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Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta Stone solved a particularly difficult linguistic problem.
The Rosetta Stone solved a particularly difficult linguistic problem.

The Rosetta Stone is a dark granite stone (often incorrectly identified as "basalt") which provided modern researchers with translations of ancient text in Egyptian demotic script, Greek, and Egyptian hieroglyphs. Because Greek was well known, the stone was the key to deciphering the hieroglyphs in 1822 by Jean-François Champollion, and in 1823 by Thomas Young. The discovery facilitated translation of other hieroglyphic texts.

The stone has been kept in the British Museum since 1802.


Contents of text

The same Ptolemaic decree of 196 BC is written on the stone in the three scripts. The Greek part of the Rosetta Stone begins: Basileuontos tou neou kai paralabontos tén basileian para tou patros... (The new king, having received the kingship from his father...) It is a decree from Ptolemy V, describing various taxes he repealed (one measured in ardebs (Greek artabai) per aroura), and instructing that statues be erected in temples and that the decree be published in the writing of the words of gods (hieroglyphs), the writing of the people (demotic), and the Wynen (Greek; the word is cognate with Ionian) language.

History of the Stone

French Captain Pierre-François Bouchard (1772-1832) discovered the Stone in the Egyptian port city of Rosetta (present-day Rashid) on July 15, 1799.

Some scientists [1] accompanied Napoleon's French campaign in Egypt (1798-1801). After Napoleon Bonaparte founded the Institut de l'Egypte in Cairo in 1798 some 50 became members of it. Bouchard found a black stone when guiding construction works in the Fort Julien near the city of Rosetta. He immediately understood the importance of the stone and showed it to general Abdallah Jacques de Menou who decided that it should be brought to the institute, where it arrived in August, 1799.

In 1801 the French had to surrender. A dispute arose about the results of the scientists - the French wishing to keep them, while the British considered them forfeit, in the name of King George III.

The French scientist Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, writing to the English diplomat William Richard Hamilton threatened to burn all their discoveries, ominously referring to the burned Library of Alexandria. The British capitulated, and they insisted only on the delivery of the monuments. The French tried to hide the Stone in a boat despite the clauses of the capitulation, but failed. The French were allowed to take the imprints they had made before when embarking in Alexandria.

When it was brought back to Britain, it was presented to the British Museum, where it has been kept since 1802.

White painted inscriptions, contemporary with its acquisition, record on the left side 'Captured in Egypt by the British Army in 1801' and on the right 'Presented by King George III'. The Stone was cleaned by the British Museum in 1998, and this evidence of its history was not removed. A small area of the surface at the bottom left hand corner was also left uncleaned for comparative purposes.

In July 2003, the Egyptians demanded the return of the Rosetta Stone. Dr. Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Cairo told the press: If the British want to be remembered, if they want to restore their reputation, they should volunteer to return the stone because it is the icon of our Egyptian identity.

Use as metaphor

Rosetta Stone is also used as a metaphor to refer to anything that is a critical key to a process of decryption, translation, or a difficult problem, e.g., "the Rosetta stone of immunology", "thalamocortical rhythms, the Rosetta Stone of a subset of neurological disorders", "Arabidopsis, the Rosetta stone of flowering time".

See also

External links

Last updated: 05-14-2005 14:05:05
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04