Technology & the Hieroglyphs

Do Ancient Egyptian Symbols Mean More than We Realized?

Like something from a graffiti artist’s tagging dream, Egyptian hieroglyphics, paintings, and bas-relief pictorial carvings cover almost every square inch of the remaining ancient temples and tombs in that country. The Ancient Egyptian style of décor apparently was to leave no wall or ceiling area untouched, as if they were commanded to fill all available space.

For many centuries these markings and pictures were assumed to be some kind of unknowable magical symbology. But when Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1799, he brought along dozens of artists and scientists. One of these savants, Vivant Denon, painstakingly copied down thousands of the strange Egyptian symbols and pictures found all over that ancient land on walls, temples, obelisks, and in papyrus documents. Napoleon’s engineers, artists, and draftsmen recorded everything they saw until their occupation ended in 1801. When their works were finally published from 1809-1822, the world’s con­tinuing fascination with Egyptology began.

In 1799 French troops had dug out a now-famous stone from a wall in the Egyptian village of Rosetta. It had three types of writing on it—ancient Greek, which could be translated; hieroglyphics, which could not; and demotic, a cursive version of Ancient Egyptian. It was another 23 years before another Frenchman, Jean-François Champollion, cracked the hieroglyphic code by comparing it with the known Greek translations—beginning with royal names in cartouches. Ever since, ancient Egypt has generously yielded many secrets through the stories and memorials left in millions of hieroglyphic symbols at hundreds of ancient sites in Egypt.

The Divine and the Mundane

Much of the writing so far translated concerns praises to the various pharaohs and other nobles and to the plethora of Egyptian gods and goddesses who protected the supplicants. The Egyptian Book of the Dead tells of the perilous journey of the soul after death and is a favorite decoration in tombs, much as are modern Biblical quotations on gravestones in our own cemeteries. Many of the Egyptian pictorial representations, both paintings and bas-relief, show offerings to the gods and royals, or mundane activities such as plowing, fishing, writing, jewelry-making, and of course victorious war-making.

Representations of gods, goddesses, pharaohs, priests, animals, tools, and implements abound. However, some of the hiero­glyphs and pictures do not yet yield themselves to full interpretation.

Some of the engraved markings, more pictorial in nature, may represent activities or artifacts not yet discovered. As in much of today’s world, what was on public display was probably for political or religious purposes, but the details of tem­ple operations, megalithic construction, hydraulic projects, research, and design were kept from public view. That “knowl­edge is power” was recognized very early on in human development.

For example, with no overriding public purpose for displaying the details of their specialized knowledge, the architects and planners of the Great Pyramid and other monumental projects may have used only a few sets of papyrus drawings for design and construction, taking no particular care to preserve them for any future use, much less to carve the engineering details into stone for public view. They were building for eternity, not for posterity. It would be a near-miracle if we were somehow to locate such ephemeral documentation.

Do You See What I See?

Even in the early 1800’s, people were wont to see unsupportable strangeness in Egyptian art and writings. So we should heed the observations of Monsieur Denon, who recorded most of the hieroglyphs. Speaking of Egypt he said, “Its hiero­glyphs lend themselves to the wildest flights of imagination.” We have to keep that in mind as we look over some notable and unusual examples of his work. But 200 years later, we may see features unknown to the technologies of Denon’s time.

Among the thousands of pictures and carvings scattered in every Egyptian temple or public site, some may appear to be modern devices or inventions. One recent and notorious case concerns drawings on the walls of the temple at Abydos. To a modern observer, they look very much like aircraft, helicopter, and flying disk. Unfortunately, experts such as Chris Dunn have visited the site only to report that some layers have fallen off or have been re-carved. What the photos show are composite drawings, not ancient high technology.

It is still tempting for us to look at the configurations of ancient hieroglyphs and reliefs and interpret them as some­thing modern that they may resemble. This can be fun and interesting, but for any scientific progress to be made and actu­al facts derived, the process must be rigorous and, insofar as possible, free from modern prejudices about what Egyptian drawings ought to represent. For example, in the 1970s I came across an article where the author had collected various abstract hieroglyphs and assembled them into a reasonable facsimile of an electrical circuit for telephones. He had selected items that corresponded to every component of a telephone circuit, from batteries to wires to microphone and speaker. It was an impressive project, and as a telephone engineer at the time, I found it extremely interesting. Unfortunately, the author made no claim that all of these symbols had been found together or that any nearby inscriptions or artifacts support­ed his claims that the Egyptians had ancient telephony, which was a disappointment to me, since one of my own interests has been in finding real proof of ancient electrical communication, in Egypt and elsewhere.

