Prior to February Recess, some of our 4th grade students shared time with a hieroglyphics expert who added some layers of context and understanding to their ongoing study of Egypt and ancient Egyptian cultures.
Hallie Metzger, a professor with degrees from Barnard College and Yale University, studied Latin at the Vatican, then learned hieroglyphics when she taught ancient history. She used overhead projections to share the story of the Rosetta Stone, from its original discovery by French soldiers in Egypt 1799 to Jean-François Champollion’s initial decoding of hieroglyphs in 1822.
Students viewed the three distinct scripts featured on the Rosetta Stone:
Hieroglyphics—the script used for important or religious documents
Demotic—a common script of Egypt at the time and
Greek—the language of the Egyptian rulers at that time.
Metzger then described how Champollion was able to crack the code of the Rosetta Stone—he could read both Greek and Coptic script and was able to determine the Coptic equivalents to several demotic signs!
By looking at how these signs were used in Coptic, he was able to work out what they stood for. Then he began tracing these demotic signs back to hieroglyphic symbols. By working out what some hieroglyphs stood for, he could make educated guesses about what the other hieroglyphs stood for and essentially deciphered the stone for all humanity!
Metzger then distributed activity sheets and led the students through an exercise of deciphering a series of hieroglyphs based on a limited number of known variables, just the way Champollion did almost 200 years ago.
While students worked, Metzger answered various questions pertaining to ancient Egypt and hieroglyphs and shared a number of texts focusing on the topic, including a copy of the ancient Book of Dead.
Many thanks to Hallie Metzger for her recent visit to our 4th grade to help ancient history come alive!