Funerary stela of Renefseneb, Middle Kingdom


Champollion's decipherment unlocked 3000 years of Egyptian written texts, but this was only the beginning of 'reading' Ancient Egypt. Written language is part of the cultural 'code', as subtle and complex as any code for writing secret messages. Over 3000 years, the language changed, as did its social and historical context, and different versions of the language and script were used for different purposes (as is true today). Hieroglyphs were reserved for monumental and ritual purposes, as seen on this funerary stela recording an invocation for offerings to be made for the deceased. Other more everyday texts, ranging from letters complaining about the behaviour of relatives, to medical and mathematical treatises and ritual texts, were written in more cursive scripts.