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Egyptian Petition Demands British Museum Return the Iconic Rosetta Stone

Egyptian Petition Demands British Museum Return the Iconic Rosetta Stone

Given how much the British have revered the artifact as an icon of learning, the Rosetta Stone should stay exactly where it is.

When my family visited London in 2015, our first stop was the Egyptian collection at the British Museum.

The Rosetta Stone was uncovered by Napoleon’s troops during the French foray into the Nile region and then passed to the British after the French surrender of Egypt in 1801. The stone’s carvings in Greek, Demotic (an Egyptian version of short-hand), and hieroglyphics were a proclamation thanking Pharaoh Ptolemy V for the reduction of taxes.

The French expedition, which included a contingent of scientists, and Rosetta Stone’s translation (by both French and British historians and linguists) inspired interest in, and the eventual development of, Egypt.

Now the Egyptians have signed a petition demanding the return of the Rosetta Stone.

The debate over who owns ancient artifacts has been an increasing challenge to museums across Europe and America, and the spotlight has fallen on the most visited piece in the British Museum: The Rosetta stone.

The inscriptions on the dark grey granite slab became the seminal breakthrough in deciphering ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics after it was taken from Egypt by forces of the British empire in 1801.

Now, as Britain’s largest museum marks the 200-year anniversary of the decipherment of hieroglyphics, thousands of Egyptians are demanding the stone’s return.

’The British Museum’s holding of the stone is a symbol of Western cultural violence against Egypt,” said Monica Hanna, dean at the Arab Academy for Science, Technology & Maritime Transport, and organizer of one of two petitions calling for the stone’s return.

I have thoughts.

Western civilization owes much to ancient Egypt. But modern Egypt also owes much to the West. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights.

It was western technology that helped build the Suez Canal. Egypt just earned $7 billion annually from revenues from its use, which is a record.

Egypt’s Suez Canal revenue hit a record high of $7 billion in the financial year to June 30, up 20.7% from the previous year, Canal Authority Chairman Osama Rabea said on Monday.

A statement from the authority attributed the rise to an increase in vessel numbers and cargoes, with total cargoes reaching a record high of 1.32 million tonnes, up 10.9% from 2020/21.

The number of vessels transiting the canal rose 15.7% to 22,032.

The canal is the fastest shipping route between Europe and Asia and one of the Egyptian government’s main sources of foreign currency.

When the Egyptians partnered with the Soviets to construct the Aswan Dam, the famous temples at Abu Simbel were threatened by flood waters. Western countries joined together to save these magnificent monuments.

Saving the temples of Egypt and dismantling, stone by stone, the Abu Simbel temple in the early 1960s was a first act to recognize this idea. UNESCO launched an international safeguarding campaign to save monuments in Nubia from being flooded by the waters of Lake Nasser. The construction of the Aswan High Dam in Egypt drew unprecedented international attention to the protection of cultural heritage. At that time, many people thought they had to choose between culture and development, between flourishing crops and the traces of a glorious history. UNESCO has shown that we can have both.

One last point: This year marks the 100th anniversary of the discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamun. As noted by Egyptologist Bob Brier in his wonderful book (Tutankhamun and the Tomb that Changed the World), the very British George Herbert Edwards, 5th Earl of Carnarvon, funded the excavation. The very British Howard Carter toiled, sweated, and battled (often on the side of the Egyptians) to make the find and ensure its treasures were properly handled.

Despite the massive amounts of gold and artifacts, the men most responsible received none of it. Instead, it is being kept by the Egyptian Museum.

It turned out that the treasure was not entirely safe in Egypt’s museum.  In 2015, Egyptian cleaning crews damaged the iconic mask of the young king.

The Egyptians ended up with a German team to repair the mask.

Foreign archeological teams routinely fund their own expeditions to Egypt, helping Egyptians recover their ancient heritage and preserve it.

Rather than embracing the current Western export of victimization and decrying injustices based on distorted history, I would argue that it would be better for Egypt to focus on the benefits already obtained and reject actions that will only poison the nation’s relationship with those who might like to experience it via tourism and science.

The Rosetta Stone was originally part of a rubble pile that made up a fort’s foundation. It was not an object of worship or the treasure from a king’s tomb. The British have revered it for nearly 2 centuries as an icon of man’s love of learning.

The Rosetta Stone should stay exactly where it is.

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Comments

I’d say work out a deal for it to safely travel between venues in each country, but Egypt doesn’t have the best track record at protecting their precious antiquities.

JackinSilverSpring | December 5, 2022 at 8:05 pm

If the French hadn’t rescued the Rosetta Stone, the likelihood is that we still wouldn’t know how to read hieroglyphics.

