Development of hieroglyphic writing

Egyptian hieroglyphs

Egyptian hieroglyphs were a formal writing system used by the ancient Egyptians that combined logographic and alphabetic elements.

Hieroglyph Evolution DataEdit

Looking at some of the ancient objects found at for instance Hierakonpolis it may be interesting to find examples of the oldest form of hieroglyphs and see how they are used. We are looking at examples of interest in relationship to Architecture.

Note: this is not meant to be a complete list of hieroglyphs, please refer to the Resources link at the bottom for sites that offer more.


Please list the following:

  • Name,
  • Date,
  • notation,
  • known meaning,
  • if made into an object like the Ankh and size.



I'm not entirely sure but the falcon on top of the serekh often seems to hold something in one of its claws. Sometimes it looks like an ankh, sometimes it looks more line a twig. In this example it looks more like an ankh. This artefact is a vessel fragment with the name of king Aha (first dynasty). The other image shows a similar scene but here the bird (falcon) does not seem to be grabbing an ankh, but some other object.

Egyptologists do not have a commonly agreed upon theory about the origins of the ankh. Over the years several theories have been put forth. Below is a list of some of the proposed origins of the ankh:

  • A union of the male and female. (Thoman Inman, 1869)
  • The belt buckle of the mother goddess Isis. Similar to the Tyet symbol (also known as the Isis Knot). (Sir Wallis Budge, and later Westendorf)
  • A sandal strap where the loop is the part wrapping around the ankle. (Sir Alan Gardiner)
  • The sun crowning over the horizon.
  • The path of the sun from east to west (with the loop representing the Nile)
  • A stylized person
  • A combination of the male and female symbols of Osiris (the cross) and Isis (the oval) respectively, and therefore signifies the union of heaven and Earth.

More on Wikipedia w:Ankh.

C-Series: Anthropomorphic DeitiesEdit

C4 & C5: KhnumEdit


"Khnum (Khenmew, Khnemu, Khenmu, Chnum), from the Egyptian 'unite', 'join' or 'build', was an ancient deity of fertility, water and the great potter who created children and their ka at their conception.... inundation and silt. Sometimes he was shown with four ram heads, aligning him with the sun god Re, the air god Shu, the earth god Geb and Osiris, lord of the dead. In his four headed form, he was known as Sheft-hat."

Source: Tour Egypt: Khnum, Potter God of the Inundation Silt and Creation by Caroline Seawright

D-Series: Parts of the bodyEdit

D24 & D25; edge, lip; both lipsEdit


Note that another depiction shows 2 arc'd lines filled with segments, not as shown here

D28 & D29Edit

Tuthmosis offering at Karnak
Statue of Hor Auibre from the 13th dynasty

D28 is a logogram representing the Ka. It could also be used as a determinant for the Ka. D29 is purely a logogram used to represent the Divine Ka. The direction and precise position of the arms is not known. Some have seen D28 as representing an embrace, while others see it as a gesture of praise or even defensive in nature.

The ka represents a soul or spirit and was part of any human being. In some depictions the ka was created right along with the person by the god Khnum on his potter's weel.

The term ka also appears in the ancient name for the city Memphis (or at least its great temple): Hut-ka-Ptah which means "House of the ka of Ptah". [1]

D34 & D34aEdit


Arms holding a shield and an axe. This is a logogram meaning to fight (`h3).


means to fight.

D37, D39; derepEdit

Tuthmosis III shown offering. This gesture is shown in D39.

D37 and D39 was a determinant meaning to offer. D37 shows an arm and hand offering a stylized loaf of bread. D39 shows an arm and hand with an offering jar. [1] (there are many styles of jars)

D40; derEdit


Arm with "stick of power"
D40 is der, or ṭer, "to destroy", for example "remit a tax"




D50 and D50aEdit


One finger represented the number 10,000. Two fingers stood for accurate or precise.

I-Series: Amphibious Animals, Reptiles, etc.Edit

I9, I10 and I11:Edit


The first glyph is a horned adder and is used to reresent the letter f. It means he, him or his in some constructions. His son would be written as:


I10 and I11 depict cobras and represent D and DD respectively. The word for eternity is Dt


I12 and I13Edit


These cobras represent the uraeus and Buto respectively. The Nebty name of a Pharaoh is always listed with the G16 glyph whiuch seems to contain I13 as a component:


Nekhbet, the vulture goddess, represents Upper Egypt and Wadjet, the cobra goddess represents Lower Egypt.

