digitalEPIGRAPHY's New Databases for Painted Hieroglyphs and Visual Documentation Are Here!

Dec 15, 2020

This project is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Gábor Schreiber, faculty member of the Department of Egyptology, Eötvös Loránd University 

Scrolling through one of digitalEPIGRAPHY’s new additions, the Visual Documentation Gallery, on the iPad

In the past few months, we've been busy creating something that has been a dream of mine for many years. Working with ancient Egyptian artifacts, wall scenes, fragments, and countless other material, I often find myself needing access to a broader context, a similar image, or an innovative solution in order to put into perspective what I am occupied with. Whenever this happens, research begins. With our brand-new collections, digitalEPIGRAPHY would like to test the water to find out how we can support your investigations. What we've been working on for some time now is not one but two visual databases, directly accessible and searchable through the website, implemented within the Complementary Material section. 

We've been tirelessly collecting and sorting through information regarding exquisitely painted hieroglyph samples and the infinite pool of visual documentation material (aka drawings) that have been published over the past hundred-plus years. We hope that studying an exquisitely detailed hieroglyph, the most basic Egyptian pictorial representation unit, will support your study or epigraphic project by providing you with relevant information on a macro level. On the other hand, being able to revisit, compare, and study the most significant historical and contemporary documentation efforts will enrich your scope of available methods and help you find your epigraphic solutions.

Our new collections are still forming. They have been forming steadily in the past few months and have now reached a point to be presented to you, dear Reader. We would like to invite you to look at what we've created and be part of their future development. You'll be our beta testers, if I may say so. If you're finding inconsistencies with the presentation or have any remarks and suggestions, don't hesitate to reach us at Have fun exploring!

The Home Page View

Appearing in the Complementary Material section on the digitalEPIGRAPHY home page, you'll find the new databases concealed by a minimalistic front. While hiding a lot of information, each collection has only one random entry on display accompanied by a single search bar. Since this will be the first time most of you will interact with the data, we'd like to give you a glimpse of what you can do here. The following walkthrough applies for both the Painted Hieroglyphs and the Visual Documentation databases. When looking at the database panel, there are four different ways to get started. If you'd like to get right to the database and see all entries at once, you must click on the collection's title and the link takes you to the Gallery View. Assuming you are interested in learning more about the random Card Entry on display or just want to see how a card looks like, you can jump right to this specific entry by clicking on the image in the center. Although searching the database can be a much more involved affair than typing terms into a search bar, you can do so right on the home page, especially if you know what you're looking for. We supplemented this search bar with a few suggestions to get you started, but we have a lot more to say about initiating different types of searches, so please stay with us and keep reading! Finally, there is a suspicious-looking blue button underneath the panel, which is the gateway to supply us with your own material. Inviting contributors to augment these collections was among our main initiatives when designing our latest digitalEPIGRAPHY additions. 

The Gallery View (Painted Hieroglyphs)

The Gallery View is where you'll spend most of your time when interacting with a database. It is the central hub for searching the entries and combing through what we have collected so far. Again, both collections have a reasonably similar gallery appearance. However, there are little nuances specific to each. Starting with the Painted Hieroglyphs, all entries are sorted into groups according to Gardiner's system, represented by a cover image with each hieroglyph's Sign Number displayed on the lower right corner. As you can see above, there is more than one way to search the database. We wanted to give you as much flexibility as possible. 

First, there is the search bar known from the home page. Again, if you need a little "nudge" in the right direction, you can look at our search term suggestions by clicking on the Info button. Next to the right, you'll find yet another search bar, designed for those looking for a specific sign number. While it is also possible to search for sign numbers in the General Search area, there is a fundamental difference between how the two works. For example, when typing "G1" into the general search bar on the left, it is going to list all entries containing the term "G1", meaning you'll find "G1", "G11", "G12…G19" etc. all listed below. Now, when you use the search bar dedicated exclusively to Sign Numbers, it will look for your exact term, in this case "G1". With only a representative number of entries included at the start, it might not seem like much of a difference for now. However, this differentiation will become tremendously useful as the Painted Hieroglyphs database gets populated with more entries. Another thing worth mentioning is that while General Search does its magic as you type (to help you refine your search terms), the Sign Number search needs to be initiated by hitting Enter or clicking on the magnifier icon. 

