Ancient 'billboard' with Egyptian rock inscriptions discovered

Ancient 'billboard' with Egyptian rock inscriptions discovered
Archaeologists have uncovered previously unknown 'billboard-sized' hieroglyphs - Egyptian rock inscriptions dating back to 5,200 years.

The individual hieroglyphs each measure just over a half metre in height, and the entire tableau is about 70 centimetres in height.

"This discovery isn't new in the sense that this is the first time that anyone has seen these hieroglyphs, this is the first time that anyone has seen them on such a massive scale," said John Coleman Darnell, Egyptologist and professor at Yale University in the US.

"In the modern world this would be akin to seeing smaller text on your computer screen and then suddenly seeing very large ones made the same way only on a billboard," Darnell added.

Researchers, including those from Royal Museums of Art and History in Belgium, also discovered rock art depicting a herd of elephants that was carved between 4,000-3,500 BC.

One of the elephants has a little elephant inside of it, which, according to researchers, "is an incredibly rare way of representing a pregnant female animal."

The newly discovered rock art site of El-Khawy preserves some of the earliest and largest signs from the formative stages of the hieroglyphic script and provides evidence for how the ancient Egyptians invented their unique writing system, researchers said.

The team also identified a panel of four signs, created circa 3,250 BC and written right to left - the dominant writing direction in later Egyptian texts - portraying animal images of a bull's head on a short pole followed by two back- to-back saddlebill storks with a bald ibis bird above and between them.

These discoveries reveal that there was not a slow development of writing primarily for bureaucratic use as previously believed, but that hieroglyphic writing was more geographically widespread and topically diverse at the time of or shortly after its development, researchers said.

The team of archaeologists located the rock inscriptions by mapping out routes based on road networks in Egypt.

Most inscriptions are located along major roads, either roads that parallel the Nile or roads that head out into the desert. They are usually at a juncture or crossroads, researchers said.

"Any place where someone might pause in their journey," Darnell added.

Using a new recording technique, the team created a series of 3D images of the inscriptions from photographs taken in the field.

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