Impasse Champollion in his honour. Now I’m not going to say
much about his parents because they didn’t have
much influence on his life. His father was a bookseller. But the crucial figure,
and I will talk about him because he is very important,
is his elder brother of Champollion,
Jacques-Joseph Champollion who was quite a good scholar in
his own right in later years. Jacques-Joseph is
shown here in his 20s. And he was 12 years
older than Jean-Francois. And he effectively
was in loco parentis. He took over and
brought up the boy. I think it’s true,
it’s quite a claim, but without Jacques-Joseph’s
financial and emotional support for Jean-Francois and
also his “savoir faire.” He really was a
practical figure who knew how to get things done. I think nobody would have
heard of Jean-Francois today. The elder brother was
absolutely crucial. And after the younger
brother’s death, the older brother said,
quite movingly, I think, I was, by turns, his father,
his master, and his pupil. And that’s certainly
true from the record. Now, just briefly,
Jacques-Joseph moved to Grenoble
from Figeac in 1798. He took up a job there. And then his younger
brother joined him in 1801 when he was only 11 years old. And he started living in the
same house as his older brother amongst a huge and
growing library of books. Because Jacques-Joseph had very
strong scholarly ambitions. So the young boy was
living there until 1804 when he was 14. And then I have to say the elder
brother insisted for financial reasons, I suspect, that he go
and board in the local lycée which had just been established,
the government school in Grenoble under
Napoleonic law in 1804. And in some ways,
this was a disaster because it was under
military discipline. And there are rather
appalling stories about sort of riots
in the dormitories. And Jean-Francois was fairly
defenceless and much disliked the place, but he had to stay. There is a letter, charming
letter, from him here. You don’t have to read
the details, of course. But this was written to
his brother in 1804 to ’07. And that line says, “Ludolphi
Ethiopica Gramatica.” And that’s a Latin grammar
of the Ethiopic script. And he was requesting
at this early teen age, these various scholarly books. He wanted his brother to
provide them for his research. But there’s a rather nice,
rather piteous PS at the side here. I hope you can see. “Je n’ai pas de boucle
pour mes culotte.” I don’t have any buckles
for my trousers, which gives you a little hint of how
he was living at this time. The misery, it’s probably
not too strong a word, ended in 1807. He was able to come home
and live with his brother again because he was
permitted to study at home. The school allowed
him to do that. And the man who allowed it
was this man, Joseph Fourier, who is an honoured name in
an institution like this. He’s a mathematician and
physicist of real note– the Fourier series. But from our point
of view tonight, it’s not mathematics and
physics that matter, it’s the fact that Fourier had
gone with Napoleon to Egypt in 1799 or 1798. And Fourier was a
key scholar, probably the key scholar with Napoleon. He was Secretary of
the Institute d’Egypt. And when he came back
to France with Napoleon, he took up the editing
of a great volume called the Description de l’Egypte,
which was the government publication based on all the
discoveries made by Napoleon’s soldiers and scholars. That came out over many years. And Fourier was the
editor to begin with. And he was helped in
Grenoble, and this is crucial, unofficially helped by
Jacques-Joseph Champollion and the younger brother who
was helping his elder brother to help Fourier. They did research for
him, although they weren’t acknowledged. But I think that
it’s fair to say it was through this
absolutely hands-on exposure to ancient Egyptian monuments
and drawings and all the things that were brought
back that Jacques-Joseph and Jean-Francois became
passionate about ancient Egypt. So that’s how he got
introduced to it, the young boy or the teenager. Fourier sort of took
him up, as well. And he introduced him to
a Greek Catholic priest who proved quite crucial because
he taught the boy Coptic, guided him anyway. Then Jean-Francois
started teaching himself. And Coptic was thought
to be the language of the late Egyptian period,
or at least related to it. I don’t have time to
say much about Coptic, but the idea was that if
he could learn Coptic, it might help him to understand
late Egyptian inscriptions. So that proved quite fruitful. And Fourier also
sent him to Paris in 1807, which was
hugely important, to study ancient languages. And his professor was
this man Silvestre de Sacy And there’s no time to
speak much about him, but he’s an interesting
character in his own right. He was at the School of
Oriental Languages in Paris. Champollion was his student. And they admired each
other up to a point. But they had also terrible
moments in later life where daggers really are
drawn between de Sacy and Champollion, partly
