Champollion and Egypt.

Jean François Champollion succeeded in deciphering the Egyptian hieroglyphics after many years of study. His task is conjured up through extracts of letters he exchanged regularly with his brother and the notes jotted down as the intuitions of a genius enabled him to find his way round so many difficulties. He set up the first scientific expedition to the Nile valley in 1828, bringing back thousands of documents written by the architects, painters and artists who accompanied him.

This first room illustrates the religious beliefs of the ancient Egyptians : a collection of divinities greets the visitor while the funeral rituals are illustrated around the mummy.

Mankind, the world and the written word.

How were the first signs written? What were the consequences of this fabulous invention? Are there still writing systems waiting to be deciphered? Documents from around the world, interactive touch pads and the shapes of enigmatic scripts incite the visitor to search for the reasons and signification behind the act of writing.

The earliest scripts

Cuneiform script
The earliest script to appear around 3 500 BC was in Mesopotamia on tablets inscribed with details of administration and the exchange of goods : delivery notes, sales contracts, lease of land, salary lists…… Cuneiform script was also the medium for transcribing the oldest mythological tales and the first civil codes.

Egyptian hieroglyphics
Settlements grew up along the banks of the Nile, cultivating the land fertilised each year by the Nile floods. Towards the end of the 4th millenium BC a strong, stable political system was in place under the authority of a king and a genuine script was adopted around 3 200 BC : the Egyptians painted, drew and engraved hieroglyphs in order to perpetuate their existence.

Chinese script
The oldest Chinese characters, jiaguwen, are divinatory protocols with which communication was made possible with the gods and royal ancestors. They evolved around the 14th century BC . Chinese script, the only original form of writing still in use today, produced the art of calligraphy, which the Chinese place above painting.

Maya glyphs
Maya glyphs are one of the systems used in Central America. The Maya civilisation was at its height during the 3rd to the 9th centuries AD when vast cities were built, some of which can still be visited today. With the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century, their script became obscure until it was totally abandoned in the 17th century. Today the Maya glyphs are slowly revealing their secrets as deciphering progresses.

The Invention of the alphabets around the Mediterranean.

The earliest alphabets appeared on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean during the 2nd millennium BC. It took less than a thousand years for dozens of different alphabets to come into being in the Middle East; the Phoenician alphabet being perhaps the best known. A writing system that uses a limited number of symbols was a true revolution. Four scripts still in use today are directly derived from the Phoenician : Hebrew, Arab, Greek and Latin.

The book, a tangible memory.

The book appeared in Europe at the beginning of our era and over twenty centuries has seen a number of technological transformations : the production of paper which replaced parchment, the invention of the printing press, the revolution of digital technology…..

Writing, government and the citizen

Official deeds, administrative forms, newspapers, grievances as well as private correspondence illustrate the use of writing as a means of control by administration but also the possibility to stay informed, to voice one’s opinion, protest and create…..

Video room

Three screens are available for visitors to view a number of documents illustrating the written word in a comfortable area you will come to at the end of your visit. Documents include the medical team’s 3D restitution of the mummy, and links to the internet sites of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the Louvre museum as well as the Shanghai museum. From the loggia the view over Place Champollion is breathtaking.