In 2022, the world celebrated the bicentennial anniversary of Jean Francois Champollion’s monumental achievement: the decipherment of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. To honor this historic breakthrough, the British Museum unveiled a captivating exhibition chronicling the journey behind the Rosetta Stone’s decipherment.
The Rosetta Stone, a stele inscribed with a Priestly decree issued in 196 BC, proved to be the key to unlocking the mysteries of hieroglyphs. It featured three scripts: ancient Greek, demotic (an ancient Egyptian script), and Egyptian hieroglyphs, providing a bilingual text for scholars to work with.
The significance of the Rosetta Stone lay in its acceleration of the decipherment race. Scholars across Europe tirelessly analyzed its text, along with other artefacts, and two prominent figures, Thomas Young and Champollion, emerged as leading contenders.
Champollion, aided by his knowledge of Coptic and Arabic, gained an edge in the race, eventually cracking the hieroglyphic code in 1822. This breakthrough opened a window to Egypt’s rich and fascinating history, shedding light on a land ruled by the Ptolemaic Dynasty during the 2nd century BC, a multicultural and bilingual society where Greek and Egyptian coexisted.
Champollion’s decipherment ignited a fascination with ancient Egypt, leading to the preservation and study of numerous texts and artifacts, preserving the legacy of this remarkable civilization for generations to come.
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Top image: Rosetta Stone, the key to understanding ancient Egypt. Source: Jens Teichmann / Adobe Stock.