At the far right, there is the blue Advanced Search button for those looking for  specific attributes or signs of a particular group, date, color, etc. With the advanced search, digitalEPIGRAPHY is here to help you when you don't want to type in your own search terms. Are you looking for painted hieroglyphs appearing on coffins? Or for all our 18th Dynasty hieroglyphs? Or for the ones that have blue and yellow color? Or, instead, would you like to see all the painted relief entries we have collected? You can do so by picking attributes from the lists. Want to see if there is a Bird (G) from an 18th Dynasty (Date) Tomb (Type) carved in Relief (Appearance) that is Green and Yellow (Colors)? You are now able to find it! If you get lost in picking categories or want to clear all data and start over, just click on the Gallery title and wait for the spinning dE logo.

The Gallery View (Visual Documentation)

As we have stated before, there are many similarities between how the two galleries are displayed in the Gallery view, so we'll only mention the Visual Documentation database's peculiarities here. Although we kept the same 3-column grid as the central organizing principle, we felt the need to give you some additional information when showing past and present documentation material. An entry's title usually refers to the origin and nature of the drawing on display. Because of the data's complexity, the Advanced Search area is enriched with a lot more options than with the painted hieroglyphs. Some of these attributes are exclusive, such as Type and Period, but with most you'll be able to select more than one option. If you can't find what you're looking for by typing into the General Search bar, we strongly recommend using the category selectors included at Advanced Search. Oh, and Advanced Search selects entries in real-time as you pick the attributes. Spectacular! 

One more thing to know before you become search experts: when typed in, you can either search for one word or a two-word phrase. Our engine will always look for the exact phrase. It means that "tomb" will give you all tomb entries but "tombs" won't give you any. Also, "bowl" will look for this specific type of vessel and – unfortunately – lists "owl" as well. "New Kingdom" works, while "New-Kingdom" doesn't. Also, "sun-and-shadow" is a valid search term while "sun and shadow" is not. We are not competing with Google (just yet); I hope you can forgive us! Closing the search tutorial, we should mention that all data from the Complementary Material section (including the Image Gallery, the 3D Model Collection, and the two new databases) are connected to the Universal Search bar located at the header section of the website. This means that you'll always be able to search for painted hieroglyphs, visual documentation entries, article related photos, etc., no matter where you are on the website.

The Card View

Whenever clicking on the cover image of an entry, you'll be taken to that entry's card. The Card View contains all the information associated with a certain painted hieroglyph or drawing. We'll explain the two databases simultaneously as their design choices and content arrangement is nearly identical. A card consists of two visual panels on the left. The cover image is always on top, while the context images are at the bottom. A hieroglyph has one context image (if available) containing the sign's immediate vicinity as it appears on the wall, artifact, etc. The drawing detail shown as the cover image can have more context, a color photograph of the same area, or further information emphasizing the peculiar drawing style of the artist/epigrapher. 

On the right, you'll find all the attributes describing the entry, such as provenance, date, color, appearance, etc., accompanied by stylistic and color notes provided by us. Some of the Visual Documentation material included in the database was already analyzed in digitalEPIGRAPHY's Reading section. Naturally, wherever available, we have the links to these articles in case you'd like to expand your knowledge. The occasional download links provided at the bottom serve the same purpose: pointing you towards more contextual information regarding the presented epigraphic works or their subjects. The icing on the cake is that you'll be able to initiate an Advanced Search right from the card, just by clicking on any attributes that appear within a grey "bubble" (the text should change to orange as you hover over these). So, when you're looking at a limestone ostracon and would like to see more drawings documenting limestone artifacts, just click on "Limestone" in the material category. It takes you back to Advanced Search, listing all entries associated with "Limestone". When you click on one of the entries now, the number of hits will be indicated on a dark grey panel at the bottom right corner of the card. From there, you can simply flip through your search results, card by card. If it sounds complicated, you should try it and see that it isn't. But it is powerful!

And what about accessing the databases on the go?

Thumbnail view (left), List view (center), and Cover view (right) as displayed on mobile devices

Slightly different in its appearance but all the same in functionality: the new Visual Documentation Gallery as it appears on mobile devices

The digitalEPIGRAPHY website was built with our age's mobile-first generation in focus. All our articles, carousels, buttons, etc., scale correctly onto the smaller screens. You shouldn't feel disabled when wanting to read a case study, watch a quick tutorial, or familiarize yourself with a recommended tool on the go. It is no different from accessing our brand-new databases. We worked a lot on optimization and made some mobile-specific design choices to serve you in the field. You can quickly flip through galleries, always initiate a Universal Search through the "hamburger" menu in the dE header, look at entry images in beautiful high resolution and use the same powerful search engines available on desktop as described above. Yes, everything looks smaller and more compact, but as long as you have access to the internet, it is all there on your cellphone in your pocket. Design-wise, you'll find most buttons and data snippets spread out vertically. To provide you quick access to all the new features, we moved the entire Complementary Material section to the very bottom of our mobile feed, starting below the most recent articles. Slightly different but not compromised.