for political reasons, as I’ll mention later. But also, I think de
Sacy had an ambition to use the Rosetta Stone to
decipher the hieroglyphs. So the student was really
something of a rival. And he didn’t really
encourage him as a result. Now here’s a copy of the stone,
the very first ever done, ever made by lithography
in Cairo in 1800 by French scholars, before it
was captured, needless to say. Now, it can be read through
the Greek translation at the bottom. And as I expect
everyone here knows, the hieroglyphs are at the
top broken, badly broken. Here in the middle is the
Demotic section, which is a later Egyptian script. And the Greek
section is this bit at the bottom, which is
also somewhat broken. And the Greek section
turned out to be readable in alphabetic
script of course. And it was an edict of King
Ptolemy the Fifth epiphanies dated 196 BC. And the really
crucial thing about it is that the Greek states
in the last line, I think, that the three inscriptions
are equivalent in meaning, not exact translations
of each other, but equivalent in meaning. So the Greek was going
to be obviously a clue to reading the other two. And that’s the importance of
the Rosetta Stone, of course. Now, Champollion took
up the study in 1808. He was still very young. And he worked at
it in various ways till 1815 working on
the Rosetta Stone. But he didn’t make
a breakthrough. He made various contributions,
but nothing really got going. And then he abandoned
it for a while. And the reason is
politics, which is always part of his life. Napoleon came back
from Elba in 1815, landed with some soldiers,
came straight to Grenoble. And they must have
gulped loudly, but they opened the gates
and Napoleon came in. And these are the people
welcoming Napoleon, including the Champollion brothers. Jacques-Joseph actually
became Napoleon’s secretary, went with him to Paris. Jean-Fracois was left behind
to edit the government gazette. And on the very day of
the Battle of Waterloo, he rather unwisely wrote
in the government gazette, “Napoleon is our
legitimate prince.” So he suffered. Both of them suffered after
Napoleon’s fall pretty badly. They were exiled from Figeac. They lost their
jobs in Grenoble. And to make matters
worse, de Sacy, who was a Royalist through
and through actually told Thomas Young in a letter,
Thomas Young was in London and de Sacy wrote to him saying
that my former student is a potential plagiarist of your
work and probably a charlatan, he used the word. So things had got pretty bad
for poor old Champollion. Now, Young, I have
to say something about Young and his work. And I’ll try and keep it
as concise as possible. He published a really remarkable
article in the Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1819
simply called “Egypt,” based on his work in London
over the previous four years. And he shows the last
line of the Rosetta Stone in this drawing. And he said I can spot striking
resemblances, as he put it, between the hieroglyphic
symbols at the top and the Demotic underneath. This, of course, is the
Greek on the third line. This is the last slide
of the Rosetta Stone. And if you really study it,
you can see other resemblances. And Young really did study. It was quite clear
he was obsessive. From his papers in the British
Library, you can see that. But there are a lot
of signs in Demotic that do not resemble
hieroglyphs. And he also recognised that. So he speculated that there
was a striking resemblance between certain
corresponding hieroglyphs and the Demotic signs,
but that it was probably a mixed script, Demotic. It was probably imitations
of the hieroglyphs mixed with letters of the
alphabet, to quote Young. But he was unsure. In other words, he was
suggesting a phonetic element in the Demotic script in
addition to a symbolic element. But he was unsure whether
the hieroglyphs also had phonetic elements. As most people did, including
the Greeks and Romans believed they were purely symbolic
without any phonetic signs. So he decided to investigate
that by using an idea of de Sacy’s. De Sacy had actually
suggested, well, let’s look at the Greek
names in the Rosetta Stone– like Ptolemy, that’s
the key name– and see whether we can compare
the hieroglyphic spelling of Ptolemy with
the Greek spelling. Now that, of course, is
the cartouche of Ptolemy. And I can’t go into much
detail for lack of time, but the idea that Young had
is let’s compare the two and see whether we can
give some phonetic values to the signs of the
name “Ptolemaios” as it is spelt in Greek. And I think you can see fairly
easily that the hieroglyphs are on the left from
the name of Ptolemy. Then there’s Young’s suggested
phonetic value in the middle. And then today’s value
accepted by Egyptologists. And he did a fairly good job. He didn’t get it quite right. He then went further. He took another cartouche
of a late Egyptian ruler called Queen Berenice. And he analysed that
in the same way. And then he came up with this
