Niebuhr and hieroglyphs

„Hieroglyphs on a chest of granite“

„When we were in Egypt Herr von Haven was still alive, who had in fact been assigned to study the history and languages of these countries. Therefore I didn’t regard the Arabic inscriptions […], I only copied hieroglyphs; for here, [skill of] drawing was required, and Herr von Haven was untrained in that field.”

Niebuhr became interested in hieroglyphs and copied great numbers of inscriptions out of his own motivation. In the Reisebeschreibung he laments the negligence of explorers who obviously found the task of copying tedious, caring only for the „shape and position of the stones”. As a possible basis for future attempts at deciphering the scripts, he even compiled an overview of all signs found in his copies. “It will be easy to add to their number from other well-drawn hieroglyphic inscriptions […] All this will help the scholar appoach his aim, namely the interpretation of the hieroglyphs.”

*) The philologist Friedrich Christian von Haven died the first of the explorers in May 1763.

Carsten Niebuhr's travel accounts

last update 10/7/2013