PG-13 – 1801 – Repatriation/Antiquity – 220yrs
Following the events of French and British occupation in Egypt (turn of the 19th century), the Rosetta Stone must challenge new ideology in a world that has changed forever…
The Rosetta Stone–a modern day key to the past. The code in which the stone is written has uncovered a great deal of knowledge on Ancient Egyptian society–specifically the reading of hieroglyphics. This is a key that has been kept far from the land in which it unlocks the stories of great ancient civilization. Given the role played by this one stone, controversy has sparked over who should possess this important piece of history.
The Rosetta Stone– An ancient piece of stone inscribed with 3 different forms of writing including Egyptian hieroglyphics, Egyptian Demotic and Ancient Greek. The same story is told in each form of writing on the stone, giving the modern world insight into the meaning of hieroglyphics. The stone details a decree dating to the rule of Ptolemy V from ancient Egyptian clergy members. The code was cracked and deciphered by Jean-François Champollion in 1822, where he made the connection between the forms of writing. The Rosetta Stone has since been used to help decipher other hieroglyphic writings–allowing the modern world to understand and read hieroglyphics.
Egypt– The nation of Egypt is the birthplace of our lovely star, the Rosetta Stone.
France– French troops occupied Egypt during the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte. The French discovered the Rosetta Stone.
Britain– The British came in and stole the show–literally. The British troops defeated the French in Egypt and took hold of the stone in 1801 under the Treaty of Alexandria. They have kept it ever since.
Zahi Hawass– The protagonist of this story–Egypt’s very own ‘Indiana Jones’. Zahi Hawass held the position of director of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Cairo. He has been holding up a strong fight for the rights to the Rosetta Stone and for the stone to be returned to Egypt’s possession.
The British Museum– Located in London, England, the museum is the current home of the Rosetta Stone. A prime display for the museum and a highlighted exhibit for October 2022- February 2023.
Repatriation: The Claims
Considering its current location, there have been many claims of repatriation for the Rosetta Stone. It is an important representation of ancient Egyptian culture, yet it is currently far from its homeland. Egypt–the nation of its origin–has requested the piece be returned. The Rosetta stone has been a key to unlocking the culture of Egypt, especially that of its ancient past. It was an immensely important object in learning about and being able to read ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. Zahi Hawass has spoken on the matter stating the stone is an essential part of “Egyptian identity.” It makes sense the country would want something that has been so impactful to the study of the nation’s history back in their possession; however, the British Museum has been displaying the piece to tell the story of egyptology in their Egyptian wing.
The Public Attention
It is one of the prime features of the Egypt exhibit, drawing in tourists from all over the world. Debate and controversy has sparked ever since over the rights to the stone. To this day, Hawass has been fighting for the rights to regain control of this ancient piece of history. In August of 2022, he made a statement to the British Museum detailing his plans of action for the future. In October 2022, Hawass and other Egyptian officials will be sending out a signed petition to the museum in hopes of gaining back the rights to this singular piece of art so influential on their culture. The Rosetta Stone is just one of thousands of stolen artifacts from Egypt–but it is one they want back most of all.
End of the Journey?
The Rosetta Stone has been gone from Egypt for far too long. A trophy of colonial power and war for Britain and France; however, strong representation of heritage for Egypt. From its discovery by the French Army, to the hands of the British in 1801, and to the British Museum where it currently stands–it has been a long journey away from home, but there’s hope for the future. In the current world debate is it better to say finders keepers or make a moral decision for another culture?
Rosetta Stone: Far From Home
coming to a theater near you…
(maybe even back to Egypt)
Kelly Kowenhoven is part of the Colgate University Class of 2026. Currently undecided, she plans on majoring in Environmental Studies with a minor in Geography. She also enjoys learning and studying cultural ties between people and the land in which they inhabit, making art history–and the Rosetta Stone–a fascinating subject.