chart in the Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1819. “Sounds?” said Young. He was cautious. Based on the same principle
of comparison with the Greek. And Egyptologists today
recognise that of the signs that he had identified,
six are correct, three are partly correct,
and four are incorrect. So it was a mixed picture. He did even go further than
that, rather remarkably. He compared 80
Demotic words with their hieroglyphic
equivalents translated with the help of the Greek. And you can see here
the cartouche of Ptolemy and here the cartouche
of the Queen Berenice and lots of other words. So he compared the two
and those 80 equivalents are still accepted today. So he was really
making progress. But as ever with Young, he was
distracted by his polymathy. And after 1819, after he
published this great article, he doesn’t make
further progress. He’s doesn’t exactly
abandon ancient Egypt, but he stops making
progress, gets involved with other
things including longitude and problems like that. It’s only in the
late 1820s Young returns to Egypt or to the
study of ancient Egypt. And with, it’s nice to say,
some help from Champollion, despite the fact
they were rivals, Young becomes the decipherer of
Demotic, not the hieroglyphs, of course, which is Champollion. But Demotic is really
Young’s achievement. But that’s later. Now Champollion was having a
pretty bad time still in France while Young was busy in England. He’d returned from Figeac, his
hometown, in 1817 to Grenoble. But the Royalist
authorities in Grenoble were dead set against him. And they later tried
to put him on trial for leading a
rebellion for treason. But the government in Paris
intervened and so he got off. But things were really
bad in 1817 to ’21. He did manage to marry. He married Rosine Blanc, a local
woman, daughter of a glover. And they had a daughter Zoraide. But essentially, he
abandoned ancient Egypt for three or four years. And he thought of becoming first
a teacher just to earn money, and then a notary and
actually giving up entirely the study of Egypt. But there is one
publication from April 1821. It’s a small booklet on the
Egyptian script by Champollion, obviously in French. And unfortunately for him, it
does contain a real blunder. Because he says that
there are no phonetic values in the Demotic
or hieroglyphic signs. He says they stand
for things not sounds. In other words, they’re
symbolic not phonetic. And he knew he’d made a
blunder pretty quickly. And he tried to
withdraw the booklet. And I was amused. Because when I was
writing his biography, I went to the British
Library, which has one of the very few
copies of this booklet, and the French curator
said, I can’t find it. So I thought maybe Champollion’s
ghost has removed it. And then three or
four years later, the curator said when
my paperback came out, well, actually, we’ve
finally found it. So it was just a bit of– it was mislaid in the library. But they’re extremely rare. And that’s because
Champollion was embarrassed. He wanted to get rid of it. And he never refers to
it in his later work. So in July, he’s forced
to leave Grenoble. And he goes really
in despair to Paris and lives with his brother. And he thought maybe that
was the end of his career. But in fact, it turned out to
be the absolutely right thing for him to do. It was a great boon. He lived here in the Rue
Mazarine, number 28, he and his brother and the family. And the Institute de France
is visible in the distance, the dome of it where
the brother was working in the Academy
of Ancient Inscriptions in Belles-Lettres. And there he started to
read Thomas Young’s work, by his own admission. He claimed he hadn’t read
the Encyclopaedia Britannica article until 1821. Possible, but I’m not
totally convinced. But he certainly
admitted reading it in the house in Paris. And he never really admits
what he got out of it. There are hints,
but there are also things that are contradictory. So a great argument starts
between Young and Champollion. And it’s really gone
on for two centuries. Nobody can really
totally say what Young contributed because
Champollion kept quiet among about some things. Maybe they were
his research, maybe it was Young’s ideas
that had prompted him. But he certainly does
make a breakthrough in 1822, the following year. Although it is
reminiscent of Young’s analytical approach with
Ptolemy and Berenice. It involves Cleopatra,
another name from late Egypt, not one of the early
Egyptian rulers. And the clue as to the fact
that this was her cartouche came from an obelisk which
had been brought back by Belzoni from Egypt. And it was brought
back to England. And now, actually,
you can see it still in Dorset in the
garden of a house. And it was published
in 1821 in November. And Champollion must
have seen it soon after that in the
published version. And the really
crucial thing about it is that the obelisk,
the shaft of the obelisk has two cartouches on it. And on the Greek
base block, it’s a bilingual like
the Rosetta Stone, there are two names in