Since Napoleon’s time, unfortunately, many of the plaster and sandstone walls have degraded after being excavated, their symbols lost forever. Only the drawings of the French artists remain. Carvings in granite and other hard stone surfac­es have fared much better, showing evidence that the primitive tools showcased in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo were not the tools that produced the deep, perfect incisions in obelisks or the perfectly symmetrical huge statuary. Christopher Dunn has written about these artifacts in great detail here in Atlantis Rising and in his two best-selling books.

Lights of Other Days?

But after all of these disappointments, occasionally some truly mysterious symbols do show themselves rather unambig­uously. At the very least they are mysterious; for those of us interested in ancient Forteana, they are very suggestive of ei­ther advanced technology or even weirder meanings.

In the Temple of Hathor, Deir el-Medina, near the Valley of the Kings, I unsuccessfully searched for one of those van­ished enigmatic symbols. Since Napoleon’s time it has disappeared, probably when plaster sloughed off about half of the walls. The remaining walls are still testament to the beautiful craftsmanship and artistry of the ancient Egyptian artisans, and we mourn for what has been lost.

The famous (or infamous, depending on your orientation) “light bulbs of Denderah” are located in a narrow crypt un­derneath the Temple of Hathor at Denderah. The subject of much controversy since the famous Fortean Ivan Sanderson first wrote about them in the early 1970s in his magazine, Pursuit—The Journal of the Society for the Investigation of the Unex­plained, they mean different things to different observers. There are variations of these mysterious bulb-like figures on both walls of the crypt. The devices or symbols were obviously very important to the designers of the temple complex but were sequestered in secret underground crypts. Although conventional archaeologists have explained the “light bulbs” away as various religious symbols, these particular representations do not appear anywhere else in Egypt. If they were important re­ligious icons, it seems they should have appeared in other sites dedicated to Hathor. (To me as an engineer, much of the construction of Denderah appears to have been carved first and then the massive stones brought to the site and assem­bled.)

It is perhaps significant that the temples dedicated to Hathor house the most enigmatic and unexplained reliefs and carvings in all remaining Egyptian structures. Hathor, often pictured as a cow goddess, was also associated with knowledge of the stars. Even conventional archaeologists describe some of the rooms in her temple at Denderah as “laboratories,” used for preparation of materials for rituals. Many of the crypt reliefs seem to be lists of materials for those “rites,” which is a common description meaning “unknown things used for unknown purposes.” Undoubtedly the lists of materials and instructions, along with various representations of the “light bulbs,” altogether documented and supported a unified pur­pose under which the temple priests operated. Whatever the “light bulbs” are, they were an integral part of that process.

Ancient Tech or Ancient Graffiti?

Discovered by Napoleon’s scientists at Denderah (although I could not locate it during my visit there in 2008) was what looks like a classic flying saucer, though with insect wings and legs, and a humanlike arm. Could this be an attempt to show a saucer-shaped flying object, with wings and legs added to “make it real”? To the artist or the patron who com­missioned the work, it was obvious that saucers couldn’t fly, not without wings, and couldn’t land, not without legs! And what is that hand holding? A tube, a scroll? To me, this glyph is clearly not an insect.

In one interesting design is the image of the kneeling female figure holding what appear to be vertical rods with an electrical discharge between them. A similar representation can be found elsewhere in the same temple, this time with a similar figure on each side of the head of Hathor. A carved pyramidal stone, now in the Louvre, shows a string of symbols which might possibly be interpreted by modern technicians as electrical and mechanical diagrams, specific instructions for powering or using the pyramids it displays. If a translation exists, it would be interesting to see. At the moment we can only speculate.

I have encountered dozens more similar instances in photographs I took while in Egypt with Chris Dunn and in re­viewing the Napoleonic expedition’s publications. Doubtless there will be thousands of other examples in the literature and on site that need a modern look. However, taken out of context, or until we find other instances and explanations, it may be impossible to determine the intention of the artists who decorated the tombs, temple walls, and obelisks with ab­stract drawings and symbols. We really need to find the artifacts themselves.

But who knows? Using the Internet to elicit the interest of millions of like-minded people, maybe someday one of us with the right paradigm in mind will make that Champollion-like connection of hieroglyph or picture to ancient artifact and finally prove beyond doubt that the ancient Egyptians did use high technology after all.

Arlan Andrews is author of several books available as Kindle e-books from


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