It’s a very dull piece of a granite-like stone, and the stuff that’s carved on it isn’t hugely interesting either – it’s to do with Ptolemy V, the new king of Egypt, granting tax exemptions to the priesthood. It’s not even complete – the top bit has been broken off.
So why is this the most visited object in the British Museum, buffeted by crowds sometimes ten deep, its image featuring in the British Museum shop on everything from headscarves to iPhone covers?
Because this uninspiring bit of stone – a ‘stele’ from 196BC – allowed us to decipher hieroglyphs – to understand a form of writing for the first time in over 1400 years and so unlock the secrets of ancient Egypt.
That’s because there are three scripts on the Rosetta Stone – at the bottom, Greek, the official language of the Ptolemaic kings of Egypt as the were descended from a general of Alexander the Great; demotic, the writing of everyday in Egypt; and hieroglyphs, used by the priests. Continue reading