A century after the Rosetta Stone was deciphered, Egypt is calling for its return

Tourism Minister Ahmed Issa emphasised last week at a celebration of the discipline’s 200th anniversary that Egyptian antiquities are one of the nation’s most significant tourism resources.

Egypt’s leading archaeologists have recently petitioned for the return of the Rosetta Stone from the British Museum to Egypt, commemorating the deciphering of hieroglyphic writing and the birth of Egyptology 200 years ago.

The archaeologists’ online campaign has gathered 2,500 signatures so far.

The Rosetta Stone was discovered in northern Egypt in 1799 when Napoleon’s army was defeated. It has been at the British Museum since 1802, thanks to the terms of the 1801 Treaty of Alexandria, which gave Britain possession of other antiquities the French had discovered.

The Rosetta Stone bears the same inscription in Hieroglyphs, Demotic, and Ancient Greek, allowing Frenchman Jean-Francois Champollion to decipher Hieroglyphs from 1822 onward, thereby unlocking ancient Egyptian language and culture.

Egyptian archaeologists have petitioned for the statue’s repatriation in the past, but they are now hoping that Western museums’ increasing willingness to return artefacts taken from former colonies will help their cause.

Hanna is certain that all these objects will eventually be restituted because the ethical code of museums is changing, just not certain when,” she said.

Cultural stone-throwing is a symbol of cultural violence and cultural imperialism.

“Restoring the stone is a symbol of a change in mentality—we have moved beyond the Victorian Era and have adopted a contemporary ethical code.”

No formal request has been made to return the Rosetta Stone to Egypt, according to a British Museum spokesperson.

A spokesperson, in an emailed statement, noted that 28 stelae engraved with the same decree written by Egyptian priests were discovered starting with the Rosetta Stone in 1799 and that 21 remain in Egypt.

An exhibition titled “Hieroglyphs: Unlocking Ancient Egypt” will be open at the museum on October 13, and it will shed light on the Rosetta Stone’s function.

It was emphasized that the British Museum appreciates positive collaborations with colleagues across Egypt.

Egypt says that the return of artefacts is bolstering its tourism sector, a vital source of revenue for its struggling economy. A new museum near the Giza pyramids will soon open to display the country’s most significant ancient Egyptian artefacts.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Issa said last week at an event commemorating the discipline’s 200th anniversary that Egyptian antiquities are one of the country’s greatest tourism assets, which distinguish it from other destinations worldwide.

Image Credit: Hans Hillewaert, Wikimedia Commons