Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Our Treasures Abroad, British Museum, London: Will Egypt’s latest attempt to regain Rosetta Stone work?

The Rosetta Stone at the British Museum
 Photo courtesy of Oupblog
CAIRO: On the occasion of the 192nd anniversary of the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone, Egyptian archaeologist Ahmed Saleh has repeated calls on the British Government and the British Museum administration to bring the artifact back to Egypt so it can be displayed in the Egyptian Museum.

“There is no question about Egypt’s eligibility to retrieve the Rosetta Stone, thus the British Museum should voluntarily return the icon of Egyptian civilization to its homeland,” Saleh told The Cairo Post Saturday.

On Sept. 27, 1822, French philologist Jean-François Champollion was able for the first time to present a draft translation of the stone’s mysterious inscriptions and demonstrate to the whole world how to read the ancient Egyptian script carved on it. “It was forcibly taken from the French philologists of Napoleon’s expedition by the British army, though it does not belong to any of them,” said Saleh, adding that the usual pretexts for not returning it, including security issues, are no longer acceptable to him.

Saleh, who heads the Salvage Fund of Nubian Monuments, went further and urged the Egyptian government to “file a lawsuit in the International Court of Justice if diplomatic negotiations with the British government to restore the artifact fail.”

Rosetta Stone on display in British Museum, London.
The Rosetta Stone is a diorite stele made during the reign of Ptolemy V Epiphanes (204 B.C.–181 B.C.), former head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities Abdel Halem Nour el-Din previously told The Cairo Post.

It is inscribed with a decree from Ptolemy V Epiphanes exempting priests from paying taxes during his reign. It was written in three scripts; the upper text is hieroglyphic, the middle text is Demotic and the lowest text is ancient Greek.

It was found in the city of Rosetta, south of Alexandria, in 1799 by a French soldier and came into British possession following the capitulation of Alexandria following the defeat of the French expedition by British troops in 1801. The stone was transported to the British museum in London where it has been on public display since 1802. 

“According to UNESCO’s 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, Egypt has no right to claim the recovery of any artifact that was taken from Egypt before 1970,” Aly Ahmed, the head of  Antiquities Ministry’s Repatriated Artifacts Department, told The Cairo Post.

However, in 2002, former Antiquities Minister Zahi Hawass had begun negotiations with academics and curators at the British Museum to repatriate the stone.

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