Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Egyptian Hieroglyphs on the Web (October 2010)

One year after the release of Egyptian Hieroglyphs in Unicode 5.2 there has been some progress in making hieroglyphs usable on the web although it is still early days. I hope these notes are useful.

If you can see hieroglyphs 𓄞𓀁 in this sentence, good. Otherwise. A few notes, and you can decide whether it might be better to wait until things have moved forward a little.

Information on Egyptian Hieroglyphs in Unicode

For information on Unicode 6.0 (the latest version) see www.unicode.org/versions/Unicode6.0.0/. While the full text for 6.0 is being updated, refer to the 5.2 version www.unicode.org/versions/Unicode5.2.0/ch14.pdf section 14.17. The direct link to the chart is www.unicode.org/charts/PDF/U13000.pdf where signs are shown using the InScribe font.

The Wikipedia article en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egyptian_hieroglyphs is fairly accurate as far as it goes, and contains hieroglyphs in Unicode which can be viewed given a suitable browser and font.

InScribeX Web still contains the largest set of material viewable online including sign list, dictionaries and tools. You need a Silverlight (or Moonlight) compatible system (the vast majority of PCs, Linux, Mac or Windows, are fine.). There is no requirement you install a font. I last updated InScribeX Web in May – yes it is about due for an update but time is the enemy (and I’d like to see Moonlight 3 released first anyway).


Of the popular web browsers, only recent versions of Firefox display individual Unicode hieroglyphs correctly. I expect the situation will change over the next few months. Meanwhile, use Firefox if you want to explore the current state of the art.


Right now, only Google search indexes Unicode hieroglyphs (and the transliteration characters introduced at Unicode 5.1 in 2008). I expect at some point next year Bing and Yahoo will be brought up to date but meanwhile stick with Google.


A satisfactory treatment of hieroglyphs on the web really needs smart fonts installed on your computer. I’m on the case (see Simplified Egyptian: A brief Introduction) but it will take some time until all the pieces of the puzzle including browser support come together (see ISO/Unicode scripts missing in OpenType and other comments here).

Neither Apple nor Microsoft provide a suitable font at the moment as parts of, or add-ons to, iOS, OSX, or Windows.

Meanwhile, in general I can’t advise about basic free fonts to use (fonts sometimes appear on the internet without permission of copyright holders and I don't want to encourage unfair use of creative work).

I will note an ‘Aegyptus’ font is downloadable at http://users.teilar.gr/~g1951d/ – the glyphs are apparently copied from Hieroglyphica 2000. I’ve not analyzed this yet.

For InScribe 2004 users I currently have an intermediate version of the InScribe font available on request (email me on Saqqara at [Saqqara.org] with ‘InScribe Unicode Font’ in the message title – I get a lot of spam junk mail. That way I can let you know about updates.).

Asking a user to install a font to read a web page is in general a non-starter; I think the medium term future for web sites is the Web Open Font Format (WOFF) once the dust settles on the new web browser versions in development. I’ll post here about the InScribe font in this context and make examples available when the time is ripe.

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