The problem with storage of texts in ancient Egypt

Take a look at the image below and
translate into English



So what does it mean?

Now if you have a mind that works like 98% of the population, and assuming that you don’t know where I am leading with this, you will take a look at these shapes and have the idea that each one is equivalent to one of our words.

And that is exactly what was thought for maybe 1000 years until the Rosetta Stone came along and was eventually recognised as a stone containing the same text in three different scripts (Ancient Egyptian, Demotic and Ancient Greek).

Now I am not going to try to explain exactly what hieroglyphics mean, but here is a very rough approximation.  Each set of hieroglyphics might consist of several shapes representing sounds, followed by a shape representing the word that has just been set out as the sound.

Which is what caused the problem – but because earlier scholars assumed that each shape was a word they were never able to get anywhere near a translation.

That mistaken assumption (at least according to what I was told) led to the stone inscription being seen as incomprehensible.

I thought of this because I went to see the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum last week. There was, as always, a huge crowd around it – and it is not surprising to learn that it is the most visited object in the whole museum.

But I managed to get close for a few moments and see the old block once again.  And I have to admit I couldn’t make head nor tale of any of it.

However I did learn something new. The decree that it carries was issued in Memphis – not the Memphis Tennessee that Chuck Berry sang about but the one in Egypt which is one of the most important locations in the country and is preserved as a World Heritage site.

And just to show that I was paying attention to the guide, here’s the word Memphis in hieroglyphics



So quite clearly not just one symbol for the town, but a spelling out of the word.

But, I hear you ask, what does all this have to do with the type of storage that Admiral Document Storage goes in for – the storage primarily of paper?

Well, on looking at the Rosetta Stone I was just relieved that I wasn’t running a storage facility in ancient Egypt.  Apart from the fact that I don’t really fancy being answerable to King Ptolemy V, I also don’t really like the idea of having priests and court acolytes coming along with whacking great stones and asking me to look after them.

Let me add one more point.  Even after the other two copies of the decree were recognised as the same text in two languages, it took another 20 years for the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics to be translated. And that was all because of the assumption that each symbol was a word.

Which makes me think: don’t make assumptions. As in don’t assume all document storage facilities are all the same.  They are not.  Some (like Admiral) have much easier access to your stored papers than others. You can go into your private area, inspect, add, and remove papers, and then leave.  It is all simple.

Of course, this is not something that the Egyptians can now do. They’ve been pressing for the return of the Rosetta Stone for many years, but I can’t see the British Museum giving it up.

Which just goes to show. It is always worth storing things in the right place.

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