Rosetta Stone: Frequently Asked Questions About The Famous Egyptian Artefact

Updated On: February 07, 2023

Rosetta Stone

When you hear about the Rosetta Stone, the first thing that comes to mind is ancient Egypt, but have you ever wondered what the well-known Stone actually tells us?

Have you ever wondered how experts learned to read hieroglyphs, the ancient Egyptian language’s symbols? The answer is that the Rosetta stone played a significant role in helping experts learn a great deal about the ancient Egyptians. You may wonder where to see the Rosetta Stone in person. You can see the incredible stone at the British Museum.

We’ve gathered everything we know about the Rosetta Stone, and we will answer the most frequently asked questions about it, such as why it is important and what it reveals to us. Read on to learn more about this interesting renowned artefact.

Why is the Rosetta Stone so important?

rosetta stone
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The Rosetta Stone is such a valuable key from the past that uncovers much about the ancient Egyptians. The Stone enabled researchers to learn more about ancient Egypt’s mysterious culture by deciphering hieroglyphic inscriptions found on tomb walls, pyramids, and other ancient Egyptian monuments.

How big is the Rosetta Stone?

The Stone is a massive black rock known as granodiorite that is 2,000 years old and was discovered in Egypt in 1799. It was a huge stone, nearly 2 metres long, but the top part had been broken off at an angle, revealing the inside part of it a pink granite whose crystalline structure glows slightly bright when light is shed on it.

The back of the Rosetta Stone is rough from being sculpted into shape, while the front face is smooth and has the same text in three different scripts. These characters represent the three languages that were used in ancient Egypt.

What does the Rosetta Stone actually tell us?

The symbols carved on the Stone represent a decree that dates back to 196 B.C. by a group of Egyptian religious leaders and Egypt’s ruler, Ptolemy V. The symbols written on the Stone, which we later discovered are different languages, make it an important tool in helping researchers understand the long-forgotten language.

The symbols are written in two languages, ancient Egyptian and ancient Greek. Ancient Egyptians used two scripts: one for the priests (hieroglyphs) and the other for the people (Demotic). Meanwhile, ancient Greek was used at that time by the Greco-Macedonian rulers. The decree had to be written in these three different scripts so everyone, starting from the ruler to the common people, could read it.

The decree details everything the ruler Ptolemy V had done to support the priests and the Egyptian people. The priests wanted to honour their loved Egyptian pharaoh and his achievements and carved the decree on this piece, later known as the famous Rosetta Stone.

Why is the Stone known as the “Rosetta stone”?

The interesting story of how the name came to light, let’s go back to 1799 when the stone was discovered. While digging another fort near the Egyptian village called Rashid, also known as Rosetta in English, the French army found the Stone, and that is where the name came from; it was named after the city.

How did the Rosetta Stone end up in the British Museum?

In 1798, Napoleon’s French forces invaded Egypt, which was part of the Turkish Ottoman empire. The large granite slab covered in symbols, now known as the Rosetta Stone, was discovered by French soldiers a year later. 

Napoleon had brought several scholars to Egypt at the time, and they quickly recognised the Stone’s historical significance. Unfortunately, they did not have the chance to return it to France because Napoleon’s armies were defeated in 1801 by British and Ottoman forces. The British gained ownership of the Rosetta Stone due to the French surrender. The following year, it was relocated to the British Museum, where it remains today.

Who deciphered what was written on the Rosetta Stone?

At the time of the discovery, no one knew what was written on the Stone. Later, they discovered that the text combines three different scripts. The Egyptian symbols were complicated to figure out until Jean-François Champollion deciphered hieroglyphs in 1822 after studying the ancient Egyptian language.

The French scholar Champollion could read Greek and the Coptic language, derived from ancient Egypt. This helped him immensely in cracking the code of the hieroglyphs. He was first able to decipher the seven Demotic signs in Coptic. He then figured out what these signs meant by looking at how they were used in the past and began tracing these demotic signs back to hieroglyphic ones. 

By determining what some hieroglyphs defined, he was able to make specific predictions about what the other hieroglyphs revealed and how they were used. This is how Champollion determined what was carved on the Stone. This aided scholars in learning and reading hieroglyphs, which later revealed a ton of information about ancient Egyptian life.

How much of the Rosetta Stone is missing?

Rosetta Stone
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An important fact about the Rosetta stone that you should be aware of before visiting it is that the Stone is not entirely complete and that the top section, composed of Egyptian hieroglyphs, was the part that suffered the most damage. Only the last 14 lines of hieroglyphic text are complete and undamaged. All 14 are missing from the right side, and 12 are damaged from the left.

The middle section of the Demotic text did, in fact, survive and is complete. This part has 32 lines; unfortunately, the first 14 lines on the right side are slightly damaged. The Greek text is at the bottom and has 54 lines; thankfully, the first 27 are complete, but the rest are incomplete due to a diagonal break at the Stone’s bottom right side.

What was the Rosetta Stone’s original state when it was discovered?

The enormous Rosetta Stone was part of a wall inside an Ottoman fort before being discovered by Pierre-François Bouchard, a french officer in charge in the late 18th century. When he discovered the stone, he knew he had found something that would hold great value.

A Coincidental Discovery That Led to a Sea of Information

By now, you know all about the incredible Rosetta Stone and the secrets behind it. The Stone is the most visited artefact in the British Museum. If you haven’t had the chance to see this incredible Stone in person, you should consider paying a visit. If you want to know more about ancient Egyptian life, check out our recommendations for the best historical places in Cairo.

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