From an incomplete and variously corrupt literary history it is possible to examine some of the actual written sources. Whilst these had survived from ancient Egyptian times, after about the end of the 4th century ad they could no longer be read. The latest dated inscription in Egyptian hieroglyphs occurs on the temple of Philae in ad 394.
Thereafter the 'key' was lost although many scholars during the European Renaissance, and later the Jesuit priest Athanasius Kircher (1602-80), made valiant attempts at decipherment, often with incredible results. In 1761 another priest, the Abbe Jean Jacques Barthelemy, published a paper in which he suggested that the oval rings in which a number of the hieroglyphic signs occurred enclosed royal names. It was working from those 'ovals', now called cartouches, that Jean Francois Champollion was able to 'crack the code' of Egyptian hieroglyphs with the Rosetta Stone.
This odd-shaped slab of black basalt was found by a French officer of engineers, Lieutenant P.F.X. Bouchard, serving with the Napoleonic Expedition in Egypt, at Fort Julien at the Rosetta mouth of the Nile in 1799. It is inscribed in three scripts representing two languages. The upper portion is written in Egyptian hieroglyphs, the centre in the Egyptian demotic script, and the lower section is in Greek. The latter was easily translated, revealing that the inscription, the Decree of Memphis, is a decree of Ptolemy V, dated to Year 9 of his reign, 196 BC. With this as a base Champollion was able to work toward his eventual epoch-making paper, Lettre a M. Dacier, in 1822 which opened the floodgates to the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs.
Apart from priestly inscriptions such as the Rosetta Stone, the Shabaka Stone (p. 192) and others such as the Sehel boulder inscription No. 81 (p. 33), there are only a few sources with actual lists pertaining to Egyptian history and chronology. References to small, specific areas of chronology, often only reflecting an individual's part in it, occur, but the evidence is slight and often difficult.
The Royal List of Karnak (now in the Louvre) has a list of kings running from the first king down to Tuthmosis III (1504-1450 BC). It has an added advantage in that it records the names of many of the obscure kings of the Second Intermediate Period (Dynasties 13-17).
The Royal List of Abydos is still in situ on the walls of the corridor in the Hall of Ancestors in the magnificent temple of Seti I (1291-1278 bc). It shows Seti with his young son (later Ramesses II) before a list of the cartouches of 76 kings running in two rows from the first king to Seti I (the third row of cartouches on the wall beneath these merely repeats Seti's own). The kings of the Second Intermediate Period are not given (hence the value of the Karnak List, above), neither are there the cartouches of the kings at the end of the 18th Dynasty after Amenhotep III, who were not considered acceptable because of their association with the Amarna 'heresy' (Akhenaten, Smenkhkare, Tutankhamun and Ay: see pp. 120-139). A badly damaged duplicate of this list, but arranged in three rows instead of two, was found in the nearby temple of Ramesses II. Known as the Abydos King List, it is now in the British Museum.
|The Abydos King list in the British Museum is a much inferior duplicate of the larger Royal List (p. 12) in the Hall of Ancestors or Records in the temple of Abydos.|