I spent a week in London once in my life on a business trip. I was lucky enough to be without easy walking distance of the British Museum and canny enough to walk in off the street on a whim. The place was like twenty Indiana Jones movies. Every historical artifact you’ve ever heard of, and plenty you never have, is right there in front of you. When I got up that morning, I had no idea I was going to have been face to face with the Rosetta Stone, the Hope Diamond, and the Domesday Book before dinner.

    Colonel Travis in reply to henrybowman. | December 5, 2022 at 9:44 pm

    I thought the hope diamond’s home was in DC?

      henrybowman in reply to Colonel Travis. | December 5, 2022 at 9:59 pm

      Aaargh. Now you have me wondering. It may have been the Koh-i-Noor, but I don’t think so because it was a big, white, standalone gem, not embedded in a crown. It was an immediately recognizable name to someone who doesn’t do gems for a living. This was almost 40 years ago, when the London Stock Exchange went all-electronic.

Morning Sunshine | December 5, 2022 at 8:36 pm

That was my experience in Salisbury when I accidentally came face to face with the Magna Carta; I had missed the earlier tour to Stonehenge and decided to kill some time wondering the cathedral. I can still see the shock in teh docent’s eyes when he realized I was familiar with the document!

The Brits shouldn’t as it will just open the doors to their entire collections.

But white guilt going to guilt I fear

    CommoChief in reply to gonzotx. | December 5, 2022 at 9:16 pm

    Eff that, the Brits stole it fair and square back before the rules changed to no more stealing. More importantly they maintain the damn thing v allowing it to be destroyed out of neglect, religious fundamentalism or plain old spite.

      mailman in reply to CommoChief. | December 6, 2022 at 2:19 am

      If the Brit’s hadn’t sole it when they did, along with other precious antiquities, they ALL would have ended up lost in private collections or worse still, destroyed centuries ago.

      tbonesays in reply to CommoChief. | December 6, 2022 at 1:53 pm

      @Commo. And the Arabs conquered the Egyptian valley fair and square.

The ancient Egyptians were the original inhabitants of Britain, Yeah, that’s the ticket.

I would fear its destruction were it to be repatriated to Egypt.

Egypt is a safer location.

Now that it is under military control, and the new military regime did away with Mubarak’s crony capitalism with the result being Egypt went from desperately importing food and facing starvation to facing an obesity epidemic I would say the Rosetta Stone is a lot safer in Egypt.

The British allow leftist protestors to attack Van Gogh if it is in the name of their current thing.

The next protestor could easily do it competently. In Egypt I am pretty sure you would be brutally beaten within an inch of your life if you try to destroy their priceless things.

    Milhouse in reply to Danny. | December 6, 2022 at 1:22 am

    Yes, but there’s no telling how long the current regime will last.

      henrybowman in reply to Milhouse. | December 6, 2022 at 4:40 am

      A funny observation, given that England’s last PM lasted about as long as a Tootsie Pop.

        Milhouse in reply to henrybowman. | December 6, 2022 at 10:02 am

        The tenure of an individual prime minister is irrelevant; the government is stable. Even if Labor is elected, the government is likely to remain stable. But in Egypt Danny is putting his entire trust in Sisi, whose tenure could be ended by a bullet tomorrow.

      Danny in reply to Milhouse. | December 6, 2022 at 10:58 am

      The indications are all positive. People are clearly grateful to the current regime (demonstrated by the death of the protest movement), they also have good reason to be grateful (going from verge of starvation to 1st world problems is a big step), Egypt isn’t involved in war, arrests for political reasons are way down (which is generally in indication of how stable a dictators regime is).

    gonzotx in reply to Danny. | December 6, 2022 at 3:39 am

    ME is in constant flux. Nothing and no one is safe there

    I find your “logic” convoluted

      Danny in reply to gonzotx. | December 6, 2022 at 10:49 am

      Israel Greece and Cyprus all maintain incredibly close ties with Egypt so clearly the people closest to Egypt, who would be impacted most by what goes on to Egypt due to proximity disagree.

retiredcantbefired | December 5, 2022 at 11:09 pm

To a Muslim Brother, the stone is a relic of the benighted times before Islam. Worth nothing. Where’s the guarantee that Islamists won’t take control of Egypt?

    Slim to none

    Well the Egyptian Army is in control, and the current strongman inherited a nation on the verge of starvation because crony capitalism cut down food production with Egypt being propped up by donated food from other places.

    Today however obesity is a major health crisis in Egypt, political agitation has gone from fever pitch to non-existent, the Egyptian Army is large and loyal to the strongman, Egypt has maintained a very solid alliance with the United States and Israel….I would say an Islamic takeover is about as likely in Egypt as Kanye West and Nick Fuentes winning the 2024 election.

