The Ancient Egyptians began using pictures or "symbols" to communicate their ideas more than 5000 years ago. This was the primary means of written expression until around 400 BCE, and these "symbols" were used for more than 3,500 years in Ancient Egypt.
Ancient Egyptians used the natural world around them to develop these symbols. A river might literally represent the flowing Nile, but it could also metaphorically represent the "flow of knowledge." Often the symbols selected could represent the image, literally or figuratively. The combination of symbols, the relationship between the symbols and context of these symbols would help to provide the "reader" with the meaning of the heiroglypic inscription of the many different "symbols" in Ancient Egyptian writing.
Today, symbols in our own culture are used similarly to the way the Ancient Egyptians incorporated and used their own cultural symbols. For example, in our society a light-bulb could represent a great idea, a heart usually represents love (think Valentine's Day), and the universal symbol of the skull and crossbones has a much more ominous meaning than a pirate invasion.
In order to learn more about a few of the important symbols in Ancient Egypt and what they might represent in Ancient Egyptian culture, please read this article on the “Ankh” or the Egyptian symbol of life.
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