How To Make an Egyptian Cartouche

The ancient Egyptian language evolved over centuries; the first historical example dates back to the first dynasty in 3200 B.C. Over the years the alphabetic symbolism changed to accommodate the peoples of the Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, and finally the New Kingdom scribes. The latter is considered to be the ancient language in its fullest form, and therefore the era that you may expect to see a modern-day cartouche written in. Once used as the royal seal and insignia for the pharaohs, a cartouche is now a popular form of personalized writing for Egyptian jewelry and papyrus.

The highlight of any tour to Egypt is to purchase a piece of jewelry with your name engraved in the New Kingdom Egyptian hieroglyphics. To understand the character used, you may refer to linguistic scholars such as E.A. Wallis Budge for a directory of sounds and symbols. Names are spelled out phonetically; however there were no ancient alphabetic symbols for vowels - a linguistic style which is still practiced to this day. Instead, your name, or cartouche, will be spelled phonetically with consonants only.

To recreate the ancient Egyptian alphabet, you will need to be adroit with artistic skills, as each determinative is fashioned after images in their daily lives. Alphabetic characters include a variety of birds, snakes, water symbols and pottery to complete a comprehensive language. Great care must be taken when drawing the letters symbolized with birds, as the addition of a single feather in the tail can change the meaning of the letter. However, practice makes perfect, and if the ancient Egyptians could do it, then so can you.

Once you have learned the letters of your name, you are ready to form the cartouche. You may select a vertical or horizontal formation for your layout, depending on the intended application of your cartouche. Necklaces work best with the vertical layout, while bracelets and paper drawings look better if you lay out the images horizontally. After you have completed your name with the careful drawing of the phonetic symbols, you then draw an elongated circle around the name and close on one side with a straight line.

Drawing the symbols of the ancient Egyptian language can be tricky to do on your own. When buying a piece of jewelry that has a cartouch, you will find that they are often stamped out with precision by machinery or made by an artisan with years of experience. To perfect your own handwriting in this complex language, you will need to examine all the characters and learn to differentiate the subtle nuances in script. And from there, you will develop your own textual style and personality - just like the ancient scribes.


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