Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology

UEE: open version

Egyptology has as its object of study the history, practices, and conceptual categories of a culture that was remarkably prolific in terms of written texts, art, architecture, and other forms of material culture. The knowledge of Egyptologists, archaeologists, linguists, geologists, and all other professionals who are involved in research related to Ancient Egypt reflect the interdisciplinary approach that is needed to make sense of such a wealth of information. The peer-reviewed articles of the UEE are written by the world's leading scholars.

In the coming decade we will continue to build the content of the UEE, while a separate web site, the UEE Full Version, will be available starting in 2010. The full version will have enhanced searches, such as a map-search functionality, alphabetical and subject browsing, in-text links, explanations of terminology for non-professionals, an image archive, and Virtual Reality reconstructions. In addition, a Data-Access Level is under development, which links articles with the results of original research. Information on the development of the UEE Full Version can be found at

Cover page of Old Nubian

Old Nubian


Old Nubian is the modern designation for a literary language attested in texts from the Nubian kingdoms of Nobadia and Makuria in the Middle Nile Valley between the late eighth and fifteenth centuries ce. It belongs to the Nilo-Saharan linguistic phylum and is written in an alphabetic script based on Coptic, with the addition of several characters from the Meroitic alphasyllabary. Old Nubian was written in a multiliterate context, alongside Greek, Coptic, and Arabic, and its materials encompass documents and inscriptions of both a religious and secular nature.

Cover page of Conceptualizations of the Moon

Conceptualizations of the Moon


Our understanding of the moon as it was regarded in ancient Egypt from the Old Kingdom to the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods is based mostly on texts and images from temples, but also on stelae, coffins, and papyri. Just as Conceptual Metaphor Theory provides a theoretical background for research on the moon in ancient Egypt, a basic knowledge of astronomical facts is essential for our understanding of the sources and of how the moon was conceptualized anciently. The conceptualizations can be categorized into those concerning astronomical properties of the celestial body (its shape, luminosity, motion, constellations), those in which the moon takes on anthropomorphic (man, child, eye, leg, arm) and zoomorphic (bull, ibis, baboon) forms, and those that have a socio-political background, concerning the reign of the pharaoh, the measuring and conception of time, and the maintenance of the cosmos (maat) as a whole.

Cover page of Hieratic



Hieratic is the name given to Egypt's oldest cursive system of hieroglyphs, which was used primarily as handwriting and served as a multifunctional script for more than three millennia, until the third century CE. As early as 1820, Champollion recognized the connection between hieroglyphs and hieratic. Hieratic was written in ink on papyrus and ostraca, as well as on wooden tablets, linen, stone surfaces, etc. The characters could also be carved or chiseled into clay, wood, rock surfaces, or stone objects. Unlike hieroglyphs, hieratic was always written from right to left, and the signs evolved from separate elements in single columns to horizontal lines of complete text, with increasing use of ligatures and abbreviations, especially in administrative contexts. In addition, most manuscripts reveal personal idiosyncrasies of the scribes. From 750 BCE on, hieratic was partially replaced by the abnormal hieratic script and later by Demotic. However, it remained in use until Roman times, primarily for ritual, funerary, and scientific texts. Increasingly enhanced by digital methods, the study of hieratic is based on paleographic analysis and comparison, which aid our understanding of the texts and allow us to date a manuscript or identify an individual scribe. Writing practices, the social milieu of scribes, and the various scripts, text genres, and modes of transmission have become current research topics. In addition, the discovery, decipherment, adequate documentation, and interpretation of other testimonies to hieratic writing are of interest.

Cover page of Group writing

Group writing


Group Writing emerges during the New Kingdom, and it has often been assumed to includeinformation about the vocalization of the transcribed words and names. Scholars, however,have struggled to identify the exact rules governing it. As a result, as rich academic debate hasensued, and various interpretations have been suggested over the past century. GroupWriting, as a phenomenon, has also a socio-cultural and socio-historical dimension that has sofar attracted much less scholarly attention. The present article will explore both these sides ofthe question, first by providing a description of the system and an overview of the mainproposals put forward to interpret it, and then by delving into the question of its uses,function, and origins.