Uploading your own material

There are no technical boundaries to participating in the databases. You can send in your entry candidates any way you want, even from your mobile device while standing in front of the wall

At the end of the tour, I'd like to talk about your involvement, dear Reader! Your future participation is planned to be a significant part of this operation, since populating the databases with content is no small task. 

Right now, the Painted Hieroglyph database is based on a representative collection, mostly to demonstrate the power of the concept. Luckily, the core of this collection is formed by none other than the beautiful material coming from Theban Tomb 179, the exquisitely painted early Eighteenth Dynasty mortuary monument constructed for censor scribe of grain, Nebamun. I can't be thankful enough for Dr. Gábor Schreiber (†) for inviting me to be part of this project. I'd like to contribute to his legacy by presenting an exclusive set of TT 179 painted hieroglyphs as the starting point of our database. We will gradually increase the number of hieroglyphs in the months to come, hunting for superb details and one-of-a-kind features from all periods of Egyptian art. But we need your help in finding more! We need your keen eyes to uncover, photograph, and send us what you encounter during your research, field project, or pleasure trip in Egypt. 

Our criteria are simple: it should be a spectacularly painted hieroglyph, preserved in pristine shape and photographed (with preferably a little bit of context) in high resolution (and by high resolution, we mean HIGH resolution!). If you find one that is worthy of our attention, please, upload it to our database. Try to include as much context information as possible; we'll help you with providing the same categories you'll find in the Advanced Search tabs. You don't have to fill in all the information, but the more the better. Don't forget to include your name and email address so we can reach you if the data needs more clarification. Once uploaded, your contribution will be revised by us and become part of the database. Including your name is vital for more than one reason: the contributors who upload the most unique, most spectacular painted hieroglyphs will be thanked on the website. Every six months, the contributor who uploads the most relevant hieroglyphs will receive a gift, courtesy of digitalEPIGRAPHY, to help his/her digital documentation work. Look around in the Tools Section to get some ideas :) ! So, the race is on for helping us populating the database!

Regarding the Visual Documentation collection, all we can say (over and over) is that we didn't build this website to merely display what we've created and what we find relevant in documenting ancient Egypt! digitalEPIGRAPHY should be a dialogue between those involved in the epigraphic process. And part of this dialogue should be to share your work with those in need of encouragement and help develop their methods. We need your participation, dear Colleagues! We don't want to steal your thunder by publishing your research, but we'd like to get a glimpse of your documentation methods, if possible. We are continually hunting for epigraphic works that have been already published, and – ultimately – would like to make every relevant effort to be accessible through the website.

Nonetheless, we would like to sincerely ask you to help us with this project by sending us a high-resolution drawing or drawing detail, accompanied by some essential information. We can only promise to add your work to the Visual Documentation database for everybody's benefit. Uploading your art is pretty straightforward; however, if you'd like to get in touch about it first or have questions, you can always email us at We built the vehicle, and now we are looking forward to working with you all!

In the end, I owe my sincerest gratitude to those who have worked tirelessly on the website's newest additions. As always, none of this could have happened without the ingenious expertise of Groteszk Kreatív Társulat. This time I would like to specifically thank Róbert Solymári and Gábor Bánrévi for their tireless work realizing these ideas. I would also like to thank KU Leuven (represented by Dr. Harko Willems and Dr. Marleen De Meyer) for their financial contribution. Without their help, none of these new additions would have been possible to create. Finally, I would like to thank Egyptologist Júlia Schmied, the cornerstone of this entire operation, for her dedication to setting up the boundaries of both collections and to populate them with so much data. I can't wait to see where we can take it from here!

Krisztián Vértes

Egyptologist, Senior Artist at the Epigraphic Survey

of the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago

1 comment(s)

Elena Hertel

May 19, 2022

Congratulations, dear Krisztián & team! This looks fantastic! I love how user-friendly the search and result display is and how easy the upload seems to be. Makes me want to start working on hieroglyphs just to be able to contribute :-D Thanks for putting in the hours to create such a great tool! All the best, Elena

Oct 27, 2022

Dear Elena, thank you so much for your kind words! It makes me glad to read that you find our new Painted Hieroglyphs database useful. We add new entries constantly, so it is always worth checking back from time to time. We are also preparing the revised dE 2.0 with a brand-new look and extra functionality! Stay tuned! Best, Krisztian

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