Greek, Ptolemy and Cleopatra. So it was a pretty fair guess
that the second cartouche– well, the first was Ptolemy’s
and the second was Cleopatra’s. So Champollion tried
the same approach of comparing the Egyptian
signs with the Greek alphabetic phonetic values. And he came up with
this analysis– Cleopatra on the left and
Ptolemy’s on the right. And I think you can see pretty
quickly that there are signs in common, which is how it
should be if the system is correctly analysed. But the sign for T
here, the hand sign differs from the
half circle here. So there is a difference. There are two different
signs for the same sound. But Champollion said, well,
that occurs in many languages. It’s known as homophony. And it occurs in
English, for instance, with Jill spelled G-I-L-L or
J-I-L-L or Catherine spelled with a C or with a K. So
it wasn’t an unreasonable speculation that
he’d got it right, although there were two
different signs for the same sound in some cases. Now he went much further and
rather brilliantly looked at this cartouche. That had been brought
back in a drawing by a French architect
who visited Abu Simbel, the temple at Abu Simbel. And Champollion looked at this
in September 1822 in Paris and he said I can read the signs
on the right, the two hooks. They are the S from Ptolemaios. There’s no doubt about that. Then he said I think I can read
the sign on the left, which is the circle with the dot. It looks like the sun. And the Coptic for
sun was ra or re. So he thought of the idea it
started “re” and ended “S-S.” And at some point the
idea occurred to him that maybe this
was the cartouche of an early Egyptian
ruler Ramses. Nobody knew a damn thing
about Ramses in 1822 except that he appeared in a
Greek Ptolemeic historian’s chronicle of
ancient Egypt, a man called Manetho, a famous priest. And so Champollion
was aware of that. And he thought well Ramses must
have been a historical figure. I’ll take a chance. Maybe this is Ramses’
cartouche from Abu Simbel. And he then took another
step which is much more difficult to understand. But the sign in the
middle, he said, I’ve seen that
sign in the middle with the hook sign
in the Rosetta Stone where it is translated
into Greek as “genethlia.” And “genethlia”
means give birth. And the Coptic for “genethlia”
is “mise,” M-I-S-E. So maybe he speculated this
is the sign for M or MS. Now we can see that as
wishful thinking in a way. But he turned out he was right. This is the cartouche of Ramses. And supposedly on the 14th of
September 1822 Champollion, Jean-Francois goes
around his brother in the Institute
of France, slaps the papers at noon on his desk. He says, [SPEAKING FRENCH]. “I’ve done it. Eureka.” Collapses on the floor. And his elder brother
is quite fearful he’s had a stroke and
even possibly died. But it turns out
he’s just dog tired. He goes home, he rests. And five days later, he gives a
really important speech, which is probably the most
important speech he ever gave, published later as the “Lettre
a Monsieur Dacier” a month later in October. And in this letter,
Champollion claims to read the alphabetic
hieroglyphs, as he calls them, of the Greek and
Roman rulers of Egypt. He doesn’t claim that he can
read the early Egyptian names. And in fact, Ramses is not
mentioned in the letter. It’s only later he starts to
convince himself that he can read much more of the script. There’s a table of phonetic
signs in the letter, very famous in Egyptology,
“Tableau Des Signes Phonetique.” But you can see there are many
separate symbols for one sign here. The Greek sigma,
for instance, there are lots of hieroglyphic
symbols, all very different. So this is the Demotic here. He hasn’t cracked it, but
he’s made some progress. And he signed himself,
very proudly, “Champollion” in phonetic Egyptian, which
gives you some idea of his sense of humour and, of
course, his pride in his work. And this is finally him
before he becomes famous. He’s holding the “Tableau Des
Signes Phonetique.” in 1823. And it’s a famous portrait. Now his career really
takes off, in a sense. He becomes
internationally known. He’s taken up by
the King of France through the Duke of Blacas,
who is a loyal friend. And the King appoints
him as curator of Egyptian antiquities,
the very first one at the Louvre in Paris in 1826. And then his life’s
dream comes true. The King says I will fund you
to go to Egypt as an expedition. We will give half the money
and the ruler of Tuscany will give the other half. And you will be accompanied
by Ippolito Rosellini, who was the second in command,
a Tuscan scholar who was a great admirer of Champollion. Well, as I say, his
dream came true. He landed at Alexandria
in August 1828. He was given boats by
the pasha of Egypt. And the expedition,
it’s a wonderful story. Sailed up the Nile right up
to the second cataract or just short of it, beyond Abu Simbel. And all the way
they were stopping to look at these monuments
and inscriptions. And Champollion
was in his element because he was able
to start reading them for the first time
