We've all seen the posts on social media comparing emojis to hieroglyphs. Usually they are suggesting that we have gone backwards, reverting from a complex system of writing to simple communication through pictograms. However, while emojis offer a quick way to communicate complex ideas, hieroglyphs actually function more or less like our own Latin alphabet.
While hieroglyphs are often images of real animals and objects, the symbol does not represent the object unless specifically indicated. Each hieroglyph has a phonetic value, representing either one, two or three sounds.
That is to say, if you see a vulture, a crocodile and a hand this is not a message about touching animals, but the Egyptian word 'Ad' meaning 'be angry'. It takes three hieroglyphs to communicate the same idea as one emoji.
Hieroglyphs are writing as a form of art, less like emojis and more like calligraphy. The word hieroglyph comes from the Greek words hieros 'sacred' and glyphe 'carving' as this way of writing was used only for religious texts for example in temples, tombs, funerary materials.
This was a special type of writing for special occasions, and the 'letters' were drawn or cut with due care and attention. The images of animals in particular were sometimes rendered in such great detail that modern biologists can identify the species.
I offer a 45 minute introduction to hieroglyphs, which can be expanded into a longer session on Egyptian art or history on request.