The ancient Egyptians believed that writing was invented by the god Thoth and called their hieroglyphic script "mdwt ntr" (god's words). The word hieroglyph comes from the Greek hieros (sacred) plus glypho (inscriptions) and was first used by Clement of Alexandria.
The earliest known examples of writing in Egypt have been dated to 3,400 BC. The latest dated inscription in hieroglyphs was made on the gate post of a temple at Philae in 396 AD.
The hieroglyphic script was used mainly for formal inscriptions on the walls of temples and tombs. In some inscriptions the glyphs are very detailed and in full colour, in others they are simple outlines. For everyday writing the hieratic script was used.
After the Emperor Theodsius I ordered the closure of all pagan temples throughout the Roman empire in the late 4th century AD, knowledge of the hieroglyphic script was lost until the early 19th century, when a French man named Jean-Francois Champollion (1790-1832) managed to decipher the script.
• Possibly pre-dates Sumerian Cuneiform writing - if this is true, the Ancient Egyptian script is the oldest known writing system. Another possibility is that the two scripts developed at more or less the same time.
• The direction of writing in the hieroglyphic script varied - it could be written in horizontal lines running either from left to right or from right to left, or in vertical columns running from top to bottom. You can tell the direction of any piece of writing by looking at the way the animals and people are facing - they look towards the beginning of the line.
• The arrangement of glyphs was based partly on artistic considerations.
• A fairly consistent core of 700 glyphs was used to write Classical or Middle Egyptian (ca. 2000-1650 BC), though during the Greco-Roman eras (332 BC - ca. 400 AD) over 5,000 glyphs were in use.
• The glyphs have both semantic and phonetic values....