I14 and I15Edit


M-Series: Trees and PlantsEdit

M3: Branch; khetEdit

Ebony Label(tag) of possession of King Den w:Den (pharaoh).
(Note: Size variation of some hieroglyphs: "Lion-forepart"-
and "branch")

Phonetic value khet (from "khet", wood).[2] A determinative for objects made-of or related to wood.

M4: "Year"-symbol—bald palm panicleEdit

variants: M5, M6, M7:

M4: Pronounced renpet. From w:Palermo Stone time.

N-Series: Sky, Earth & WaterEdit

N1: Sky; HeavenEdit


Pronounced pet the sky hieroglyph represents the heavens. This glyph was sometimes decorated with stars. The sky goddess Nut was sometimes depicted in a pose that reminds us of the sky sign[1].

N2 and N3: Night, DarknessEdit


Both N2 and N3 could be used as logograms or determinants representing night or darkness.

N5 and N6: SunEdit


In some depictions the sun disk is shown with a uraeus on both sides. In the depictions of the sun disk as the Aten, the disk with its rays often has a uraeus depicted attached to the bottom center of the disk. The disk is related to the worship of Horus, Re, and later Amun-Re. [1] They could both be used as a logogram or a determinant. N5 may have had a slightly broader meaning. Its meaning may have included time, day, hour, and to rise.

N7: "The course of a day"Edit


An abbreviation of the word "the course of the day"

N8: Sunshine, to shine; "The people of the Sun"Edit

the Aten shown above Akhenaten and Nefertiti
The Aten was the sun god depicted as a solar disk.

The N8 hieroglyph is closely related to N5 and N6. They all represent the sun. [1]

N14: StarEdit


The star is sometimes known as seba. Stars played an important role in the development of the Egyptian calendar. The image of the five pointed star appears on ceilings of tombs and temples. There are for instance examples of the goddess Nut depicted with a dress covered with stars. The goddess Seshat's symbol involved a star. [1] N14 could also stand for dwa (dua). It was part of the title duat netjer, which is often translated as divide adoratrix and referred to a priestess of Amun.

N16, N17 : Land, Earth, EternityEdit

(Lord (of the) Two Lands)
Phonetically: ta. These glyphs represent land, earth and eternity. One of the main titles of the king was Lord of the Two Lands which was neb tawy in egyptian. The hieroglyphics were a basket (for Neb)
and usually two copies of N17 (or N16) to represent the Two Lands (tawy) - i.e. Upper and Lower Egypt. The female version of the title Nebettawy was written almost the same, except for an extra breadloaf
, pronounced t, to indicate a female form.

N18: Island, Horizon, DesertEdit


N20: SandbankEdit


Phonetically stands for Wedjeb or Udjeb (wDb) and is the determinant for the term sandbank.

N22: Sandbag, Land, FieldEdit


Determinant for sandbag, land or field.

N25: Foreign Land, Desert, Desert Land, "Land of Retjen"Edit

Determinant and logogram representing foreign land, desert and desert land. The title of the King's Son of Kush (Viceroy) was for instance written sa nsw n Ksh
, where Kush is written with the N25 determinant.

N26: MountainEdit


Phonetically N26 stands for Dju (Dw) and it represents a logogram of a mountain.

N27: Horizon, AkhetEdit


Double cartouche of the names of the Aten showing 3 references to the horizon.

N27 is a logogram representing the horizon. The horizon appears in the official names of the sungod Aten.


The second version being a later form of the name of the Aten, representing the elimination of names of old deities.

Interesting is that in the name of Khufu's pyramid Akhet is written "phonetically":
The bird is a crested ibis and represents the idea of spirit. Here akhet is formed by the glyphs for the crested ibis, the horizon, and the bread loaf (making it a female word?). The natural question would be: does this akhet represent the same idea as the akhet represented by the sun disk emerging from a hill? [3]

N28: Crown, Hill of the SunriseEdit

Cartouches of Ramesses II in Luxor, with the title Son of Re, Lord of Crowns.
("Lord of Risings")

One of the standard titles of the pharaoh was "sa Re neb khau" which is sometimes translated to "Son of Re, Lord of Horizons"


I have also seen it translated as "Lord of Crowns" or "Lord of Diadems"

N29: HillEdit

Stela of Qa'a - 1st dynasty

Phonetically represents q. Determinant and logogram of hill.

