The Rosetta Stone
The Rosetta Stone led to the modern understanding of hieroglyphs. Made in Egypt around 200BC, it is a stone tablet engraved with writing which celebrates the crowning of King Ptolemy V. It is a solid piece of black Basalt and is 3ft high by 27.5in wide by 12in deep. Quite heavy.
The interesting thing about the Rosetta Stone is that the writing is repeated three times in different alphabets:
Hieroglyphic (top of stone)- used by ancient Egyptians
Demotic (center of stone)- used by Arabs including modern Egyptians
Greek (base of stone)- used by, erm, Greeks, and other eastern Europeans
The Rosetta Stone was the key used to decrypt two Egyptian writing systems: hieroglyphs (used for official texts) and demotic (used for everyday communication).
The stone contains 14 lines of hieroglyphs, 32 lines of demotic and 54 lines of Greek.
The 14 lines of hieroglyphs are only partial, and correspond to the last 28 lines of Greek, which are also damaged.The first 14 lines of demotic are damaged at the beginnings.
The last 26 lines of Greek are damaged at the ends
The stone was re-discovered in 1799AD at Rosetta near Rashid, about 125 miles
north of Cairo on the Mediterranean coast. At that time, the meaning of
hieroglyphs had been forgotten. Nobody could translate any of the hieroglyphs
found whilst raiding/exploring ancient Egyptian archeology.
However, the Rosetta Stone changed all that. Because people of the 19th century could understand the Demotic and Greek parts of the engraving, Jean-Francois Champollion worked out which words were represented by which hieroglyphs in 1821AD.
Much of Champollion's work was based on that of Englishman Thomas Young who had already deciphered names of people and places. Words like these, called Proper Nouns, are bordered by hieroglyphic name rings, similar in shape to modern army name tags.
Hieroglyphic name ring for King Ptolemy V
The text on the Rosetta stone reports a decree passed in 196 BC
by a council of Priests, assembled in Memphis Egypt, in honor of the first
anniversary of the coronation
Here is an extract from the writing on the Rosetta Stone:
Champollion was born in December 1790 and could speak Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, Chaldean and Syrian by the age of 14. By 19, Champollion was a History lecturer at Grenoble University. He had to make his translations from a copy of the Rosetta Stone, since the stone itself had been stolen/seized by the English during the Napoleonic war. Champollion visited Egypt only once- to put his new understanding of hieroglyphs to the test. He returned to France to found the Egyptology Museum at the Louvre in Paris (where you can still see many tablets and statues today). Champollion died in 1832 aged only 42.