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The Discovery and Importance of the Rosetta Stone

Updated on August 8, 2012
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On July 15, 1799, a French soldier noticed a strange stone in the wall of an old fort near the town of el-Rashid, Egypt. The town, also called Rosetta, is in the delta of the Nile River and was part of the area occupied by the French Army at that time. France, under Napoleon Bonaparte, had invaded Egypt, part of the Ottoman Empire, in 1799 as a means of establishing a French presence in the Middle East.

The stone was dark granite, smoothly finished. It was 4 feet 8 inches tall, 30 inches wide and nearly a foot thick, and what made it noticeable was that it had some sort of inscription carved onto two sides. The soldier’s commanding officer called in some archaeologists, who had accompanied the French Army to Egypt, to show them the find. They soon realized that the stone’s inscription was in three different languages: ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, a script called Demotic (an alphabet writing also used by the Egyptians) and ancient Greek.

Greek, even in its ancient form, was well known to Europeans, but the secret to reading hieroglyphs and Demotic had died out nearly two thousand years before. Europeans were awed by the artifacts, temples and monuments of Egypt, but they had no way to read and understand the inscriptions that would tell them who had built these marvels and what they meant. This stone, they saw, was the means to unlock the written record of the ancient civilization.

The British invaded Egypt and defeated the French in 1801, and took possession of the Rosetta Stone (as it had come to be known) along with many other archaeological treasures unearthed by the French. Although they took the stone back to London, where it was given to the British Museum, they made copies of the inscriptions. These copies were widely distributed throughout Europe, where they were studied by experts in ancient languages. Ironically, it was a French professor and linguist named Jean François Champollion, who broke the code. In 1822, he published a paper giving the translation of the inscription and provided an early dictionary of Egyptian hieroglyphics. The stone pillar, the translation showed, bore a decree of King Ptolemy V from the year 196 BC.

Being able to read the ancient Egyptian languages from this stone – supported and expanded by later discoveries of multi-language inscriptions – gave archaeologists a way to learn a great deal about the history and culture of ancient Egypt. Finally, they could read the numerous inscriptions found on walls and stele (stone pillars) and in tombs and interpret the meaning of the objects they excavated. Two hundred years after its discovery, the Rosetta Stone is still considered to be the key to the beginning of modern Egyptology.

The Rosetta Stone has become a monument to the value of communication between languages, across distance and through time. It is so important that its name has become synonymous with the breakthrough to any discovery.

Today, the Rosetta Stone can still be seen in the British Museum. It is the most-visited object in their collection.

Jangaplanet ©

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    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

      4 years ago from Philippines

      I had always heard about the Rosetta stone, but never knew what it was until now. Thank you for an interesting and informative article. Voted up:)

    • Jangaplanet profile imageAUTHOR

      A James Di Rodi 

      4 years ago

      You are most welcome starstream! I am glad you enjoyed the hub. I do hope you eventually get the opportunity to visit the British Museum and see the Rosetta Stone in person. Thanks for stopping by. :)

    • starstream profile image

      Dreamer at heart 

      4 years ago from Northern California

      Thanks for sharing a very interesting piece of history with us. I may not be able to visit the British Museum but I do look forward to seeing more information about the Rosetta Stone.

    • Escobana profile image

      Escobana 

      5 years ago from Valencia

      I had never heard of this before. How very interesting! I watched the video as well. Very useful and making me curious to see the Rosetta Stone for real.

      For being so fond of learning different languages, this is truly an amazing Hub to read! The value of the Rosetta Stone makes a lot of sense to me now:-)

      Up, shared and awesome to read!

    • Jangaplanet profile imageAUTHOR

      A James Di Rodi 

      5 years ago

      Hi twocupswithtee! It really does give the name meaning. The Rosetta Stone was a great discovery! A monument to the value of communication between languages! They then created the DVD learning software and named it Rosetta Stone. I hope you visit the British Museum one day. :)

    • twocupswithtee profile image

      twocupswithtee 

      6 years ago from Chesterfield, MI

      How incredibly fascinating!! And I'm learning Italian using the Rosetta Stone program...this really gives the name meaning! I do believe I have to add the British Museum to my list of places to visit!!!

    • Jangaplanet profile imageAUTHOR

      A James Di Rodi 

      6 years ago

      You are most welcome old albion and thank you for the kind comment, much appreciated. The Rosetta Stone is truly an amazing museum piece. :)

    • Jangaplanet profile imageAUTHOR

      A James Di Rodi 

      6 years ago

      Thank you buythebook. Since its discovery on July 15, 1799, the Rosetta Stone has become an icon of the beginning of modern Egyptology. :)

    • Jangaplanet profile imageAUTHOR

      A James Di Rodi 

      6 years ago

      Thanks CairoEgypt. It really is an interesting ancient Egyptian artifact. Enthralling!

      Hi Addie, The Rosetta Stone truly is the most popular artifact displayed in the British Museum today. The inscription on the stone seem to have aided humanity in understanding hieroglyphics.

    • Jangaplanet profile imageAUTHOR

      A James Di Rodi 

      6 years ago

      You are most welcome GoodLady. Thank you. It was interesting to know that nineteenth century scholars recognized and decrypted the ancient Egyptian language when they discovered the Rosetta Stone, unlocking its secrets. Also the fact that they then made the Rosetta Stone language-learning software that holds its name. :)

    • Jangaplanet profile imageAUTHOR

      A James Di Rodi 

      6 years ago

      Hi Kristīne-Latvija, I hope to visit the British Museum someday also to see the Rosetta Stone. You are very fortunate to have seen it twice.