N30: Hill of EarthEdit


N35 and N35A: WaterEdit

Queen Kiya in purification scene

The water glyph is a common hieroglyph found in texts. In the scene shown here - usually attributed to Queen Kiya, the secondary wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten - the royal lady is shown in a purification scene with water poured over her head.

Hieroglyphs from the tomb of Seti I - 19th dynasty - ca 1300 BC

N36: Canal, to love, Nile, river, lakeEdit

Full name of Sety I: Sety-Merenptah. ca 1300 BC
Thebes ca 1400 BC

The canal glyphs could stand phonetically for "mer" (beloved of). Sety's name translates to "Sety beloved of Ptah".

In the scene with the musiscian and the three dancing girls from Thebes three "mer" signs appear as part of the inscription in the center.

N39: Pool; N38: (sloped)-Pool; N37: (also "pool-shape")Edit

Pond depicted in the tomb of Nebamun
Making Lily perfume. 4th dynasty

The garden scene from a tomb in Thebes (maybe 1400 BC) shows a pond with flowers and animals.

In the perfume making scene a depiction of a pool is shown above the vat, but there are no water waves indicated (rectangle, pool-shape).

O: Buildings and Parts of BuildingsEdit

O4 & O5, reed shelterEdit


O4 has the phonetic value h. O5 is used in a wide variety of terms.


1. means to descend (ha(i)); 2. means to send (hab); 3. means day, daytime (heru); 4 means jubilation (henu). [3]

O6 & O7, manor & streetEdit

Horemheb before Hathor. ca 1320 BC
The goddess Nephthys depicted on a sarcophagus

The name of Hathor actually reads hwt-hor Which means something like "House of Horus". The hieroglyph is the house glyph with Horus as a falcon depicted inside the house.

Nephthys's name is written as a house (manor) with the hieroglyph neb (the basket) on top and a bread glyph to give the female ending. Her name in Egyptian then is nebet-hwt "lady of the manor".

O18: the upper egyptian shrine; per-wer or karEdit


O20: the lower egyptian shrine; Per-nuEdit

From Sahure's mortuary temple in Abusir

O23: Jubilee Pavilion; sedEdit


O24 & N25: pyramid (Memphis), obeliskEdit


The O24 hieroglyph is used as a determinant in the names of the pyramids.

O26: steleEdit


O27: hypostyle hallEdit


O28: pillarEdit


O31: Door; aa & O32: gateway, doorEdit


O33: Palace Wall; serekhEdit

Palace facade on the sarcophagus of Meresankh II (Dyn 4)

O36: wall, enclosureEdit


like the perimeter wall?

O39: (short)-blockEdit

also (long)-block

various size blocks of stone[2].

O40 and O41: StairwaysEdit


P: Ships and parts of ShipsEdit

P2: Sailing shipEdit


P3: Barque; wiaEdit


P5: Sail; hetauEdit


R-Series, Sacred EmblemsEdit

R4: Originally gameboard & gamepiece; later, Mat w/ Loaf of BreadEdit

Pharaoh-(King) Semerkhet Vase, from 1st Dynasty, c. 2920 BC. Shows original use as gaming board (with winning) surviving Gamepiecew:Game piece (hieroglyph).[citation needed]
(The translation is at w:Semerkhet.)

Phonetic value htp, (hotep); for content, peace, satisfied, (happy, etc.). Many pharaohs used "Hotep" as part of their name: ex: Amenhotep: for "Amun is Complete", or "(The) Peace of Amun", "Satisfier (of) Amun" (etc.).

R8: Ntr (god); R9: Natron; R10: necropolis: SailEdit


R12: Insignia-Carrier, iat-Support (a "standard")Edit

and R13 (support with Hawk & Feather)
Predynastic (late 4th millennium BC) w:Bull Palette, with 3 different styles of Insignia-Carrier; the third one carries the symbol for the "Thunderbolt of Min"-(God Min)(R23)
The w:Narmer Palette with 4 standards (3 different types).

Predynastic and Narmer Palettes. The w:cosmetic palettes have some of the first uses of hieroglyphs, with the Narmer Palette probably culminating the timeperiod.

Originally, the beginning cosmetic palettes were 'rough', 'crude', in a rhomboidal-shape, unadorned, but later incorporated with a powder mixing circle, and highly thematic, including animal-shaped (w:zoomorphic palettes.

