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The Rosetta Stone is an Ancient Egyptian artifact which was instrumental in advancing modern understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphic writing. The stone is a Ptolemaic era stele with carved text made up of three translations of a single passage: two in Egyptian language scripts (hieroglyphic and Demotic) and one in classical Greek. It was created in 196 BC, discovered by the French in 1799 at Rosetta, and transported to England in 1802. Once in Europe, it contributed greatly to the deciphering of the principles of hieroglyph writing, through the work of the British scientist Thomas Young and the French scholar Jean-François Champollion. Comparative translation of the stone assisted in understanding many previously undecipherable examples of hieroglyphic writing. The text on the stone is a decree from Ptolemy V, describing the repeal of various taxes and instructions to erect statues in temples. Two Egyptian-Greek multilingual steles predated Ptolemy V’s Rosetta Stone: Ptolemy III‘s Decree of Canopus, 239 BC, and Ptolemy IV‘s Decree of Memphis, ca 218 BC.
The Rosetta Stone is 114.4 centimetres (45.0 in) high at its highest point, 72.3 centimetres (28.5 in) wide, and 27.9 centimetres (11.0 in) thick. It is unfinished on its sides and reverse. Weighing approximately 760 kilograms (1,700 lb), it was originally thought to be granite or basalt but is currently described as granodiorite of a dark grey-pinkish colour. The stone has been on public display at The British Museum since 1802.
History of the Rosetta Stone
In preparation for Napoleon‘s 1798 campaign in Egypt, the French brought with them 167 scientists, scholars and archaeologists known as the ‘savants’. French Army engineer Lieutenant Pierre-François Bouchard discovered the stone sometime in mid-July 1799, first official mention of the find being made after the 25th in the meeting of the savants’ Institut d’Égypte in Cairo. It was spotted in the foundations of an old wall, during renovations to Fort Julien near the Egyptian port city of Rashid (Rosetta) and sent down to the Institute headquarters in Cairo. After Napoleon returned to France shortly after the discovery, the savants remained behind with French troops which held off British and Ottoman attacks for a further 18 months. In March 1801, the British landed at Aboukir Bay and scholars carried the Stone from Cairo to Alexandria alongside the troops of Jacques-Francois Menou who marched north to meet the enemy; defeated in battle, Menou and the remnant of his army fled to fortified Alexandria where they were surrounded and immediately placed under siege, the stone now inside the city. Overwhelmed by invading Ottoman troops later reinforced by the British, the remaining French in Cairo capitulated on June 22, and Menou admitted defeat in Alexandria on August 30.
After the surrender, a dispute arose over the fate of French archaeological and scientific discoveries in Egypt. Menou refused to hand them over, claiming they belonged to the Institute. British General John Hely-Hutchinson, 2nd Earl of Donoughmore, refused to relieve the city until de Menou gave in. Newly arrived scholars Edward Daniel Clarke and William Richard Hamilton agreed to check the collections in Alexandria and found many artifacts that the French had not revealed.
When Hutchinson claimed all materials were property of the British Crown, a French scholar, Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, said to Clarke and Hamilton that they would rather burn all their discoveries — referring ominously to the destruction of the Library of Alexandria — than turn them over. Clarke and Hamilton pleaded their case and Hutchinson finally agreed that items such as biology specimens would be the scholars’ private property. But Menou regarded the stone as his private property and hid it.
How exactly the Stone came to British hands is disputed. Colonel Tomkyns Hilgrove Turner, who escorted the stone to Britain, claimed later that he had personally seized it from Menou and carried it away on a gun carriage. In his much more detailed account however, Clarke stated that a French ‘officer and member of the Institute’ had taken him, his student John Cripps, and Hamilton secretly into the back-streets of Alexandria, revealing the stone among Menou’s baggage, hidden under protective carpets. According to Clarke this savant feared for the stone’s safety should any French soldiers see it. Hutchinson was informed at once, and the stone taken away, possibly by Turner and his gun-carriage. French scholars departed later with only imprints and plaster casts of the stone.
Turner brought the stone to Britain aboard the captured French frigate HMS Egyptienne landing in February 1802. On March 11, it was presented to the Society of Antiquaries of London and Stephen Weston played a major role in the early translation. Later it was taken to the British Museum, where it remains to this day. Inscriptions painted in white on the artifact state "Captured in Egypt by the British Army in 1801" on the left side and "Presented by King George III" on the right.
Experts inspecting the Rosetta Stone during the International Congress of Orientalists of 1874
In 1814, Briton Thomas Young finished translating the enchorial (demotic) text, and began work on the hieroglyphic script but he did not succeed in translating them. From 1822 to 1824 the French scholar, philologist, and orientalist Jean-François Champollion greatly expanded on this work and is credited as the principal translator of the Rosetta Stone. Champollion could read both Greek and Coptic, and figured out what the seven Demotic signs in Coptic were. By looking at how these signs were used in Coptic, he worked out what they meant. Then he traced the Demotic signs back to hieroglyphic signs. By working out what some hieroglyphs stood for, he transliterated the text from the Demotic (or older Coptic) and Greek to the hieroglyphs by first translating Greek names which were originally in Greek, then working towards ancient names that had never been written in any other language. Champollion then created an alphabet to decipher the remaining text.
