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The ancient Egyptians invented of type of paper called papyrus, which was made from
the river plant of the same name. Papyrus was a very strong and durable paper-like
material that was used in Egypt for over 3000 years. It is the precursor to modern paper,
the name of which is derived from the word "papyrus." Documents written on papyrus
were often sealed wtih a mud sealing embossed with a stamp from a scarab seal, much
in the same way that wax seals were later used.
The ancient Egyptians used the distinctive script known today as hieroglyphs (Greek for
"sacred words") for almost 4,000 years. Hieroglyphs were written on papyrus, carved in
stone on tomb and temple walls, and used to decorate many objects of cultic and daily
life use. Altogether there are over 700 different hieroglyphs, some of which represent
sounds or syllables; others that serve as determinatives to clarify the meaning of a
word. The hieroglyphic script originated shortly before 3100 B.C., at the very onset of
pharaonic civilization. The last hieroglyphic inscription in Egypt was written in the 5th
century A.D., some 3500 years later. For almost 1500 years after that, the language was
unable to be read. In 1799, the Rosetta Stone was discovered in Egypt by Napoleon's
troops. The Rosetta Stone is a trilingual decree (written in hieroglyphs, Greek, and
Demotic) dating to the time of Ptolemy V (205-180 B.C.). Its discovery proved to be a
crucial link in unlocking the mysteries of Egyptian hieroglyphs and in 1822, enabling
Jean-Franois Champollion to re-decipher the hieroglyphic signs, thereby allowing the
modern study of Egyptian language to begin.
While hieroglyphs are quite beautiful, they must have been very time consuming for
scribes to write. The Egyptians invented a cursive form of hieroglyphs known as
hieratic, which was used primarily for writing with reed brushes, and later reed pens, on
papyri and ostraca (fragments of pottery or stone used as writing surfaces). This system
of writing was used alongside hieroglyphs for most of Egyptian history.
An even more cursive form of script was invented during the 26th Dynasty (664-525
B.C.). Known as Demotic, this form of writing was used at first primarily for
administrative documents, letters, and tax records. Eventually it came to be used for
literary and religious texts as well.
Late in Egyptian history, the language known as Coptic, the final phase of development
of the ancient Egyptian language, came into being. Using grammar that was very similar
to its Demotic predecessor, Coptic used the Greek alphabet plus a few signs derived
from Demotic to form its alphabet. Like the earlier Egyptian scripts, Coptic did not show
breaks between the words. Although it is no longer spoken, a dialect of Coptic is still
used in services of the Coptic church much in the same way Latin was long used by the
Roman Catholic Church.

The writing system for the Meroitic language ofNubia appeared around the 2nd century
B.C. The alphabet consisted of a combination of hieroglyphic signs and cursive letters.
Although the individual signs can be pronounced, the Meroitic language is still not fully
understood and its texts are waiting to be deciphered and read.