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===The Discovery and Decipherment of the Rosetta Stone===
The break that the world needed came in mid-July 1799 in the small village of Rosetta located on the Mediterranean Sea. According to accounts from the period, the key to understanding the ancient Egyptian language – the Rosetta Stone – was discovered by French soldiers who were clearing away a wall for a fort. The Rosetta Stone, which was ensconced in the wall, was immediately recognized as something important so it was spirited away for <i>savants</i> to study. <ref> Andrews, Carol. <i>The British Museum book of the Rosetta Stone</i>. (London: British Museum Press, 1985), p. 9
. The French knew that the stone – what is known as a “stela” by Egyptologists as it commemorated an important historical event – was important because it contained fifty-four lines of Greek text, which they could read, along with fourteen lines of unreadable hieroglyphic text, and thirty-two lines of the equally unreadable demotic Egyptian script. But before the French could dedicate any serious research to the Rosetta Stone, Egypt was captured by the British in 1801. Along with victory went the spoils of war and under Article XVI of “The Capitulation of Alexandria,” the French were forced to relinquish the Rosetta Stone and various other Egyptian antiquities. The British then promptly moved the Rosetta Stone to the British Museum in London where it still sits today.
Although the British had physical possession of the Rosetta Stone, it did not stop French scholars from studying the enigmatic inscriptions because many copies were made to folios. In many ways, the race to decipher the Rosetta Stone became a microcosm of the wars that were being fought by the British and French for control of Europe – the victor would assume a special place in history and would also capture a certain amount of pride for his country. The first translations of the Greek lines were done by Reverend Stephen Weston in London in 1802. Attempts were then made to decipher the demotic, but when it was learned that it was just a cursive form of the hieroglyphic script, the focus then turned to the undamaged hieroglyphic lines. <ref> Andrews, p. 13</ref> Despite making great initial progress on the Rosetta Stone, the vital hieroglyphic lines sat untranslated for several years until two men – one English and the other French – engaged each other in one of the greatest academic competitions in history.
A few years after the Rosetta Stone was brought to London, a young polymath named Thomas Young (1773-1829) took up the challenge. He knew that the liturgical language of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt was the modern successor to the ancient Egyptian language and therefore any understanding of Egyptian would be made through Coptic. He also determined correctly that some signs in the hieroglyphic script were phonetic (alphabetic), while others were idiomatic (non-alphabetic). With this knowledge, in 1814, Young was able to decipher the cartouches (names of kings written inside of circle) of King Ptolemy and Queen Bernike and was partially able to make a list of alphabetic signs, but was unable to translate the entire stone. <ref> Reid, p. 41</ref>
While Young was laboring away in England, across the channel in France an equally impressive polyglot named Jean-Francois Champollion (1790-1832) worked equally as furiously to decipher the enigmatic script. Using his background in the Semitic languages of Arabic and Hebrew, Champollion was able to complete a useable translation of the Rosetta Stone’s hieroglyphic lines in 1814. Although there were later found to be problems with some of Champollion’s translations and his theories on Egyptian grammar, his work provided the basis for the modern Egyptological understanding of the ancient Egyptian language and writing. <ref> Griffith, F. “The Decipherment of the Hieroglyphs.” <i>Journal of Egyptian Archaeology.”</i> 37 (1951) pg. 41</ref>
===After the Rosetta Stone===