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Category: 3 – The First Writing

The Rosetta Stone isn’t just an overpriced foreign language program often marketed in airports and at the mall. For us, it is far more important, for it allowed us a glimpse inside the Egyptian world. The stone itself, created in 196 BCE,  is a black stone with carved text comprised of three translations of a single passage – Egyptian hieroglyphics, demotic, and classical Greek. Discovered in 1799 in Rosetta, Egypt, but not translated until 1822, it allowed us to read the previously undecipherable hieroglyphic writing. Perfect for little 5 year old girls who love to read hieroglyphs!

Here it is sitting in the British Museum. Mama is kicking herself for not going there when we were right next door just four months ago!

I thought it would be fun to make our own project of a Rosetta Stone. But instead of Egyptian demotic and classical Greek, we’d  use the language we knew (English) and one we don’t have memorized (Sumerian cuneiform).  The other day at the office store, I picked up a large black foam board. I cut it in half (the other half was for our next project). I used a scissors and made it roughly in the shape of the Rosetta Stone that is chipped on almost all corners.

Next I used a few free online translation sites to print out a page using the three languages, saying the same  phrase in each: My name is Satori.  Here’s the websites I used:

I gathered up all the materials. I got a large image of the Rosetta Stone printed out, my 3-translation sheet, our “Rosetta Stone” foam board, and a book. We re-read Seeker of Knowledge: The Man Who Deciphered Egyptian Hieroglyphs by James Rumford. Satori was so much more interested than the first time we read it – the day I introduced Egyptian writing to her. Since then, she’s learned so much!

Using our translation sheet as a guide, Satori started writing the  phrase “My Name is Satori”. We used a metallic pen so it would s how up nicely on the black board.

We did not forget to make a cartouche around her name. This was one of the important clues that helped translate the hieroglyphs. And see how it is shaped similar to the actual Rosetta Stone?

Today was such a gorgeously beautiful day. The sun was shining, we actually did our lessons out on the deck today. Birds tweeting all around us… Snow still all around, but we basked in the hot sun which made it feel like the perfect spring day…

Last month when we did our Ancient Writing in Hieroglyphs and Cuneiform activity, I made sure we made some extras specifically for this experiment.

Ancient Sumerians and Egyptians did their writing on stone or clay tablets, and the Egyptians also used papyrus. To this day, we are able to read the stone/clay tablets, but not much papyrus writing has survived. When asked what she thought would last longer – clay tablet or papyrus, Satori gave the common sense answer, but it was fun to do this experiment anyway.

We used Daddy’s hieroglyph papyrus roll and his cuneiform tablet. By the way, he didn’t do the cuneiform wedges right, I just noticed. It looks like he scraped them in, where he was supposed to just stick in his wedged stick. All the more reason to put them through methods of destruction to see if they will survive!

First, the pieces were submerged in a Nile flood for five minutes.

They both survived, but the ink on our paper was getting smeary.

Our clay tablet was starting to dissolve, as we did not put it in a fire kiln or bake in the sun to make it totally waterproof, luckily we could still read it though.


Next test was to have them back in the hot Egyptian sun for thousands of years. (Oven for half an hour.)

As we took them out, the clay tablet was unchanged, but our paper scroll had crumbled in places and is now barely readable.

Want to see some actual ancient writings that can still be read today? The oldest tablets go back to 3000 BCE. Here’s a Babylonian tablet from 87 BCE that described the arrival of Halley’s comet:

This one was found from the library of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh and tells the story of the Babylonian flood and the ark Utnapishti built, very similar to the biblical Noah.

On the other hand, here is a sample of papyrus.

Following the suggested activities in our Story of the World 1 Activity Guide, we gathered our little family once again on a Sunday night to do a family craft.

Satori already proved that she loved studying hieroglyphs, today she even tested me (and I failed) on my hieroglyph letters. She knows almost all of them (that stand for actual letters). Little kids have such great memories! Our first project was an Egyptian Hieroglyph Scroll. Without the guidance of our rubber stampers or stencils, and using just brush and paint (we should’ve used ink as suggested), it was tough! Satori gave up on her name and just drew random hieroglyphs.

