Egyptian Hieroglyphs was a formal writing system used by the ancient Egyptians that contained a combination of logographic and alphabetic elements. Egyptians used cursive hieroglyphs for religious literature on papyrus and wood. Less formal variations of the script, called hieratic and demotic, are technically not hieroglyphs.

History and Evolution

Hieroglyphs emerged from the preliterate artistic traditions of Egypt. For example, symbols on Gerzean pottery from circa 4000 BC resemble hieroglyphic writing. For many years the earliest known hieroglyphic inscription was the Narmer Palette, found during excavations at Hierakonpolis (modern Kawm al-Ahmar) in the 1890s, which has been dated to circa 3200 BC. However, in 1998 a German archaeological team under Günter Dreyer excavating at Abydos (modern Umm el-Qa’ab) uncovered tomb U-j of a Predynastic ruler, and recovered three hundred clay labels inscribed with proto-hieroglyphs, dating to the Naqada IIIA period of the 33rd century BC. The first full sentence written in hieroglyphs so far discovered was found on a seal impression found in the tomb of Seth-Peribsen at Umm el-Qa’ab, which dates from the Seco

nd Dynasty. In the era of the Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom and the New Kingdom, about 800 hieroglyphs existed. By the Greco-Roman period, they numbered more than 5,000.

Scholars generally believe that Egyptian hieroglyphs “came into existence a little after Sumerian script, and, probably [were], invented under the influence of the latter …” For example, it has been stated that it is “probable that the general idea of expressing words of a language in writing was brought to Egypt from Sumerian Mesopotamia.” On the other hand, it has been stated that “the evidence for such direct influence remains flimsy” and that “a very credible argument can also be made for the independent development of writing in Egypt…” Given the lack of direct evidence, “no definitive determination has been made as to the origin of hieroglyphics in ancient Egypt.”

Hieroglyphs consist of three kinds of glyphs: phonetic glyphs, including single-consonant characters that function like an alphabet; logographs, representing morphemes; and determinatives, which narrow down the meaning of logographic or phonetic words.

As writing developed and became more widespread among the Egyptian people, simplified glyph forms developed, resulting in the hieratic (priestly) and demotic (popular) scripts. These variants were also more suited than hieroglyphs for use on papyrus. Hieroglyphic writing was not, however, eclipsed, but existed alongside the other forms, especially in monumental and other formal writing. The Rosetta Stone contains three parallel scripts – hieroglyphic, demotic and Greek.

Hieroglyphs continued to be used under Persian rule (intermittent in the 6th and 5th centuries BC), and after Alexander the Great’s conquest of Egypt, during the ensuing Macedonian and Roman periods. It appears that the misleading quality of comments from Greek and Roman writers about hieroglyphs came about, at least in part, as a response to the changed political situation. Some believe that hieroglyphs may have functioned as a way to distinguish ‘true Egyptians’ from some of the foreign conquerors. Another reason may be the refusal to tackle a foreign culture on its own terms which characterized Greco-Roman approaches to Egyptian culture generally. Having learned that hieroglyphs were sacred writing, Greco-Roman authors imagined the complex but rational system as an allegorical, even magical, system transmitting secret, mystical knowledge.

By the 4th century, few Egyptians were capable of reading hieroglyphs, and the myth of allegorical hieroglyphs was ascendant. Monumental use of hieroglyphs ceased after the closing of all non-Christian temples in AD 391 by the Roman Emperor Theodosius I; the last known inscription is from Philae, known as The Graffito of Esmet-Akhom, from AD 396.

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The Countdown Timer

The Swan’s Countdown Timer hieroglyphs translate to “Underworld”

First Featured: 2×23 – “Live Together, Die Alone, Part 1

The first hieroglyph sequence to have been shown on Lost was displayed by the countdown timer in the Swan. The same hieroglyph sequence can be found on the Ajira Airways boarding pass, and in Rachel Blake’s blog. Damon Lindelof stated that the Dharma Initiative included the hieroglyphs as an homage to the historical occupants of the island.

Please review this LOSTPEDIA page for a detailed list of the various Egyptian Hieroglyphs seen on LOST


The Frozen Wheel Chamber

Frozen Wheel Chamber hieroglyphs translate to “Resurrection”

4×14 – “There’s No Place Like Home, Part 3

Egyptian Hieroglyphs can be seen on the wall (below the lantern) of the Frozen Wheel Chamber

The Temple Outer Wall

5×05 – “This Place Is Death

A number of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs can be seen on the outer wall of the Temple’s perimeter.

Cerberus Chamber 

5×12 – “Dead is Dead

A multitude of various Hieroglyphs are seen inside the Cerberus Chamber

Cerberus Chamber Wall Engraving (APEP & ANUBIS)

5×12 – “Dead is Dead

A wall engraving inside the Cerberus Chamber contains hieroglyphs and images of Apep (Man in Black) and Anubis (Jack Shephard)

DHARMA Initiative Class Room (Blackboard)

5×13 – “Some Like It Hoth

Jack can clearly be seen cleaning Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphics from a blackboard in the DHARMA Initiative Class Room.

The Tunnels

5×15 – “Follow the Leader

Hieroglyphs are seen on the columns next to the pool within The Tunnels

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Shen Ring (Hieroglyph)

A shen ring is a circle with a line at a tangent to it, which was represented in hieroglyphs as a stylised loop of a rope. The word shen itself means, in ancient Egyptian, encircle, while the shen ring represented eternal protection. In its elongated form the shen ring became the cartouche which enclosed and protected a royal name.

Horus with 'Shen rings' in his grasp.

The shen ring is most often seen carried by the falcon god Horus, but was also carried by the vulture goddess Nekhbet. It was used as early as the third dynasty where it can be seen in the reliefs from Djoser’s Step Pyramid complex.

The stretched “shen ring”, the cartouche

The symbol could be stretched to contain other objects, which were then understood as being eternally protected by the shen ring. When it contained the name of the pharaoh the symbol became the cartouche. The word shen itself means, in Egyptian, encircle.

Shen ring uses in iconography

The Shen ring is the ‘shenu’.

Nekhbet, staff with Shen Ring

  • The Goddess Heqet, (the ‘Frog’), is often seated on a shenu.
  • For Eternity, the renpit, papyrus stalk is usually based on top of a Shen ring. See the Egyptian god Huh. (Senusret I has a famous Lintel relief showing this.)
  • The Shen ring is often attached to various types of staffs, the staff of authority, or power, symbolizing the Eternal authority of that power.
  • The Goddess Isis, and the Goddess Nekhbet are often shown kneeling, with their hands resting upon a shenu.
  • The Hawk (Horus), and the Vulture (Goddess Mut) have the shenu in their talons, wings outstretched, over the scene portrayed. The “Horus with Outstretched Wings”, shenu’s in its talons, is an example from the Louvre of a Pectoral Brooch, possibly for royalty.

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Associated LOST Characters







Shen Ring Hieroglyph (Inside The Temple)

Shen Ring Hieroglyph seen on the temple wall 

First Seen: 6×05 – “Lighthouse”  |  Featured: 6×06 – “Sundown


At the temple Ilana led the rest of her group, through the hallways, scanning the Egyptian writing on the walls. She spotted a particular hieroglyph (Shen Ring) on the wall and pushed it, revealing a secret passage. She and the others entered the passage for refuge from the Man in Black’s massacre.

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