How the Rosetta Stone Discovered Egyptian Hieroglyphics | Tech Reddy
The Rosetta Stone, now on display in the British Museum—c. A granite tablet dating back to 196 AD, inscribed with an inscription in Egyptian hieroglyphics, Ancient Greek and Demotic scripts.
In July 1799, French troops were preparing to face the Ottoman forces at Rosetta, Egypt, when they stumbled upon a fragment of carved stone. Clinging to the wall of the fort, it revealed three languages—and soon proved to be the key to deciphering the long-lost language of Egyptian hieroglyphs.
The Rosetta Stone, dated 196 BC, was purchased by the British in the early 19th century and has been housed in the storied British Museum for centuries. But its future location is more controversial.
Stumbling upon the Rosetta Stone
No one went out to find the Rosetta Stone. Indeed, on July 19, 1799, French troops were fortifying the old fort at Rashid or Rosetta, Egypt, in preparation for an impending battle with the Ottoman army. According to the British Museum, they came across a mysterious relic while digging for foundations.
The stone, filled with detailed inscriptions, was about 44 inches high, 30 inches wide, and weighed around 1,680 pounds. As history Napoleon Bonaparte ordered his troops to examine Egyptian artifacts to bring back to France, so the stone’s potential significance was not lost on the French troops who passed through it.
“Among the fortifications of the old Rashid fort (now Fort Julien) on the left bank of the Nile… was quarried a fine black granite stone, fine-grained and hammer-hard,” it says. Courier de l’Egypte published in time. “Only one side is polished, on which there are three different inscriptions divided into three parallel bands.”
Pierre-Francois Bouchard, a soldier overseeing the work of the fortress in Rosetta, transported the stone to Cairo. But the stone did not remain in the hands of the French. After the British defeated the French in the Napoleonic Wars in 1801, they occupied it.
Then the race to transfer the Rosetta Stone began.
Understanding Ancient Stone
Although the use of hieroglyphs was abolished after the fourth century with the advent of Christianity, 19th-century scholars could still read ancient Greek, one of the three languages inscribed on the stone.
They are in the stone of the Greek priests.
The stone also directed copies of it to be placed in temples throughout Egypt. Most importantly, it contains a record of the same message being written in three languages: hieroglyphs used for official religious business, an informal demotic script, and the administrative language of ancient Greek.
After scholars succeeded in translating the ancient Greek language, they focused on understanding the hieroglyphs. This work mainly involved two people, the British scientist Thomas Young and the French linguist Jean-Francois Champollion.
According to history, Young began studying the Rosetta Stone in 1814. He found that some of the hieroglyphs were enclosed in ovals, which he called cartouches, and these contained royal names such as Ptolemy. But as the British Museum points out, Young ultimately failed to understand what the signs meant.
This task was entrusted to Champollion, who began to study the Rosetta Stone in 1822. Champollion had an extensive knowledge of Egypt and even understood the Coptic language, which was derived from the ancient Egyptian language. He discovered that the hieroglyphs contained Coptic sounds.
“I got that!” Champollion is believed to have burst into tears National Geographic, when he made his discovery. Then the French linguist fainted and did not recover for five days.
Champollion’s discovery and subsequent works on hieroglyphics have earned him the title “Father of Egyptology”. In accordance with The Irish Times, he realized that signs fall into four categories. They are either pictograms (depicting objects), ideograms (depicting abstract ideas), used phonetically, or used as derivatives to change the meaning of a group of symbols.
Thanks to him, the hieroglyphic language was revived and allowed archaeologists to understand the inscriptions in temples and tombs all over Egypt.
But the story of Rosetta Stone does not end there. Indeed, the dispute between Egypt and Great Britain over which country has the right to display this important historical artifact continues to this day.
The controversy surrounding the Rosetta Stone today
According to the British Museum, the institution acquired the Rosetta Stone in 1802, shortly after the British won the artifact from the French. As the museum could not support the enormous weight of the stone, a new gallery was built to display it and other exhibits.
Since then – except for a two-year period during World War I – the Rosetta Stone has remained in British hands. The artefact, which is on display at the British Museum, attracts around six million visitors a year.
But some Egyptians think it’s time for Britain to return the stone to Egypt. In accordance with Art NewsEgypt’s former antiquities minister, Zahi Hawass, is demanding Britain return the Rosetta Stone, as well as a bust of Queen Nefertiti from Germany and a sculpted Zodiac ceiling from France.
“I believe these three things are unique and should have their home in Egypt. “We have collected all the evidence that these three items were stolen from Egypt,” Hawass said National.
He added, “The Rosetta Stone is a symbol of Egyptian identity. The British Museum has no right to display this exhibit to the public.”
Hawass claims he has been approaching the British Museum since 2003 to return the Rosetta Stone and plans to submit a petition signed by Egyptian academics in October 2022. The British Museum, for its part, insists that Egypt has taken no such official action. Question for Rosetta Stone.
But given that museums around the world have repatriated objects in recent years, the Rosetta Stone may eventually return to Egypt. A replica of the famous artefact is currently housed in the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities in Cairo.
And some think that a replica might be enough. Eltayeb Abbas, head of archeology at the Grand Egyptian Museum, said that as much as he would like to get the artifact back, he doubts the real-life Rosetta Stone will ever return to Egypt.
“If we are serious, these objects will never come to Egypt,” Abbas said Evening Standard. “But being in the British Museum in Berlin or London is good propaganda for Egypt. It’s good advertising.”
And so the story of Rosetta Stone continues. It is unclear whether the artefact will remain in the UK or return to Egypt. But the significance of this carved stone is undeniable. Thanks to linguists like Champollion, he provided the key to understanding a lost language.
After reading about the Rosetta Stone, discover the story of Cleopatra’s death. Or, check out these interesting facts about Ancient Egypt.