There are similarities in design and shapes of emojis when compared to ancient hieroglyphics, despite thousands of years and very big cultural gaps between them. There are similarities in design and shapes of emojis when compared to ancient hieroglyphics, despite thousands of years and very big cultural gaps between them. There are similarities in design and shapes of emojis when compared to ancient hieroglyphics, despite thousands of years and very big cultural gaps between them. (Photo: Israel Museum; ober-art/Shutterstock)

Are emojis modern-day hieroglyphics? A new museum exhibit explains

'Emoglyphs,' at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, investigates the ancient Egyptian writings alongside the digital characters we love today.

For about as long as we've been using smartphones, we've been using emojis to convey just about every activity, emotion and facial expression we encounter in our daily lives. Some prognosticators have gone so far as to suggest that emojis will one day replace text altogether.

But one phenomenon we can't deny? This ever-growing menu of digital characters bears a striking resemblance to the ancient language of hieroglyphs – the intricate etchings and drawings of Egyptians used to communicate everything from grocery lists to prayers.

This similarity takes first billing at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, in a new exhibit titled "Emoglyphs: Picture-Writing from Hieroglyphs to the Emoji," showing through the end of 2020. Its curator, archaeologist Shirley Ben-Dor Evian, said focusing on the two concepts provided a clever way for the museum to explain the importance of ancient hieroglyphics to modern audiences.

This hieroglyph, on painted limestone, is on display at the Israel Museum as part of the 'Emoglyphs' exhibit. This hieroglyph, on painted limestone, is on display at the Israel Museum as part of the 'Emoglyphs' exhibit. (Photo: Israel Museum)

emojis vs hieroglyphics Emojis vs. hieroglyphs. (Photo: Israel Museum)

For instance, the modern purple-suited dancer emoji with his hand raised strikes a similar pose to that of an Egyptian in a loin cloth from 3,000 years ago.

"The script that developed In Egypt some 5,000 years ago contained hundreds of pictures that could be written through everything ... but required immense knowledge and skill," Evian said. "Although writing in pictures seemed to be out of this world, here, in the digital age of the 21st century, emoji appear in countless messages that we all use regularly."

Though mostly used to enhance existing language in text messages and online, Evian argues that emojis are, indeed, a powerful language unto themselves. So powerful, in fact, that in 2016, Apple Corp. had to replace its traditional, realistic-looking gun emoji with a childish green toy gun image to quell criticism that the former was too provocative.

"... Once you start using a picture as writing, then it’s much more powerful than writing the word ‘gun,'" Evian explained. "It’s much scarier."

The exhibit's intent, Evian said, is to offer a closer look at how written characters, or pictograms, can affect the physical world. “My goal as an Egyptologist is to show to people that something that is ancient is still relevant to their lives today," she said.

This fragment (circa 1200 BCE) depicts Ramesses II, an Egyptian Pharaoh. It's one of several hieroglyphic artifacts on display in the 'Emoglyphs' exhibit. This fragment (circa 1200 BCE) depicts Ramesses II, an Egyptian Pharaoh. It's one of several hieroglyphic artifacts on display in the 'Emoglyphs' exhibit. (Photo: Israel Museum)

MORE FROM THE GRAPEVINE:

Photos and SlideshowsPhotos and Slideshows

Related Topics: Archaeology

Are emojis modern-day hieroglyphics? A new museum exhibit explains
'Emoglyphs,' at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, investigates the ancient Egyptian writings alongside the digital characters we love today.