While we let the hieroglyph paintings dry, we started with our clay and wedge stick to punch in some cuneiform!


We used 3 different clay types. The above chunk of clay was ideal, it came out of our Egyptian Hieroglyph Treasure Chest, along with the cuneiform stylus. But we only had one chunk, so we had to use others. Our Crayola Air Dray Clay was too hard and crumbly. (Maybe would have been fine if it was newly opened.) The Crayola Model Magic was easiest to work with, but it was too spongy and wouldn’t hold our markings well.

Then we set these out to dry overnight. I love the terracotta one, that was Satori’s. She added vertical lines and it really looks like a slab of ancient writing!

Back to our Hieroglyph scrolls, we attached two wooden dowels at the ends and rolled it up and tied with twine. They look so cool!

The scrolls have a nice crinkly, ancient parchment feel and are fun to unroll/roll up. 🙂 Satori now wishes she would have taken better care with her hieroglyph painting and wrote her real name. I told her we can do it again.

A few more Egyptian projects we tackled over the weekend… making a necklace:

This was from our Ancient Egypt: Start Exploring Treasure Chest.

Here’s another look at our Egyptian Nile Grass, growing nicely. We started this a week and a half ago. The river is going through a drought right now. 🙂

Mom also made this Egyptian dress, I found a quick no-sew project in one of our Egypt craft books.

This week we learned and experimented with Hieroglyphs (cuneiform and more hands-on projects we’ll get to this weekend). I was kinda looking forward to playing with these ancient forms of writing, but Satori was ecstatic. She has been jumping up and down type of excited since last week (I got her on video yesterday).

I had been researching for over a month on the best tools to learn this, along with the SOTW AG book. My first choice was this Egyptian Symbols Hieroglyphic Stamp Kit. I thought it was just a book, but when we got it, it was actually a wooden box, with these stamps inside it. A small booklet comes with it. The bottom of the box shows where the stamps go back, so Satori has been very good at putting them all back.

Out of all the hieroglyphic goodness out there, why did I choose this? This seems to have the highest quality and largest stamps (some are 1″x1″) of all the kits I had been considering. (Correct me if there is a similar alternative less than $15 out there)!  Here Satori is stamping an “A”. With this kit, she actually memorized about half the alphabet without even trying!

The Egyptians used this picture writing in several ways. Left to right, right to left, top to bottom, and even stacked symbols sometimes. You can tell how to read the writing by looking at the way the animals face – they face the way that you should read the writing. Most of our stamps face left, so you read them as normal, from left to right. Here’s my name “Angela”, surrounded by a cartouche (the oval) which signifies I’m an important person!

We also got this Hieroglyphs book by Joyce Milton. I chose this one because of the stencil included. It was also a bonus that it was colorful and fun and suited for young children!

I knew it would be a hit with Satori. She dropped her stamps and filled in every stencil shape.

Here’s the stencil close up.

And the page that shows the alphabet.

Our Ancient Egypt Start Exploring Treasure Chest also has hieroglyph stamps, but they are much smaller stamps. The bonus to the treasure chest is that you get a piece of papyrus! (And many other cool stuff, more on this later.)

I discovered that the same company also makes a Treasure Chest, but dedicated to hieroglyphs! It’s called Hieroglyphics, which I recently learned should be an adjective, not a noun, but heiroglyphics is listed as both an adjective and a noun in a dictionary. This kit is neat because it gives you modeling clay and a reed stylus to make cuneiform as well! The kit includes a Rosetta Stone poster, game, stickers, of course 27 rubber hieroglyphic stamps, and more.

We chose this picture book – Seeker of Knowledge: The Man Who Deciphered Egyptian Hieroglyphs by James Rumford. Great book for this age group of 4-8! I learned a lot myself, and enjoyed learning more about the Rosetta Stone.

Here’s a sample page:

I was also going to get Fun With Hieroglyphs, but I think we’ll be okay for now. This book actually has the most reviews, so if anyone has it, I’d love to hear how you like it!