In 1858, the Philomathean Society of the University of Pennsylvania published the first complete English translation of the Rosetta Stone as accomplished by three of its undergraduate members: Charles R Hale, S Huntington Jones, and Henry Morton.
The Rosetta Stone has been exhibited almost continuously in the British Museum since 1802. Toward the end of World War I, in 1917, the Museum was concerned about heavy bombing in London and moved the Rosetta Stone to safety along with other portable objects of value. The Stone spent the next two years in a station on the Postal Tube Railway 50 feet below the ground at Holborn.
The Stone left the British Museum again in October 1972 to be displayed for one month at the Louvre Museum on the 150th anniversary of the decipherment of hieroglyphic writing with the famous Lettre à M. Dacier of Jean-François Champollion.
In July 2003, Egypt requested 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 Rosetta Stone because it is the icon of our Egyptian identity". In 2005, Hawass was negotiating for a three-month loan, with the eventual goal of a permanent return. In November 2005, the British Museum sent him a replica of the stone. In December 2009 Hawass said that he would drop his claim for the return of the Rosetta Stone if the British Museum loaned the stone to Egypt for three months.
In essence, the Rosetta Stone is a tax amnesty given to the temple priests of the day, restoring the tax privileges they had traditionally enjoyed from more ancient times. Some scholars speculate that several copies of the Rosetta Stone must exist, as yet undiscovered, since this proclamation must have been made at many temples. The complete Greek portion, translated into English, is about 1600–1700 words in length, and is about 20 paragraphs long (average of 80 words per paragraph):
n the reign of the new king who was Lord of the diadems, great in glory, the stabilizer of Egypt, but also pious in matters relating to the gods, superior to his adversaries, rectifier of the life of men, Lord of the thirty-year periods like Hephaestus the Great, King like the Sun, the Great King of the Upper and Lower Lands, offspring of the Parent-loving gods, whom Hephaestus has approved, to whom the Sun has given victory, living image of Zeus, Son of the Sun, Ptolemy the ever-living, beloved by Ptah;
In the ninth year, when Aëtus, son of Aëtus, was priest of Alexander and of the Savior gods and the Brother gods and the Benefactor gods and the Parent-loving gods and the god Manifest and Gracious; Pyrrha, the daughter of Philinius, being athlophorus for Bernice Euergetis; Areia, the daughter of Diogenes, being canephorus for Arsinoë Philadelphus; Irene, the daughter of Ptolemy, being priestess of Arsinoë Philopator: on the fourth of the month Xanicus, or according to the Egyptians the eighteenth of Mecheir.
THE DECREE: The high priests and prophets, and those who enter the inner shrine in order to robe the gods, and those who wear the hawk’s wing, and the sacred scribes, and all the other priests who have assembled at Memphis before the king, from the various temples throughout the country, for the feast of his receiving the kingdom, even that of Ptolemy the ever-living, beloved by Ptah, the god Manifest and Gracious, which he received from his Father, being assembled in the temple in Memphis this day, declared: Since King Ptolemy, the ever-living, beloved by Ptah, the god Manifest and Gracious, the son of King Ptolemy and Queen Arsinoë, the Parent-loving gods, has done many benefactions to the temples and to those who dwell in them, and also to all those subject to his rule, being from the beginning a god born of a god and a goddess—like Horus, the son of Isis and Osiris, who came to the help of his Father Osiris; being benevolently disposed toward the gods, has concentrated to the temples revenues both of silver and of grain, and has generously undergone many expenses in order to lead Egypt to prosperity and to establish the temples… the gods have rewarded him with health, victory, power, and all other good things, his sovereignty to continue to him and his children forever.
The term Rosetta Stone came to be used by philologists to describe any bilingual text with whose help a hitherto unknown language and/or script could be deciphered. For example, the bilingual coins of the Indo-Greeks (Obverse in Greek, reverse in Pali, using the Kharo??hi script), which enabled James Prinsep (1799–1840) to decipher the latter.
Later on, the term gained a wider frequency, also outside the field of linguistics, and has become idiomatic as something that is a critical key to the process of decryption or translation of a difficult encoding of information:
"The Rosetta Stone of immunology" and "Arabidopsis, the Rosetta Stone of flowering time (fossils)". An algorithm for predicting protein structure from sequence is named Rosetta@home. In molecular biology, a series of "Rosetta" bacterial cell lines have been developed that contain a number of tRNA genes that are rare in E. coli but common in other organisms, enabling the efficient translation of DNA from those organisms in E. coli.
The Rosetta Project is a global collaboration of language specialists and native speakers to develop a contemporary version of the historic Rosetta Stone to last from 2000 to 12,000 AD. Its goal is a meaningful survey and near permanent archive of 1,500 languages.
