Hieroglyphs: unlocking ancient Egypt - a talk by Dr Ilona Regulski (the Curator of Egyptian Written Culture at the British Museum)
This talk is FREE (suggested donation £3), however, booking is essential as space is limited. A valid Museum ticket is required to visit the British Museum Touring Exhibition Egyptian hieroglyphs: unlock the mystery and the Museum's galleries.
In trying to reconstruct the history of writing, we often turn to sources from ancient Egypt. Every aspect of ancient Egyptian culture, its religious practice, monumental buildings, and bureaucratic minutiae, relied on a system of writing developed around 3250 BCE. The spoken language was used until the 15th century CE, making it one of history’s longest-surviving recorded languages. But following the conquest of Alexander the Great in 332 BCE, the ancient scripts slowly fell out of use in Egypt and a new alphabet to record the spoken language became more widespread. Roman and Greek authors, who could not read hieroglyphs, believed them to be symbolic rather than linked to the sound of spoken language, a belief that went unquestioned and effectively obstructed access Egypt’s written sources for centuries. The discovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1799 and its subsequent decipherment provided the decisive key to unlocking the meaning of the mysterious characters.
The lecture will chart the race to decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs and explore the inscribed objects that helped scholars unlock one of the world’s oldest civilisations. The Rosetta Stone will be discussed alongside some of its ancient copies and the very inscriptions scholars studied in their quest to understand ancient Egypt. The lecture will illustrate how an increased understanding of these written sources has unlocked one of the world’s oldest civilisations and helped us to understand how the ancients viewed and experienced the world.
As the Curator of Egyptian Written Culture at the British Museum, Ilona Regulski is responsible for the papyrus collection and other inscribed material in the collection, including the Rosetta Stone. Ilona studied Egyptology at the Universities of Leuven in Belgium and Münster in Germany. She was a research fellow at the Royal Museums of Art and History, Brussels (2002-2004) and assistant-director of the Dutch-Flemish Institute in Cairo (2005-2010). She received a PhD in Egyptology from Leuven University in 2007 examining the Origins of Writing in Egypt. Ilona continued her career as guest-lecturer at Yale University (2011) and Humboldt post-doctoral fellow at the Free University in Berlin (2012-2014) before moving to the British Museum in 2015. She was the lead-curator of Hieroglyphs: unlocking ancient Egypt at the British Museum (13 Oct 2022 – 19 Feb 2023).