Jean-François Champollion – Patron Saint of November, 2019

It’s the first weekend of November 2019! Allow me to introduce you to our Patron Saint of this month: Jean-François Champollion!

Born on the 23rd of December 1790, Jean-François Champollion gave his first public paper at the tender age of 16 (!). At this point, he was already fluent in six ancient Oriental languages!

He is most famous for his work in deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs. As a result of that work, he is often considered one of the founding fathers of Egyptology.

Primarily, he worked on the Rosetta stone. The stone is inscribed with three versions of a decree issued at Memphis, Egypt in 196 BC. The top and middle texts are written in Ancient Egyptian, using the hieroglyphic and demotic scripts. The bottom of the stone is written in Ancient Greek.

Discovered in 1799, the stone became the ultimate key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs. It is here that Champollion comes in.

The first to recognise that some signs of the Egyptian script on the Rosetta stone were alphabetic, some syllabic, and some determinative (that is, representing a whole idea or object that has been introduced earlier in the text), Champollion focused first on trying to find names of known rulers in the text.

This made it possible for him to assign 12 phonetic values for the symbols he was seeing, which soon allowed for further names to be discovered and more signs recognised for their phonetic value. And on the story goes.

Although heavily criticised by Thomas Young, a contemporary of his who felt that his previous contributions and work had not been sufficiently recognised by Champollion, Champollion’s work eventually led to us being able to start interpreting Egyptian hieroglyphs and thus opened a door to loads of Egyptian history.

So today, we recognise Champollion’s great contributions to the field by naming him Patron Saint of November 2019!

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