UNLOCKING THE PAST
You may think what you’re looking at is just a boring piece of stone. A non-descript slab of granodiorite hewn from the earth with no particular meaning.
You would be wrong.
This large shard is known as the Rosetta Stone. Without it, Egyptian hieroglyphs would be nearly impossible to decipher. The stele was discovered in 1799 by one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s men during his conquest of Egypt.
There are three versions of the same decree inscribed upon its surface, with only minor differences between them. The top is in Hieroglyphs, the middle is in Demotic script and the bottom is in Ancient Greek. Three languages in one place.
By studying and analysing all three texts it was possible to transcribe the hieroglyphic text. Thus opening the door to Ancient Egyptian history for the first time. It opened a whole new view on Egypt.
The decree was inscribed around 196 BC during the reign of Ptolemy V. It establishes the divine cult of the new ruler. Egypt was in a state of political and civil unrest at the time, so Ptolemy V issued this decree all over Egypt to try to re-establish his authority and power over the people.
The discovery of the stone and Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt inspired a huge surge of interest in Ancient Egyptian history by Europeans. The term ‘Rosetta Stone’ has been used idiomatically to represent a crucial key in the process of decryption.
It is probably the most important discovery in all of Egyptology - may be in human history as a whole.