Cover page of The linguistic prehistory of Nubia

The linguistic prehistory of Nubia


Evidence from historical linguistics, philology, archaeology, and, more recently, genetics enables us to reconstruct part of the complex history of the area in southern Egypt and northern Sudan that has come to be known as Nubia. Whereas today Nubian languages and Arabic are dominant in these areas, interdisciplinary research points towards the presence of several other languages in the past, spoken by communities who interacted with each other to various extents over the past millennia, depending on such factors as climate change and technological development, but also on ever-changing sociopolitical constellations.

Cover page of Figurative Language

Figurative Language


Figurative Language is a traditional rhetorical style, which refers to a group of diverse tropes and uses of words describing pictorial or graphical objects in a non-literal way (Dancygier and Sweetser 2014; Colston 2015). Figurative language acts by contrast to other non-figurative language, just as a metaphorical word acts by contrast when used together with other non-metaphorical words (Ricoeur 2003: 161–162). Genette (1966: 205–221) reports that the contrast between figurative and non-figurative is that of a real language to a virtual one, and that the content depends totally on the speaker’s and listener’s own perceptions. In general, when necessary, all kinds of languages can be used in a figurative sense. Figurative expressions refer to the similarities of on object’s shape, colour, feature or function.

Cover page of Linear Hieroglyphs

Linear Hieroglyphs


Linear hieroglyphs formed a script comprising signs that maintained the iconic power of hieroglyphs but were more schematically written. Although they are attested from as early as the Old Kingdom, they became visually distinct from other writing types only from the Middle Kingdom onward. This script was restricted to specific functions and contexts, mainly related to the ritual and funerary domains. Linear hieroglyphs displayed specific traits and conventions in the forms of the signs (covering a wide spectrum of formality, iconicity, and embellishment) and the layout of the texts (with an arrangement that favored columns of rightward-facing signs that were to be read in a retrograde manner). They had the added values of prestige and expense and were often indexical of temple manuscripts. There is an urgent need to compile repertoires of linear hieroglyphs to help further define aspects such as forms of signs, regional variety, historical changes, technological issues, and the influence of other Egyptian scripts.

Cover page of Identity Marks

Identity Marks


Various types of non-textual notations were used in ancient Egypt in addition to, and in the absence of, writing. Systems of identity marks, such as ownership marks, masons’ marks, and pot marks, are important categories among these notations. Such marks express the identity of persons, groups, institutions, or places, and are usually attested as individual signs painted or scratched on artifacts or stone surfaces. Although different from writing, the graphic repertoires of marking systems often include characters of writing, in addition to pictorial and abstract signs. Clusters of marks, sometimes with added signs of a different nature, may even resemble written texts and share some of the latter’s characteristics.

Cover page of Letters to gods

Letters to gods


The “Letters to Gods” comprise an etic analytical category of Egyptian- and Greek-language texts in which individuals petitioned deities, seeking divine intervention in their lives to bring about certain outcomes. Attested from the Late to Roman Periods, from Saqqara to Esna, and inscribed upon papyri, linen, ostraca, wooden tablets, and ceramic vessels, these textual sources are the written testament to ritual practices through which individuals were able to interact directly with the divine to effect change in their lives. Petitioning about a variety of matters (from physical abuse to theft or embezzlement, from cursing people to healing them), the Letters to Gods reveal multiple aspects of the lives of their petitioners—not only their hopes and fears but also their conceptualization of justice and of the divine.

Cover page of Coptic



Coptic is the youngest written standard of the Egyptian language. Spelled with the characters of the Greek alphabet plus some extra signs, it was productively used for almost a thousand years, from the fourth to the fourteenth centuries CE, to record texts of a wide range of types and purposes, and is still being used in the liturgy of the Coptic church. Coptic texts have survived in enormous numbers and comprise literary, semi-literary, and documentary corpora in a range of dialects and genres. Analysis of salient grammatical features of the Coptic language elucidates both innovative and conservative features in comparison to those of its predecessor, Demotic.