In previous weeks at Bletchley Juniors Codebreaking Club we have been to Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. This week we went to Ancient Egypt and explored hieroglyphs. I explained that hieroglyphs: were used for writing about kings, queens and gods, and were carved onto the walls of temples, and onto tombs, statues and monuments; took the form of pictures not letters; did not use punctuation such as full stops and spaces between words, making them hard to read; and were sometimes written left to right and sometimes written right to left, adding to the difficulty in reading them.
I explained how the knowledge of hieroglyphs was lost after the Ancient Greeks invaded Egypt and that no one could read them hundreds of years, so that they effectively became a secret code that needed to be deciphered. I explained the breakthrough made by Champollion when he realised that some hieroglyphs represented sounds.
I gave the children each a key and used the names of several Ancient Egyptian gods as examples to decode with the children. These were:
Ra (pronounced ray), the sun God.
Osiris, the God of Death and the judge of the dead.
Horus, the son of Osiris and Isis and the God of the sky.
Seth, the jealous brother of Osiris who killed Osiris and was the God of chaos, darkness and storms.
Anubis, the God who watched over the dead.
Thoth (my favourite), the God of knowledge and wisdom and the inventor of hieroglyphs.
After we had finished the practice I gave each child their ciphertext, which took the form of a riddle e.g. what has to be broken before you can use it? An egg.
The second activity involved me bringing out a “here’s one I made earlier”, in the form of a cartouche: for one day I was Queen Debbie, having drawn my name in hieroglyphs and coloured it in (I was quite pleased with my vulture). I gave each child a blank cartouche I had cut out of some rather nice, thick card I happened to find in our arts and crafts box (no expense spared). Each child drew and coloured their first name in hieroglyphs. Some even went onto the back to do their surname. Some of the children have an ‘L’ in their name, which meant they had to draw a lion. We had some magnificent lions, with bright red lions and tails.
There was a really nice buzz during this session. The children seemed to really enjoy the visual element of decoding their hieroglyph ciphertext, and also having something to make and take home in the form of a cartouche.