since antiquity. Nobody had been able to
do it for 2,000 years. And then they turned
the boat around, they sailed all the way back,
and they stopped at other sites on the way back,
including Thebes. And it was, in effect, a
vindication of his system. There were many
problems, but it worked. It was very obvious. There’s a painting of
the expedition here. It gives you a bit of an
idea of the atmosphere. Here is Champollion looking
like a Bedouin with a sword. And he was speaking
fluent Arabic. So he could have probably
passed as a Bedouin. This is Rosellini standing
with white and red. And they were close to each
other as people as well as scholars. There’s a portrait– sorry,
a little drawing Champollion did of the tomb
of Ramses IV where they stayed for six
months in the coolness to get away from the sun. And it’s rather
charming because it shows all the beds
of the expedition, including “moi” for himself. And Rosellini is opposite. And then there’s
a little portrait of the cat’s bed and
the gazelle’s bed. And at the top is
the sarcophagus of Ramses, probably my– I’m missing it. Yeah, so the sarcophagus
was brooding over them as they were living in the tomb. And sometimes Champollion he
was so excited he would collapse on the floor with the
sheer drama of what he was experiencing,
translating these inscriptions. And he even left some graffiti. You can see it today in Karnak. He used the old family
spelling, Champoleon, of his name, which
Napoleon rather admired. He said he has half of my name. It’s a good sign. So there’s a bit of Champollion
we can enjoy even today. He returned to Paris in
1829 at the end of the year. He’d been away for a year. Now his system was sort
of proven, but not fully. And he really had
to work damn hard in the years that remained
to him to try and organise his papers and get
some publications out. But I’m afraid he didn’t
have long to live. In 1831, he was appointed
the world’s first professor of Egyptology at the
College de France, but his health was really
deteriorating, probably due to diseases he’d
picked up in Egypt. In late 1831, he definitely
suffered a stroke. And he continued to
work a bit longer on his grammar,
Egyptian grammar, with his brother, his
ever-loyal brother. And then he gave it
to Jacques-Joseph with the following words. He said, “look after it. I hope it will be my
visiting card to posterity.” Soon he could no longer speak. And in March 1832,
he was only 41, apparently, according to his
family, that night on the 3rd of March, he let out a groan. And they heard him
say what they thought was in French, “now for
the afterlife, onto Egypt, onto Thebes,” which is where
he felt he really belonged. Now, I’ll finish with that,
which I’m sure you’ll recognise the cartouche of Tutankhamun
discovered by Howard Carter a century after Champollion. His legacy took awhile
to be established. As I just said, long
after his death, people were still arguing
about it, in fact. It took until the 1860s
before it was really accepted. But we can use it to
read Tutankhamen today. And I’ll try and do
that quickly for you. This is a phonetic
sign, T-U-T, tut. That’s a symbol ankh,
the hooked cross. So that’s “tut” “ankh.” Then the god’s name,
Amun, is at the top. That’s a phonetic symbol. And then a biconsonantal
sign, “amun.” And that’s a phonetic
complement for N, to emphasise the N in
the biconsonantal sign. And at the bottom,
this is crucial, these are three
symbols meaning ruler of Heliopolis of upper
Egypt, i.e. ruler of Thebes. So there is no phonetic
symbols at all at the bottom. So it’s a mixed script,
just like the Demotic. Phonetic values and
symbolic values or logograms as we call them now,
signs for words. And so Champollion
had got it right. He said in 1824 ahead of any
other scholar in the world, he said hieroglyphic
writing is a complex system, a script all at once
figurative, symbolic, and phonetic in one and
the same text, in one and the same sentence. And I might even venture
in one and the same word. And I really will finish
now by just saying, to me this is not– I mean, it’s absolutely
essential to Egyptologists. But to me the story of
the cracking of this code is fascinating for
another reason. Because it did require a
polymath, Thomas Young, and it did require a specialist,
Champollion, to crack the code. Without this
combination, I don’t think it would have
been solved, or at least not for a long time. The broad mind of
Young in 1814 to ’18 really does have
certain insights which are totally
invaluable to Champollion, whether he admitted it or not. And Champollion failed at
that time, right up to 1821. But then after 1821, he took
Young’s insights probably, and then his narrow focus,
his tunnel vision took over. And that was really what took
the decipherment forward. So I think it’s
fair to say that you need the broad vision of
Young and the fanatical focus of Champollion for this
revolutionary insight which Champollion alone
announced in the 1820s. Thank you. [APPLAUSE]