R20: Goddess Seshat's EmblemEdit

and R21 (archaic form)
Luxor Temple

Goddess Seshat, from the Old Kingdom, can be seen on the w:Palermo Stone: "creation of a statue to Goddess Seshat and Mafdet", from Palermo piece, at Palermo Museum (confer with article w:Den (pharaoh)).

S: Crowns, Dress, Staves, etc.Edit

S-20: SealEdit

and S19 (later (curved-cording-Seal)
Alabaster vase of 1st Kingdom Hemaka, under Pharaoh Den.
Curved-cord Seal.

Alabaster vase of 1st Kingdom: "Seal-bearer-(of the)-King, H-ma-ka" (w:Hemaka). 2nd photo of later style Seal, with curved cord.

S24: KnotEdit

Knot as belt insignia.

The "reef knot" is often found on belt buckles. Ideogram in ṯst (tjst) for "knot", "vertebra", or similar words.[2]

T: Warfare, Hunting, ButcheryEdit

T26: Bird Trap (or Bird-Cage-Carrier)Edit

and T27 (Old Kingdom style)
Old Kingdom style: also shows the actual "netting of the birds".
Regular style (?).

A scene from Ptahhotep's tomb, 5th Dynasty shows the hieroglyph
, as well as a 'carrier-attendant' with pole, and a bird "trap" (cage) on each end. (Old Kingdom style hieroglyph)[4]

U-Series, Agriculture, Crafts, and ProfessionsEdit

U25: (vertical) Hand "Lathe" (=Drill)Edit

2-opposing Stone-weights, an offset handle, and a cutting-tool tip at shaft's end; used for drilling holes into stone, typically small unguent bowls, or larger ceremonial bowls.
Probable "drilled" unguent container.

2-opposing Stone-weights, an offset handle, and a cutting-tool tip at shaft's end; used for drilling holes into stone, typically small unguent bowls, or larger ceremonial bowls.

Examples of "sets" of zoomorphic bowls are known from the Old Kingdom time. First drilled, then the outside of the bowl turned into an animal figure.

V-Series, Rope, fiber, baskets, bags, etc.Edit

V13: Tethering RopeEdit

The famous w:Narmer Palette.
(approximately 3100 BC)
Door-(vertical) or Gateway-(O31, which see) is above the decapitated souls. The soul's-bark
is above the 2nd column of prisoners.

Phonetic value Th

The procession leader (behind the 4–Standard-Bearers) has their name in front of their head:
using the female determinative
, unless the person's name is Thet.

W: Vessels of Stone and EarthenwareEdit

W21: 2-Wine-JugsEdit

Queen Nefertiabet (Nefer-t-Ab-t)(Beauty-East)...("The Eastern Beauty"), a w:Slab stela.
Wood panel from Protodynastic Period, 3rd Dyn. of w:Hesy-Ra.


W25: Pot w/LegsEdit

Ebony Label(tag) of possession of King Den w:Den (pharaoh), c. 3000BC.
(Note: Size variation of some hieroglyphs: "Lion-forepart"-
and "branch"-(M3))
Phonetic value an.[2] A determinative for bring, brought, etc. The middle w:register (sculpture), center-right shows the destruction of an enemy stronghold.
with the "walking pot hieroglyph" (at left).

X-Series: Loaves and CakesEdit

X6:PAt, breadEdit


X8: giveEdit


Aa-Series: UnclassifiedEdit

Aa10, unconfirmedEdit


Note, as drawn elsewhere (see reference below) this is shown as a triangle with the bottom horizontal, shortest side vertical. ramp/stair in sed-hed court? ramp to access heights, as in for people or to build pyramids? ramp to the heavens?

Aa30: Frieze (ornament)Edit

and Aa31 (older or archaic type, different usage)
"kheker" painted friezes, Tomb of Sennefer.

"Kheker"-Ornament. Later usage.

See AlsoEdit


Gardener's Sign List from Ancient Egypt Online

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 R.H. Wilkinson, Reading Egyptian Art, 1992
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Maria Carmela Betrò, Hieroglyphics, The Writings of Ancient Egypt, c 1995-96, Abbeville Press Publishers, 250pp.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Collier and Manley: How to Read Egyptian hieroglyphs; 1998, University of California Press
  4. Schulz, R. and Seidel, M., Eds.: Egypt: The World of the Pharaohs, ; Konemann Verlagsgesellschaft mbH, Cologne, English translation version.

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