On the day the Rosetta Stone was discovered in 1799, we talked to Richard Parkinson, Egyptologist and curator in charge for the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum.
Why is the discovery of the Rosetta Stone still of importance today?
The Rosetta Stone captures the people’s imagination. The historical importance was short-lived in some ways. However, it stayed in people’s minds and grew. Even a space shuttle that was sent to space to discover the history of comets was called ‘Rosetta’. The Rosetta Stone has become a powerful symbol for understanding the ancient past and every year millions of people come to the British Museum eager to see it.
Why is the Rosetta Stone so unique?
It was simply due to a historical accident about when the Rosetta Stone was discovered. There are many other inscriptions found in Egypt after it that could have led to decipherment. It happened to be discovered when the French and the British were in Egypt, and at a time when European scholars were working towards the decipherment of the mysterious hieroglyphs. It triggered the work of the French scholar Jean-François Champollion who realised that hieroglyphs recorded the sound of the Egyptian language.
Why was the message on the Rosetta Stone written in 3 different languages?
That three languages were found on the Rosetta Stone was a historical accident, too. The ruling government was Greek speaking; therefore some important priestly decrees in Egyptian hieroglyphs had to be recorded in the Demotic script (a native script for daily purposes) and in Greek. Many other stones with priestly decrees existed, so the Rosetta Stone’s reputation for uniqueness is slightly undeserved. However, with these inscriptions found after the Rosetta Stone proved against all doubters that Champollion’s decipherment was correct.
People were drafting laws like in the European Parliament today. New laws are introduced by one country in one language; experts are assigned to make sure it works in other countries and in other languages. This shows that the problem of communicating in different languages has not changed.
What touches me most is the fact that the Rosetta Stone is not some beautiful golden relic but it is still iconic. It is a symbol of historical understanding that reassures me about the state of humanity: people still are interested in understanding other cultures.
Thanks to the Trustees of the British Museum for the picture contribution.
If you want to learn more about language learning with Rosetta Stone, visit: rosettastone.co.uk