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What are Some Common Egyptian Symbols?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2014
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Egyptian symbols are a fascinating window into a unique ancient culture. Found on the many artifacts recovered from the ancient Egyptian empires, these symbols form a language and descriptive picture of one of the oldest human civilizations. Being able to identify common Egyptian symbols is a must for any Egypt enthusiast, and can give great depth to your body of knowledge about history and culture.

One of the most frequently seen Egyptian symbols is the Eye of Horus, also called the Eye of Ra. This symbol, which resembles a human eye, can mean many things depending on the context used. It is symbolic for the all-seeing eye of the gods, and may also symbolize rebirth. The Eye of Ra was also extremely important in ancient Egyptian mathematics, as it was used to describe or indicate different fractions.

Many Egyptian symbols are also called logograms or pictograms. These signs are meant to look like the thing they are describing. The symbol for the sun is a circle above a straight line, while the symbol for mountains looks like two jagged peaks next to one another.

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Other common Egyptian symbols have a meaning only somewhat related to the actual character. These characters are called metonymic and are basically used much like a figure of speech or metaphor in modern language. For instance, one symbol for the word God looks like a flag. This may seem nonsensical until you know that the flag is meant to represent the flags that were flown on religious temples of the era.

One frequently seen symbol looks like an owl or bird drawn in profile, with head facing front. This interesting glyph has a variety of meanings, and was frequently used as a preposition, such as by, with, or from. Because of this symbol’s versatility, its specific meaning is often derived in context of the surrounding words.

Another extremely commonplace Egyptian symbol is the ankh. This glyph looks like a cross with an egg-shaped top, and is the symbol for eternal life. Some Egyptian artifacts depict various gods holding the ankh to a person’s mouth or giving it to them, believed to symbolize a life that continues past death. The ankh is often used in jewelry and replica Egyptian art.

For those wishing to learn more about the translation and interpretation of Egyptian symbols, a wealth of literature and online information is available on the subject. Additionally, check with local museums to see if they feature and Egyptology department or can recommend experts willing to help you learn. Understanding the history and society of an ancient culture is often enhanced by learning the language and important symbols used during its existence. By studying the meaning of Egyptian hieroglyphs and artistic symbols, you may be able to shed a little more light on one of the greatest and most complex civilizations ever to grace the planet.

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