Egyptian archaeologists are adding their names to an online petition that calls for England’s British Museum to repatriate the Rosetta Stone.
The stone, discovered in 1799 by a soldier who was part of Napoleon Bonaparte’s army, is famed because its trilingual inscriptions—in ancient Greek, colloquial Egyptian script and Egyptian hieroglyphs—was the first to grant Western scholars a way to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs. The stone was found in the city of Rosetta, the modern day city of el Rashid. The French army was in Egypt trying to wrest control of Egypt from Turkey’s Ottoman Empire. The Rosetta Stone and other antiquities that French occupiers collected became part of the “Alexandria agreement,” which was between the French, English and Ottomans. When the French surrendered their position in Egypt, Ottoman and English forces took possession of the stone.
The English brought the stone to the British Museum in 1802.
The British Museum is currently presenting a 200th anniversary gallery display which will feature the Rosetta Stone and 240 more Egyptian objects. For £18, museum visitors can see “Hieroglyphs: unlocking ancient Egypt,” on view through Feb. 19, 2023. “For centuries, life in ancient Egypt was a mystery,” the British Museum’s write-up for the exhibit declares. “We could only glimpse into this hidden world, until the discovery of the Rosetta Stone provided the key to decoding hieroglyphs, allowing us to read this ancient script. The breakthrough expanded our understanding of human history by some 3,000 years.
“Marking 200 years since the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs, this major exhibition takes you through the trials and hard work that preceded, and the revelations that followed, this ground-breaking moment.”
The Rosetta Stone petition from Egyptian archaeologists, launched in September, urges Egypt’s Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly to officially request the return of the Rosetta Stone and 16 other artifacts removed from the country. The petition points out that Egypt lost the Rosetta Stone while it was under occupation by Turkey’s Ottoman Empire.
“Not only Egypt was under the occupation of the Ottoman Empire and had no say nor sovereignty on its own cultural heritage,” states the REPATRIATE RASHID petition, “the articles of the treaty of Alexandria are in violation of the law of nations, customary international laws, and Islamic laws applicable at the time. This means the sequestration of the Rosetta Stone is a spoil of war and an act of plunder that has been already prohibited in the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries.
“…This is a powerful opportunity for Britain to demonstrate moral leadership, and to choose to follow moral principle over profit and support the healing of the wounds inflicted by colonial powers. An act of Parliament will allow Rosetta Stone to be restored to its rightful home in Egypt.
“We urge everyone who believes in the right of cultural identity, the right of equality among nations, and the inalienable right of each sovereign state to enjoy their own heritage and reclaiming that heritage if it has been taken from them; to sign this petition in support of the return of Rosetta Stone to its country of origin: Egypt.”