On this day in 1799, during Napoleon Bonaparte's Egyptian campaign, a French soldier discovers a black basalt slab inscribed with ancient writing near the town of Rosetta, about 35 miles north of Alexandria. The irregularly shaped stone contained fragments of passages written in three different scripts: Greek, Egyptian hieroglyphics and Egyptian demotic. The ancient Greek on the Rosetta Stone told archaeologists that it was inscribed by priests honoring the king of Egypt, Ptolemy V, in the second century B.C. More startlingly, the Greek passage announced that the three scripts were all of identical meaning. The artifact thus held the key to solving the riddle of hieroglyphics, a written language that had been "dead" for nearly 2,000 years.
When Napoleon, an emperor known for his enlightened view of
education, art and culture, invaded Egypt in 1798, he took along a group
of scholars and told them to seize all important cultural artifacts for
France. Pierre Bouchard, one of Napoleon's soldiers, was aware of this
order when he found the basalt stone, which was almost four feet long
and two-and-a-half feet wide, at a fort near Rosetta. When the British
defeated Napoleon in 1801, they took possession of the Rosetta Stone.
Several scholars, including Englishman Thomas Young made progress
with the initial hieroglyphics analysis of the Rosetta Stone. French
Egyptologist Jean-Francois Champollion (1790-1832), who had taught
himself ancient languages, ultimately cracked the code and deciphered
the hieroglyphics using his knowledge of Greek as a guide. Hieroglyphics
used pictures to represent objects, sounds and groups of sounds. Once
the Rosetta Stone inscriptions were translated, the language and culture
of ancient Egypt was suddenly open to scientists as never before.
The Rosetta Stone has been housed at the British Museum in London
since 1802, except for a brief period during World War I. At that time,
museum officials moved it to a separate underground location, along with
other irreplaceable items from the museum's collection, to protect it
from the threat of bombs.
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Taken from: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/rosetta-stone-found [19.07.2012]