The word was used in many English sources right at the end of the 1500s, all in reference to the strange unknown Egyptian letters. Uses include a book on heraldry in 1585 by John Fern and in the English translation of the Nicolay’s Navigations Turkey. The Frenchman had travelled and saw the hieroglyphics in a large obelisk. John Florio’s Italian dictionary also gives a definition of an Italian word as “hieroglyph, mystical or enigmatical letters or ciphers used among the Egyptians”.
For a long time the written language used by the Egyptians was unknown, something in code, without the key. It was only in 1799 that the code was found – probably the most important translation the world has ever seen – The Rosetta Stone. This stone carried inscriptions in 3 languages – hieroglyphics, Demotic and Greek. With a great deal of work, this stone was used as the key to open up the language of the Egyptians. The stone was originally located in a temple. As the temple was no longer used, the good stones found another use as building material in a fort. The coincidences of history meant that it was found by a soldier in the French army. The French army was then beaten by the British, meaning that the Rosetta Stone found its way into the British Museum where it is now located.
And the combination of French and English continued, with crucial work done by an Englishman Thomas Young who made the initial discoveries. This was then continued by a Frenchman Jean-Francois Champollion. The discovery made it possible for modern scientific studies of Egypt to start in earnest.
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