• Allen, Don Cameron. "The Predecessors of Champollion", Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 144, No. 5. (1960), pp. 527–547
• Adkins, Lesley; Adkins, Roy. The Keys of Egypt: The Obsession to Decipher Egyptian Hieroglyphs. HarperCollins, 2000 ISBN 0-06-019439-1
• Budge, E. A. Wallis (1989). The Rosetta Stone. Dover Publications. ISBN 0486261638. http://books.google.com/books?id=RO_m47hLsbAC&printsec=frontcover&dq=rosetta+stone&as_brr=3&sig=ACfU3U1_VaJ_NxkLmbZuYyDLji99DXwY6w.
• Downs, Jonathan. Discovery at Rosetta. Skyhorse Publishing, 2008 ISBN 978-1-60239-271-7
• Downs, Jonathan. "Romancing the Stone", History Today, Vol. 56, Issue 5. (May, 2006), pp. 48–54.
• Parkinson, Richard. Cracking Codes: the Rosetta Stone, and Decipherment. University of California Press, 1999 ISBN 0-520-22306-3
• Parkinson, Richard. The Rosetta Stone. Objects in Focus; British Museum Press 2005 ISBN 978-0-7141-5021-5
• Ray, John. The Rosetta Stone and the Rebirth of Ancient Egypt. Harvard University Press, 2007 ISBN 978-0-674-02493-9
• Reviewed by Jonathon Keats in the Washington Post, July 22, 2007.
• Solé, Robert; Valbelle, Dominique. The Rosetta Stone: The Story of the Decoding of Hieroglyphics. Basic Books, 2002 ISBN 1-56858-226-9
• The Gentleman’s Magazine: and Historical Chronicle, 1802: Volume 72: part 1: March: p. 270: Wednesday, March 31.
• ^ "The Rosetta Stone". http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/aes/t/the_rosetta_stone.aspx. Retrieved 2008-05-21.
• ^ "History uncovered in conserving the Rosetta Stone". http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/article_index/h/history_uncovered_in_conservin.aspx. Retrieved 2008-11-11.
• ^ Downs, Jonathan, Discovery at Rosetta, 2008
• ^ Downs, Jonathan, Discovery at Rosetta, 2008
• ^ Downs, Jonathan, Discovery at Rosetta, 2008
• ^ Retrieved on 2008-25-6
• ^ See University of Pennsylvania, Philomathean Society, Report of the committee [C.R. Hale, S.H. Jones, and Henry Morton], appointed by the society to translate the inscript on the Rosetta stone, Circa 1858 and most likely published in Philadelphia. See later editions of circa 1859 and 1881 by same author, as well as Randolph Greenfield Adams, A Translation of the Rosetta Stone (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1925.) The Philomathean Society holds relevant archival material as well as an original casting.
• ^ Charlotte Edwardes and Catherine Milner (2003-07-20). "Egypt demands return of the Rosetta Stone". Daily Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/egypt/1436606/Egypt-demands-return-of-the-Rosetta-Stone.html. Retrieved 2006-10-05.
• ^ Henry Huttinger (2005-07-28). "Stolen Treasures: Zahi Hawass wants the Rosetta Stone back—among other things". Cairo Magazine. http://www.cairomagazine.com/?module=displaystory&story_id=1238&format=html. Retrieved 2006-10-06. [dead link]
• ^ "The rose of the Nile". Al-Ahram Weekly. 2005-11-30. http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2005/770/he1.htm. Retrieved 2006-10-06.
• ^  "Rosetta Stone row ‘would be solved by loan to Egypt’" BBC News 8 December 2009
• ^ "Translation of the Greek section of the Rosetta Stone". Reshafim.org.il. http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/texts/rosettastone.htm. Retrieved 2009-01-22.
• ^ "Text of the Rosetta Stone". http://pw1.netcom.com/~qkstart/rosetta.html. Retrieved 2006-11-26.
• ^ The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (2000-09-06). "International Team Accelerates Investigation of Immune-Related Genes". http://www3.niaid.nih.gov/news/newsreleases/2000/ihwg.htm. Retrieved 2006-11-23.
• ^ Gordon G. Simpson, Caroline Dean (2002-04-12). "Arabidopsis, the Rosetta Stone of Flowering Time?". http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/296/5566/285?ijkey=zlwRiv/qSEivQ&keytype=ref&siteid=sci. Retrieved 2006-11-23.
• Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Rosetta Stone
• Wikisource has original text related to this article: Text on the Rosetta Stone in English
• Greek Wikisource has original text related to this article: Greek Text from the Rosetta Stone
• The Rosetta Stone in The British Museum
• More detailed British Museum page on the stone with Curator’s comments and bibliography
• The translated text in English – The British Museum
• The Finding of the Rosetta Stone
• The 1998 conservation and restoration of The Rosetta Stone at The British Museum
• Champollion’s alphabet – The British Museum
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