Rosetta Stone, 196 B.C.E., granite, 114.4 cm x 72.3 x 27.9 cm or 45 x 28.5 x 11 in. (British Museum, London)
Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker
Video correction: The Rosetta Stone contains two distinct languages (Egyptian in its Demotic phase, and Greek), and three scripts (Hieroglyphics, Demotic, and Greek).
The stele fragment is inscribed, in three languages, with a
decree issued by priests in support of the king, Ptolemy V. The top
register is written in hieroglyphs, the middle register uses demotic, and the
bottom is incised in Greek.
When the stele fragment
was found by a Napoleonic soldier in the town of Rashid (Rosetta) in 1799,
knowledge of both hieroglyphs and demotic, had been lost. In 1801, the French
expedition to Egypt was forced to surrender to British forces and to hand over
the antiquities they had collected. The Rosetta stone was put on display in the
British Museum the following year.
A full translation of the Greek appeared in
1803 by which time the demotic text was partially translated. By 1822, the
French classicist and linguist, Jean-François Champollion, had made significant strides in translating the hieroglyphs, and by 1824, afforded modern scholars the opportunity to read the sacred writing of ancient Egypt.