The story of this young, brash, hot-headed, volatile scholar began after being continuously expelled from every local school he attended. At age 10 he arrived at Grenoble, a town in southwest France where he found himself engrossed in Oriental history and languages. Born in 1790 during a time when France was basking in the new exotic glow of Napoleon's Egyptian campaign (1798-1801). He began learning ancient Coptic at age 12 by narrating his daily domestic routine of manual labor and reading, soon he began scaling his ambition to conquer an unimaginable challenge: decipherment! His older brother would remain an invaluable asset, strengthening his Jean's temperament, his reach and social connections as well as purchasing a large library to facilitate his younger brothers learning.
His first breakthrough was in deciding that the ancient Egyptian code did NOT refer to abstractions BUT was phonetic. Having trusted his instincts, he began to work his code breaking skills to fortify an assumption that put him at odds with many others established scholars. Champollion's breakthrough would initially be fielded by a young Englishman named Thomas Young, who in 1819 published a key insight that hieroglyph's were alphabetic in nature. Champollion's insight would finally seek ratification between 1822-1824 with numerous sophisticated publications proving his initial instincts correct.
In 1828, Champollion would make a two year financed journey to Egypt. This would remain the single most powerful intellectual experience of his life. Moving between traditional finds like Abu Simbel and the tombs in the Valley of the Kings would open up to him as he quickly sought to record both new and old inscriptions. Having returned home in 1832, he died early at the age of 41 while working on his magnum opus, a hieroglyphic dictionary.
His discoveries were nearly lost because Champollion didn't have trained students working under him. The task of collating volumes of unpublished letters, monographs and professional correspondence was left for his brother to assemble. Most were published decades after his death!
Grave of Jean Francois Champollion http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=Champollion+&GSfn=jean+&GSbyrel=all&GSdyrel=
Personal Writings of Champollion http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008910273
Amazon Biography http://amzn.com/0199914990