66 thoughts on “Cracking Ancient Codes: Egyptian Hieroglyphs – with Andrew Robinson

  1. Egyptian Hieroglyphs

    RI Lecture by Andrew Robinson

  2. Finally RI and the British Elites are confessing the TRUTH in world history. NONE OF THE SO CALLED ANCIENT EGYPTIAN WRITINGS / HIEROGLYPHS COULD BE INTERPRETED or DECIPHERED by White europeans and or their colleagues. Great work Andrew Robinson.

  3. This could be condensed to five minutes, if he just talked about the translating of the hieroglyphics, and skipped all the superfluous tangents.

  4. I rarely comment negatively on videos because there seems little point but that was shambolic and tedious. Just how does the fact that Champollion's wife's father was a glove-maker impact the deciphering of Egyptian scripts? Had less time been spent on such pointless diversions there might have been less cause to apologise (on three or four occasions?) for the lack of time…
    Given that the premise of these lectures was the cracking of ancient codes, or as Irving Finkel pointed out more prosaically but accurately the deciphering of ancient languages and scripts this 40 minutes actually seems to gloss over both Champollion's methods and the extent of his eventual achievement. Absurdly so when those very things are set out quite cogently in his _Précis_. It also seems perverse, given how instrumental the Rosetta Stone was, not to show us an example of how the texts were found to correlate or even a reasonable gimps of the inscriptions themselves, only a view of the stele. An opportunity mostly wasted.

  5. It must burn the English that it was a Frenchman who ultimately cracked the hieroglyphic code, but it must burn the French that the English kept the Rosetta Stone. And Egyptians? They're just burned.

  6. RI please start reserving the top comment so I’m not inflicted with bias before I get a chance to watch the lecture

  7. Thank you for answering that critical question that has been tearing at our minds for decades: What did Champollion's childhood street look like?

  8. Really well done. I've studied a lot about the subject and knew the basic story well. I, for one, really appreciated all the so-called tangents; they really made the context clear and the story richer. Informative and great fun. Thank you.

    Some folks, learning this for the first time without much background, could benefit from going to Wikipedia or the local library to get up to speed, then return here.

  9. This video was looking good for the first 15 mins and then it went downhill for several reasons.
    The title is `Cracking Ancient Codes: Egyptian Hieroglyphs ` when there is only some vague references to Coptic, being the last stage of the Egyptian language and still practiced by Coptic Egyptians today.

    Shouldn't you focus more on the actual Coptic language itself, the whole video was just focusing on Young, ok he is a respected scientist, the whole video seemed to be Brits vs Frechies..

    Young did not decipher the hieroglyphics, he attempted to via mathematics, but failed due to the complexities… the rest of the video seemed negative towards Champollion, considering he actually did decipher the hieroglyphics, he was taught the language by a Coptic Egyptian.

    Better video on the topic:

    Thirdly as an Egyptologist, you should protest the sale of the Christie's auction loot that recently occurred:

  10. its really a simple accomplishment that was going to be learned given time. it prolly wasnt a 100 people that even tried to figure it out . less than that had access ti the rosetta stone.