    • old albion profile image

      Graham Lee 

      6 years ago from Lancashire. England.

      Such a brilliant informative hub and so well researched. Thankyou!

    • buythebook profile image

      buythebook 

      6 years ago

      What an interesting article you have written. Like everyone else here, I thought, by the title of your hub, you were referring to the Rosetta Stone language DVDs.

      It is also interesting that the term 'Rosetta Stone' is idiomatic as something that is key to the process of decryption or translation. I found it very fascinating that this ancient Egyptian artifact also helps in advancing modern understanding of both language and hieroglyphic writing. Great work my friend! Up And Interesting!

    • profile image

      Addie 

      6 years ago

      Of all the prime antiquities in the British Museum’s Alexandria collection, the Rosetta Stone is the most popular. The information inscribed on stones is truly fascinating.

    • profile image

      CairoEgypt 

      6 years ago

      You have done a great job of providing a great historical overview of the significance of the Rosetta Stone. I have had a tremendous interest in this artifact. In fact, after over four years of research I am finally going to Britain to lean more.

    • GoodLady profile image

      Penelope Hart 

      6 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Just LOVE learning about how we communicate! Did not know about the Rosetta Stone at all...how ignorant...but it's a great story. Thanks for another superb Hub!

    • profile image

      Kristīne-Latvija 

      6 years ago

      The Rosetta Stone is one of the most important archaeological discoveries of all time. The large piece of granite that is inscribed with Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, demotic script and Ancient Greek is a facinating thing! I have seen it twice and would so again when I travel to Britain!

    • Jangaplanet profile imageAUTHOR

      A James Di Rodi 

      6 years ago

      Sorry, I could not answer you all earlier.

      Zubair Ahmed, blog8withJ, vox vocis, Lesleysherwood, Bbudoyono ,ArgentinaDanila ,Barbara Kay, Fortaleza and Taniatravels.

      Most of you thought it was DVDs from the "Rosetta Stone" language software. The name does come from that archaeological find. It is based on the communication and language discovery of that time. This is why they made the learning Software DVDs on language, and named it "The Rosetta Stone."

      Thank you all for these kind comments, I appreciate it!

    • Taniatravels profile image

      Taniatravels 

      6 years ago

      Now this was a very interesting hub Jang! I never new The Rosetta Stone was actually an ancient Egyption Discovery! Of course I have the Rosetta Stone language dvds!but never would I have imagined this!

      Well Done Jang your hub enlightened me also!:)

    • Fortaleza profile image

      Fortaleza 

      6 years ago from Fortaleza, Brasil

      Hi handsome man! I heard about the Rosetta stone, but I never had seen a photo or video about it. This was well written and I learned a lot by it. Cool hub. Voting up, beautiful,awesome and interesting!

      Thanks... :)

    • Barbara Kay profile image

      Barbara Badder 

      6 years ago from USA

      At first glance and just seeing the name of your hub, I thought it would be about the tapes that teach languages. This was interesting and I hadn't heard this story before.

    • ArgentinaDanila profile image

      ArgentinaDanila 

      6 years ago

      I thought it was a Dvd software also when I first read the title! facinating! I would love to visit this Museum!Very intersting hub and gorgeous foto.

      ps: I really had a great time talking with you and hope we can do it again soon! :)

    • Bbudoyono profile image

      Bbudoyono 

      6 years ago

      Your hub is very interesting and informative. Great, voted up.

    • profile image

      Lesleysherwood 

      6 years ago

      Thank you for this hub. I have seen the Rosetta Stone in the British museum when I have been on Bible Tours!

    • vox vocis profile image

      Jasmine 

      6 years ago

      I expected a hub about the well known language-learning software. This hub was a pleasant surprise and I actually learned something new. It deserves a +1 :)

    • profile image

      blog8withJ 

      6 years ago

      That's interesting. A part of history in Egypt. Well done. I did not know about Rosetta Stone till now. Romance novelist should consider making story out of it. WHo know? Great hub!

    • Zubair Ahmed profile image

      Zubair Ahmed 

      6 years ago

      Thank you for sharing, very interesting hub.

    • Jangaplanet profile imageAUTHOR

      A James Di Rodi 

      6 years ago

      The Rosetta Stone DVDs are in fact also a brand of self help DVDs for learning language. The name came from this archaeological find. I didn't know as well till someone mentioned that to me.

      Thank you so much for stopping in to read. I Appreciate your comment kerlynb. :)

      AmyMarie thank you for stopping by. Iv always been facinated by Ancient Egypt and would love to visit there as well someday. Iv never seen the Rosetta Stone yet, but if ever I find myself in Great Britain I'll definitely go see it.

      Thank you so much for the kind comment and the vote up. :)

    • amymarie_5 profile image

      amymarie_5 

      6 years ago from Chicago IL

      Well done! This hub is fascinating. I never knew the history of the Rosetta stone. Makes me want to book a trip to Egypt and then Britain so I can see Rosetta stone. Very cool hub. Voted up, useful, awesome and interesting!

    • kerlynb profile image

      kerlynb 

      6 years ago from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^

      "The Rosetta Stone has become a monument to the value of communication between languages, across distance and through time." - This is something I never knew about so I have to say thanks for sharing this piece of historical information. Urgh, I have to say I'm a complete idiot. I had always thought that Rosetta Stone is this brand of language self-help DVDs :( Your hub enlightened me. Thanks a million!

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