Rosetta Stone

Historians in Egypt are currently demanding the return of the Rosetta Stone from the British Museum.

Key facts

  • The Rosetta Stone is a large stone slab that dates back to 196 BC.
  • It was discovered by the French military leader Napoleon’s army in Northern Egypt in 1799.
  • The Rosetta Stone and other antiquities were taken by British following Napoleon’s defeat as per the provisions of the 1801 Treaty of Alexandria.
  • It has been displayed at the British Museum ever since 1802.
  • The rock slab has inscriptions of the same text in three different scripts – hieroglyphs, demotic (an ancient Egyptian script) and ancient Greek. It is believed to be a part of larger rock.
  • The inscription of the slab conveys a decree or public message. This is similar to the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka’s edicts that featured Buddha’s teachings and victories in wars.
  • The Rosette Stone was estimated to have been engraved during the time of King Ptolemy V, who reigned from 204 to 181 BC. Therefore, the stone is estimated to be around 2,000 years old.
  • The inscriptions are believed to provide priests’ message supporting the King.
  • The Rosette Stone was used by French philologist Jean-Francois Champollion to decipher hieroglyphs. His work helped improve the understanding of ancient Egyptian language and culture.
  • It had helped in the development of the Egyptology – a field concerning the study of ancient Egyptian history, religion, language, literature, art and architecture from 5th millennium BC to 4th century AD.
  • Egyptian archaeologists have long called for the return of the Rosette Stone.
  • However, the British Museum refused to part with the historic slab arguing that some countries might be unable to safeguard and maintain valuable historic items.
  • The return of the Rosette Stone to Egypt would mean a significant boost to the country’s tourism sector – a key source of income for the presently struggling Egyptian economy.

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