The British Museum is famous for its fabulous collection of priceless ancient artifacts. One of the oldest and most priceless of these is the Rosetta Stone. It is an immensely important artifact that most people have at least heard about.
It is important to know something about this stone that unlocked the Eygptian hieroglyphs before seeing it in the museum. Egyptology could never have been what it is without the aid of this once-in-a-lifetime find. Believe it or not, there are still some scripts that have yet to be deciphered - some remain a mystery to this day.
The Story of How it Was Discovered and how The British Pinched it
On 15 July 1799, the French and the British were busy trading blows (like they were in the habit of doing back then). Napoleon had led an expedition to capture Egypt in an effort to cut Britain off from its trade with India. All of that is a long story but what's important is that the French soldiers stumbled upon the Rosetta Stone. A find that was set to change our understanding of the ancient world.
Discovered: In 1799 By French Soldiers
They found it while digging the foundations for a fort in the town of Rashid (or Rosetta) in preparation for a battle with the Ottoman Empire (who nominally ruled Egypt at this time).
While Napoleon was an almost unbeatable general at land, at sea the French never did too well against the British (to put it mildly). And in 1801 the British managed to defeat the cut-off French forces in Egypt. Then the Rossetta Stone became the property of the British (under the terms of the Treaty of Alexandria 1801) - together with anything else the British wanted that the French had found.
Transport To England: The Rossetta Stone Arrived in England in 1802
What The Rosetta Stone Is
According to the British Museum, the Rosetta Stone is a fragment of an ancient stela (an inscribed slab) that was inscribed in three languages and would prove to be the key to unlocking the mysterious hieroglyphic script of ancient Egypt.
The stone is a broken part of what was a much larger stone slab and its message is etched into it in three types of writing. These three writings are:
Hieroglyphs: Suitable for a Priestly Decree
Demotic: The Cursive Egyptian Script that Was The Daily "Language of the People"
Ancient Greek: The Language of The Ptolemies And Administration (Egypt Was Ruled By The Greeks At this Point)
The writing on the stone is a decree from Ptolemy V (204-181 BC) and was one of many large stone slabs (called stelae) that were displayed in every temple in Egypt. It is one of many mass-produced stelae and follows a template that was first composed around a century earlier with only the date and the names of the king being changed
The Rosetta Stone speaks about a decree passed by a council of priests affirming the royal cult of the 13-year-old Ptolemy V. One can read the full translation on Sacred Texts.
Others: Other Copies of the Same Bilingual, three-Scripted Decree have Been Found And are In other Museums In The World
As the Rosetta Stone is broken, it is also incomplete. It has
14 Lines: Of Hieorglphic Script
32 Lines: In Demotic Script
53 Lines: In Ancient Greek
Deciphering The Egyptian Hieroglyphs
When it was discovered, the knowledge of how to read ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs had long since been lost and no one could decipher them. But as scholars could read Ancient Greek, they could use that as a key to decipher the hieroglyphs on the stone.
End of the Hieroglphys: The Hieroglyphs Stopped Being Used in the 4th Century AD and Knowledge of How To Read Them Was Lost Soon after that
Thomas Young: An English Physicist, One of The First To show That Some of The Hieroglyphs Wrote The Sounds Of the Royal Name of Ptolemy
Jean-François Champollion: Laid the Foundation of Cracking The Hierglphs Showing That They Recorded the Sound of The Egyptian Language
Jean-François Champollion showed that they recorded the sound of the Egyptian language and then published a paper with alphabetic hieroglyphs. Soon (by including his nothing of the Egyptian-descended Coptic language) he was able to begin reading hieroglyphic inscriptions fully.
Where To see the Rosetta Stone Today
Today is it on display at the British Museum in Room 4. Admission is free to the British Museum. The British Museum is open daily from 10.00 am to 5.00 pm with the last entry at 4.00 pm.
Opening times: Daily 10.00 am – 5.00 pm
Display: Has Been On Display At The British Museum since 1802 - Now in Room 4