  11. The unsung heroes of Egyptology are the Arab scholars, whose intelligence first read Egyptian Hieroglyphs. The French and the English were ungrateful students, as usual.

  12. This video somehow began auto-playing on my laptop due to being related to another video I was watching, and my first thought was "Hmm, I'm surprised to see Bill Gates discussing Egyptian hieroglyphs!'' I'm sure I wasn't the only one :p

  13. It would be fair to say that Young began by using an Egyptian demotic alphabet of 29 letters built up by Johan David Åkerblad in 1802. Many people worked on this at that time in Europe. And only Champollion was able to find the right solution thanks to his knowledge of the coptic language used by Christians in Egypt. The fact that it hurts british pride, since the Rosetta stone was taken to the French to be sent in England, will not change History. Especially since all these discoveries came from the strong interest of Napoleon in science. Ancient Egypt had been ignored by everybody else before for 2000 years, especially by muslim rulers who hated the idea that Egypt had other gods much before.

  14. What do you think about the reconstruction of the pronunciation ? Mainstream egyptology considers it to be either impossible or not worth the trouble. But some egyptologists or linguists say , that it is possible to get a fairly plausible reconstructed pronunciation in the light of new linguistic researches. ( My primary interest is the reconstruction of the spoken language and I am very frustrated by mainstream egyptology literature that gives a consonant-only transliteration , ignoring the work of those who try to reconstruct a plausible vocalised pronunciation . )

  15. I guess it's my fault for watching on the phone without an ad blocker, but when your science lecture is interrupted by ads its quite disheartening; especially for a prestigious outfit like RI. Has everything simply devolved into a shameless money grab? Is RI that hard up now?

  16. Very interesting talk, but rather less about "deciphering" and more just biography. I was hoping for some detail there, what are the steps in actually doing this? Irving Finkel was the same on cuneiform, biography rather than details on how to translate an unknown language.

  17. Kind of like asking Vinnie if Dimebag likes my Handwriting and if He could create pictographic Books that translate Icons into French : QC

  18. I find it interesting the Egyptians could not read there own hieroglyphs and had no knowledge at all about the Giza Pyramids then came up with a the Pyramid Tomb theory that is refuted because no Pyramids in Egypt were found to be tombs ?

    The Queens and Kings chambers were fictionally named why is the big question ?

    The Physical rain erosion on the Sphinx destroys everything the Egyptians say about the Sphinx ?

    The vast erosion must have come when the heavy rain occurred 10,000 years ago before the Egyptians were there !

    All the Kings tombs are found in the Valley of the Kings yet they came up with fiction to explain why the Giza pyramids were built perhaps because they do not themselves understand why the pyramids were built for ????

    The Giza Plateu was leveled before the Pyramids were built , when this started is a good question as no one knows for sure ?

    Why were they build and who really picked the location first to carve the Sphinx is quite a mystery !

    No Hieroglyphs were in any of the 3 Giza pyramids or paintings except badly done on one spot that said King Kuafu after the Egyptians finally got inside and is suspect evidence for dating the pyramids ?

    Every bit of what the Egyptians said is suspect after so much false information was given by Egyptian authorities of Archeology !

    It 2019 and we still do not understand why the Giza Pyramids were even built and by whom is a mystery also because the dates given are not reliable and you cannot date rock yet no Giza Pyramid building information is in the Egyptian recorded works they have for other monuments of Statues ?

    The modern investigations have rendered all textbooks false as tombs and dates are not correct assumptions by the Egyptians at all !

    Not recording the Pyramid building at Giza throws doubt on who actually built the pyramids at Giza as these are by far more perfect than other Egyptian pyramids ?

  19. Trying some words only is vain for a complex meaning, there is no traduction as we think. its more like many levels of understanding. "Donnation to gods" is just the first level for example. We need to associate numerology, symbols etc…Champollion school is ending ! The knowlege about history we gain is short, and even partially wrong. Translate this in a modern langage is not very usefull in that way.

  20. Superb presentation Andrew. If you are reading this, what would be the most sacred or beautiful Hieroglyphs? For example, in English "as above so below" is considered wise and has a deep meaning, etc.

