On this day, 1799: one of the greatest Egyptological discoveries ever made

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A nearly face-on view of the Rosetta Stone with the inscriptions in hieroglyphs, demotic and ancient Greek
The Rosetta Stone

On this day, 15 July, in 1799, a group of Napoleon’s soldiers discovered part of a broken inscription at a town called el-Rashid. Ownership of it, and other French discoveries in Egypt, was passed to the British in 1801, under the Treaty of Alexandria, and the stone has been at the British Museum ever since.

 

Of course, this wasn’t just any old Egyptian royal inscription. It had the same decree written in three different scripts: Greek, Demotic and hieroglyphs – and of course you might be a little more familiar with el-Rashid under another name – Rosetta.

 

As anyone with even a passing interest in Egyptology will know, the Rosetta Stone was the key to deciphering hieroglyphs. Both Jean-François Champollion and the lesser-known Englishman Thomas Young made great advances in the decoding of hieroglyphs, starting by realising that the glyphs written within those little oval-shaped bits (the cartouche, of course!) were royal names.

 

The Rosetta Stone unlocked the key to the ancient Egyptian language, and for that reason alone makes it one of the most important discoveries in Egyptological history. Happy discovery day, Rosetta Stone!

 

Further reading:

Photo credit: Hans Hillewaert, via Wikicommons

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