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Jean-François Champollion
Jean-François Champollion

The decipherment of ancient Egyptian scripts was accomplished in the early nineteenth century by several European scholars, especially Jean-François Champollion (pictured) and Thomas Young. Egyptian writing, which included the hieroglyphic, hieratic and demotic scripts, ceased to be understood in the fourth and fifth centuries AD. Afterwards, it was believed that Egyptian scripts were exclusively ideographic, representing ideas, rather than phonetic, representing sounds. The Rosetta Stone, discovered in 1799, bore a parallel text in hieroglyphic, demotic and Greek, but deciphering the Egyptian text through its Greek translation proved difficult. Young, building on the work of Antoine-Isaac Silvestre de Sacy and Johan David Åkerblad, identified several phonetic signs in demotic. In the early 1820s Champollion realised the hieroglyphic script had both phonetic and ideographic elements. He identified the meanings of most phonetic hieroglyphs and established much of the grammar and vocabulary of ancient Egyptian. (Full article...)

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Greenbacks were paper currency issued by the Union government from 1862 to 1865, during the American Civil War. Issued in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1000 dollars, they were legal tender but were not backed by gold or silver. The obverse of the banknotes was printed in green, black and red, while the reverse was printed in green, giving the notes their popular name of "greenbacks". They were signed by Lucius E. Chittenden, Register of the Treasury, and Francis E. Spinner, Treasurer of the United States.

This picture shows a two-dollar greenback issued in 1862, featuring a portrait of Alexander Hamilton, one of the Founding Fathers and the first secretary of the treasury, on the obverse. This banknote is part of the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History.

Other denominations: $1, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100, $500, $1000

Banknote design credit: National Bank Note Company; photographed by Andrew Shiva

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