To the Ancient Egyptians, the greatest art was writing. The scribe who mastered the hieratic and hieroglyphic writing systems was guaranteed a good job in the bureaucracy, and a chance to rise as high as his ability (and the king's favour) would take him.

Hieroglyphs were called medew netjer - the words of god. Writing could overcome distance and time to send and receive messages, and to preserve the wisdom of the past. Beautifully composed and painted texts could magically bring sustenance to the spirits of the dead, and preserve a person's name and deeds for all time.

The Pyramid Texts are an example of the power of words. These prayers and spells, carved into the walls of a royal burial chamber, could help the king to overcome death and join the gods who dwelt in the sky, with the stars, or with Osiris, in the Underworld. So powerful were these words, that the images of dangerous animals, for example the horned viper that represented the sound 'f,'' were cut in two so that they could not magically come alive and harm the king.

Hieroglyphs are a writing system that represents the sounds of an ancient language, Egyptian, that is closely related to modern Coptic, and distantly related to Arabic, Hebrew and West African languages such as Wolof.

Egyptian writing is beautiful and satisfying because it is made up of images from the natural world, birds, animals, plants, pieces of landscape. Some of these signs function as letters, used for their sound - an owl, for example, signifies the sound 'm'.