Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Decoding Ancient Egypt

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Decoding Ancient Egypt

Article excerpt

SOMETIMES it pays to be in the wrong place. In 1925, an Egyptian man was setting up his camera to take pictures of the famous Giza pyramids outside Cairo. Suddenly, his camera stand began to sink into a hole. He thought this area was solid rock. In fact, it was soft plaster.

He called his co-workers, and they began to dig. In time, they discovered a tomb deep underground. Ancient writings on the walls, called hieroglyphs (HY-roh-gliffs), told the explorers that this tomb belonged to an important Egyptian queen who lived nearly 4,000 years ago.

Discoveries like this happen a lot in Egypt. This year, up to 50 groups of men and women are scouring the Egyptian desert for buried tombs, statues, mummies, and even golden treasure. But the most valuable things they will find are the hieroglyphic writings that tell about the ancient people who lived thousands of years ago in a land they called Kemet. "People find artifacts all the time," says Peter Der Manuelian, who visits Egypt often for his job at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. At the Giza pyramids, for instance, workers recently uncovered a pit that was filled with beautiful statues of Egyptian royalty. Mr. Manuelian had walked over that spot almost every day that he was there and never had a clue. Lost: One small pyramid "They also found a new pyramid," he says, pointing to a map of the Giza site where a broken-down wall of stone is now exposed in the sand. "You wouldn't think they could lose a pyramid." The pyramid wall, which had been buried for centuries, was uncovered in 1991. Experts say the small pyramid was probably used for religious ceremonies. When he was a kid, Manuelian used to think Egypt was too far away to visit. But then, at age 16, he took a summer volunteer job in the Egyptian section of the Museum of Fine Arts. The next summer, the Museum took him to Egypt to help trace the walls of an old dusty tomb. Manuelian was hooked. Ancient Egypt was an amazing place. Between 2500 BC and 1075 BC, workers built huge pyramids of stone without the trucks, cranes, or machinery that we have today. They lived in the middle of a desert, but they learned to grow enough food to feed an empire. They wrapped up their dead with strips of cloth to preserve them and believed they would come back to life someday. For centuries, the modern world knew very little about the ancient Egyptians, except what we read about them in books like the Bible. People saw all those strange pictures on the walls of the tombs, but had no idea what the pictures meant. Then, in 1799, some French soldiers helped crack the code. They discovered a large stone (since called the Rosetta Stone) that had Egyptian hieroglyphs at the top and more-common Greek writings down below. Using this stone, scholars eventually translated the entire hieroglyphic language for modern readers. …

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