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The British Museum Book of the Rosetta Stone

by Carol Andrews, British Museum

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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The story behind the slab that opened up the world of Egyptian hieroglyphics.
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Andrews is a member of the Department of Egyptian Antiquities at the
British Museum, and has written about many parts of the Collection. In
easily decipherable language, she explains the signficance of this key
which unlocked our ability to hear what ancient Egypt was saying in the
hieroglyphs which cover the Nile delta. The last known inscription
using hieroglyphs was made on 24 August AD 394 -- and until the Rosetta
discovery 1,370 years later -- ancient Egypt was silent. Not only had
the language died out, but the skill sets had been lost.

Anderson emphasises the interrelationships involved in the
recovery and deciphering of the Stone. For example, and pay attention,
although ancient Egyptian was no longer spoken, the language had
survived in Greek (and Roman) letters supplemented by seven signs
borrowed from demotic, or everyday script, in a form called Coptic
which is the script and language of the Christian descendants of the
ancient Egyptians. The Coptic language in turn died out in the 1500's,
except as a sacred language read in Churches. Finally, early Coptic
primers were written in Arabic so anyone who could read Arabic had
access to the last form of the ancient Egyptian language.

For a thousand years, the hieroglyphs were taken to be purely
symbolic and containing the lost lore of an ancient civilization. At
the end of the 18th century, French scholars rejected the esoteric
construction, and realized the characters were used to write a
language, and that hieratic and demotic were but cursive forms of the
same script [11]. In light of this and the later discovery of other
bilingual stelae, the deciphering of hieroglyphs was somewhat
inevitable, but it has been long delayed for lack of the "Rosetta" in
an earlier time when it could be appreciated.

The slab of compact black basalt could easily have remained
"lost". It was apparently built into an old wall which military
engineers were demolishing in order to expand a small fort overlooking
the bank of the Nile near Rashid in the West Delta. Fortunately the
soldiers immediately realized the importance of what appeared to be
three distinct inscriptions, as versions of a single text in three
scripts, one of which was Greek [12]. The Greek could be read.
Therefore, as a translation it could be a key to unlocking the
hieroglyphs.

The story inscribed has the Priests listing the Pharoh's reasons
for honoring himself, and in return, "The Gods and Goddesses (plural)"
reward Him. The last two-thirds of proclamation explains in detail how
He will be honored, including erecting the Rosetta Stone, for all to
read. Reference Budge. Priestly privileges, especially those of an economic nature, are listed in great detail [45]. So much for the "spiritual" devotion of the priests. ( )
1 vote keylawk | Jan 11, 2007 |
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» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Carol Andrewsprimary authorall editionscalculated
Museum, Britishmain authorall editionsconfirmed
Froriep, WolfgangTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The story behind the slab that opened up the world of Egyptian hieroglyphics.

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