Visual Communication in Ancient Egypt and in the Digital Age

We think more often in signs and symbols rather than in text but why is it that the emoji is the fastest growing language in the UK when we can express so much more with words?

Beautiful, handcrafted Egyptian Hieroglyphs from the Greek word “sacred carving” were influenced by the Sumerian script (8000 BC). They represent trade goods and livestock on clay tablets.


Whereas ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs are traced back to 3300 BC and communicate more complex concepts in science, astronomy and medicine. They were used only on monumental inscriptions and religious texts. Everyday documents like accounts, letters, and literary texts were written using pen and hieratic on papyrus.

153418-004-D84DE409  hieroglyphics-437102_960_720 .   karnak-temple-egypt-hieroglyph . 1200px-Karnak-Hypostyle3.jpg

Hieroglyphs on a temple wall, Karnak, Egypt

Decoding Hieroglyphs

Jean-François Champollion deciphered hieroglyphs in 1822 when he published a breakthrough document with the decipherment of the Rosetta stone, 196 B.C.,which was found in 1799 by French soldiers.


Jean-François Champollion’s translations

It can now be found in Room 4 of the British Museum, or you can play with a 3d scan here. Anyway, it’s a stone written in Egyptian and Greek. Three scripts were used at the time it was written in Egypt–hieroglyphic, demotic and Greek. It written by Egyptian priests and it lists the things that the Pharaoh did to benefit Egyptian society. 


Hieroglyphics can be divided into three categories: phonetic glyphs, logographs, and determinatives.

Phonetic glyphs are used to represent specific speech sounds. They work much like modern alphabets.


Logographs are used to represent whole words

Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 19.17.26

The Bird. (Logograph).

Determinatives string a concept together. They bring a new meaning of a word and appear after the Phonograms. For example:

Drink Water

Drink Water

The Destruction of Ancient Egypt was established in 30 BC by the Roman Empire who introduced Latin.

Egyptian Hieroglyphs Vs Emojis.

Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 19.54.36

“Emoji is the fastest growing form of language ever based on its incredible adoption rate and speed of evolution. As a visual language emoji has already far eclipsed hieroglyphics, its ancient Egyptian precursor, which took centuries to develop….

–Professor Vyv Evans, Professor of Linguistics at Bangor University

According to a survey by TalkTalk, 72% of 18-25 year olds prefer to express their feelings through emojis rather than words.

Designer Joe Hale, has translated the stories of Alice in Wonderland, Pleasureland and Neverland into 2500+ character emoji lattice posters. He describes his work as ‘a venture in experimental writing’.


Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 15.09.41


Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 15.09.36


Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 15.09.30

Every Friday BBC’s newsbeat post the news in emojis for its audience to decipher what the story is. Are we training our children to think in cartoons rather than in writing?

The New York subway system are now using emojis to inform passengers the status of subway lines.

Whilst in London


More references on decoding hieroglyphics can be found here, here, here, here and here

p.s. look what happens when you type in ‘smiling face’ into the Google search bar.

Screen Shot 2018-01-21 at 18.09.27.png

Finally, here’s how a contemporary Egyptian Designer Ghada Wali created a font based on Hieroglyphics. More of her beautiful work can be found here.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s