Hieroglyphics timeline

Hieroglyphs have an interesting and rich history all of their own. From the first symbols appearing over 5,000 years ago, right through to discoveries which we are still making even today!



The earliest hieroglyphic symbol systems develop in the second half of the 4th millennium BC, examples are items such as clay labels of a Predynastic ruler called "Scorpion I".

33rd Century BC

Narmer Palette

The Narmer palette depicts the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the king generally recognised as the first king of Dynastic Egypt, Narmer. The palette is an excellent example of early hieroglyphs.

31st Century BC

First sentance

The earliest example of a full sentence written in hieroglyphs so far discovered dates from a seal impression found in the tomb of Seth-Peribsen at Umm el-Qa'ab.

27th century BC

Hieratic script

Hieratic script probably existed alongside hieroglyphics as early as the first Dynasty, however by 1814 BC at the end of the reign of Amenemhat III the system was standardised, and horizontal writing was adopted as standard.

1814 BC


Exactly when papyrus began to be mass produced and widely used for writing is unclear, although we are certain that it was in use by 2550BC, thanks to documents found in 2012 which date to the end of the reign of Pharaoh Khufu.

2550 BC

Demotic script

Around 650 BC, Demotic script, a derivative of hieratic comes into wide usage. Traditional hieroglyphs are becomming less common.

650 BC


By the 4th century, few Egyptians were capable of reading hieroglyphs. Monumental use of hieroglyphs ceased after the closing of all non-Christian temples in 391 by the Roman Emperor Theodosius I; the last known inscription is from the temple of Philae.

391 AD

Decipherment attempts begin

As early as the 5th century, scholars began to try to understand hieroglyphs again. One of the best known examples from Antiquity is Hieroglyphica by Horapollo, which offers an explanation of almost 200 glyphs.

5th century

Rosetta stone discovered

In 1799 Napoleons troops discovered the Rosetta stone during the expedition to Egypt. As the stone presented a hieroglyphic and a demotic version of the same text in parallel with a Greek translation, it was thought that a translation was now possible.


Thomas Young

Thomas Young published a partial alphabet and also made some correct (and incorrect) guesses for groups of words in 1819, but he never took it much further.


Champollion cracks the code

In 1822 the Frenchman Jean-François Champollion, Finally cracked the code, once he realised that the hieroglyphs were not simply pictograms.