Champollion's hieroglyphic hand

Autographed copy of the Lettre a M. Dacier, Paris, 1822

The first breakthrough in the decipherment of hieroglyphs

The young French scholar Jean-Francois Champollion (1790-1832) made a crucial step in understanding ancient Egyptian writing when he pieced together the alphabet of hieroglyphs that was used to write the names of non-Egyptian rulers. He announced his discovery, which had been based on analysis of the Rosetta Stone and other texts, in a paper at the Academie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres at Paris on Friday 27 September 1822. The audience included his English rival Thomas Young (1773-1829), who was also trying to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Champollion inscribed this copy of the published paper with alphabetic hieroglyphs meaning 'à mon ami Dubois' ('to my friend Dubois') (illustrated).

Champollion made a second crucial breakthrough in 1824, realizing that the alphabetic signs were used not only for foreign names, but also for the Egyptian language and names. Together with his knowledge of the Coptic language, which derived from ancient Egyptian, this allowed him to begin reading hieroglyphic inscriptions fully.

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Champollion's hieroglyphic hand

Champollion's alphabet

  • 'à mon ami Dubois'

    'à mon ami Dubois'


More information


L. and R. Adkins, The keys of Egypt: the race to (London, HarperCollins, 2000)

R. Parkinson, Cracking codes: the Rosetta St (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)


Height: 22.600 cm (book)

Museum number

AES Archives of the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan



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