  21. This is quite a story and glad to hear it told with this much detail. Champollion's name is probably known to many people with a passing knowledge of Egyptology–but great to hear this fleshed out like this and learn what a true hero is is in deciphering one of the mysteries of the ages.

  22. Sometimes even on youtube we can find interesting speech reconstructions. One of my favorites is this :

  23. I have four questions about the size of the universe before the Big Bang that created the universe
    Is the universe the size of the proton?
    Was it the size of the quark or the length of Planck?
    The second question is about the existence of time and the size of the universe
    When did the time stop when the size of the universe was proton or quark or Length of Planck?
    The third question about the length of Planck and the size of the universe before the Big Bang
    How do energy molecules appear if the size of the universe equals Planck's length?

    The fourth question is about why the universe expanded
    How does the universe expand if the size of our universe equals the length of Planck, quark or proton?
    Why did the universe expand when it was equal to the length of planck, proton or quark?
    Please send my four questions to cosmologists and physicists
    We hope the team of the physics lab to search for scientific evidence of the origin of the universe


  24. " Polishing the egos' of Royal Institution scholars that contributed a small part in the deciphering of Egyptian texts"'
    Thank you Britons' for giving us Vyse the forger. Mention should have been made of Birches work.

  25. "no one knows how to read it"????
    Speak for yourself.

    I already did…
    The spheres above there heads was what they called "god heads".
    The planets they're thought were in….

    The planets they're thought were in….

    If they had a bird head then it was that person's job to explain the sky gods.

    Everyone understood the meaning of life was to understand the meaning of life back then.
    So everyone in that kingdom was all of the smartest from all over the world.

    This is why all of today's cities in Egypt have roots from many other cultures languages.

    Egyptian is neat , you have to read it left to right, right to left, upside ward, and upside down.

    Then if you read it in a mirror….. well you know.. I am crazy so why feed any belief systems (death in life)any further?
    It is only harmful to all involved.

    There is a great secret in the great pyramid.

    "They" the "sages"/ "magi"/"divine order" /arrogant one's/selfish one's KNOW what i am talking about……….

  26. Very interesting. I didn't know the fact that Egyptian writing was forgotten for 2,000 yrs. But how can it happen that the language of the whole nation was forgotten? There sure must have been someone who kept it alive. It's like forgetting English now.

  27. Great mind, who almost does not connect to or need his body. Don't think he ever kicked a football or climbed a tree. In the future we can harvest theese minds and put them in a jar connected to the internet

  28. This guy managed to put even an Egyptology history buff to sleep. So boring. It's like he intentionally rambled on. Insisting on throwing irrelevant superfluous redundant sentences at the end of every other sentence in order to fill time. Never have I wanted to yell "get to the point" more at my computer screen. Gives scholars a bad name. Watch Irving Finkel to see how someone who's actually knowledgeable and intelligent get's it done. History can be interesting and engaging and unfortunately this man does it upmost to make it the opposite.

  29. For more on decipherment see the works of Dr. Bob Brier of LIU or Dr. Marc Zender of Tulane University. They are major scholars in this field.

  30. This report does for Viking age runes what the Rosetta stone did for Egyptian hieroglyphics. I have discovered a dictionary that allows me to read and write in Viking age runes known as Elder Futhark as an ideogram. Please look at, 'The Log of the Kensington Runestone' on 'You Tube', for an introduction to my discovery. This show has been seen in over 37 countries to date. People have been sending me inscriptions from their locals and I have found I can read a number of them. Stories from over six centuries ago are now readable. Email ([email protected]) for a copy of my report. Do you want to read the runes in your area ?

  31. Your story is unstructured, images used are very unattractive and tell hardly anything extra to your silly facts put on a shelve using archeology and early Egyptologists work means…error, error, error. While listening to an unattractive voice horsing around with facts not even scholars to this topic would find useful. Sorry to say, but you are a perfect example of a teacher or professor that will not have successful students in this field. Chaotic evidence to a chaotic way of presentation. I seriously have no good words I could hand you. TRY AGAIN or keep the stage free for people doing a better job on explaining and teaching.

  32. Well uh and uhh followed by uh and then another uh. What the Uh.
    What’s does the hieroglyph for ‘uh’ look like?

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