Keep it where it is. Artifacts should belong to whoever has possession of them. Acquisition through conquest is a time-honored tradition.

Western civilization owes much to ancient Egypt. But modern Egypt also owes much to the West.

In addition, modern Egypt owes nothing to ancient Egypt, and the modern Egyptian government is not descended in any way from any ancient Egyptian government. Nobody in modern Egypt ever owned the stone, and in all likelihood nobody in modern Egypt is even descended from anyone who once owned the stone. Ancient and modern Egypt are more usefully thought of as two completely unrelated countries that happen to occupy the same geography.

So the only theory under which the Egyptians have any right to the stone is the same theory that says a government automatically owns all the natural resources that are discovered within that country’s borders. And that theory is garbage.

As Adam Smith pointed out 250 years ago, resources buried in the ground are worth nothing, and their entire value once mined is attributable to those who discovered them and those who mined them, so they naturally belong to those people. The country’s government contributed nothing to the resources’ value, so it has no just claim on any portion of them.

    henrybowman in reply to Milhouse. | December 6, 2022 at 4:43 am

    Furthermore, if it hadn’t been for the French and the English, the stone’s value as a historical artifact would have never even been suspected. The Egyptians had no idea what it was. They were using it as a component of a French Drain.

    JackinSilverSpring in reply to Milhouse. | December 6, 2022 at 8:05 am

    The Copts are the remnants of the ancient Egyptians.

’The British Museum’s holding of the stone is a symbol of Western cultural violence against Egypt,” said Monica Hanna, dean at the Arab Academy for Science, Technology & Maritime Transport,

“Cultural violence” is a nonsense term. It means nothing, and therefore any sentence in which it appears also means nothing.

It was western technology that helped build the Suez Canal. Egypt just earned $7 billion annually from revenues from its use

You can thank Dwight D Eisenhower for that. He was the one who forced the UK and France to allow Nasser to steal the canal for himself, just as he forced British Petroleum to allow the Shah of Iran to steal its oil wells. And he forced Israel to give the Sinai back to Nasser, in return for nothing but empty promises of security and free passage that neither he nor Nasser ever had any intention of fulfilling. When people talk about how the Democrats are so bad for Israel I point out that the worst US president for Israel was neither 0bama nor any Democrat, but Eisenhower.

The Rosetta Stone should stay exactly where it is.

So should the Elgin Marbles, and every other artifact discovered and given value by Westerners, that if it had been left in the hands of the people who happened to live near where it was discovered it would long ago have been destroyed.

    mailman in reply to Milhouse. | December 6, 2022 at 2:26 am

    Interesting fact 😁 A friend of mine is an architect who specialises in refurbishing old mansions.

    Anyway one day he says to me to come out with him to a clients property in Chelsea for a gander. The mansion turns out to be the former home of Lord Elgin which has the most AMAZING Greek friezes throughout the the entire house, including replicas of the Elgin Marbles.

    Also, the then owner was a Russian billionaire who made his money through patronage of the correct political actors in Mother Russia and the sake of former State assets 🤫🤔

    Bonus interesting fact 😁 The owner bought the house next door and demolished it so he could extend his swimming pool an extra 5 metres 😱🤷🏻

      gonzotx in reply to mailman. | December 6, 2022 at 3:54 am

      Interesting update on the Elgin Marbles, and if true, the run on antiquities will completely deplete Englands, and I fear ALL of the Western world’s antiquities

      From Wiki

      “In 2014, UNESCO offered to mediate between Greece and the United Kingdom to resolve the dispute, although this was later turned down by the British Museum on the basis that UNESCO works with government bodies, not trustees of museums.[21][22][23] In 2021, UNESCO issued its first decision on the Parthenon Marbles, calling for the United Kingdom to return them to Greece. Following intense public pressure, in December 2022, it was reported that the British Museum had entered into talks with the Greek government for the permanent return of the Parthenon Marbles to Athens”.[24][25]

        mailman in reply to gonzotx. | December 6, 2022 at 4:24 am

        Im not surprised really. Leftist organisations like the BM lost its back bone many moons ago.

        The only thing Im really surprised by is that they hadn’t returned the Marbles sooner…but that probably had more to do with good old fashioned MEN still being in charge at the time…but time waits for no man and as soon as these old men died off and were replaced with spineless ball-less nutsacks it was only a matter of time before they caved.

I have vivid memories of the Taliban destroying priceless relics to combat “idolatry.”
Keep the stone in England. The government is more stable there than in Egypt.

Demand, do they? I would send the following very British response:
“Thank you for your communication. We will consider your request in due order.”

    And of course the paperwork addressed to Pharaoh Ptolemy V (or his successor) done in hieroglyphics and checked for errors, then sent through the British bureaucracy in proper form. I would expect that Egypt can expect approval on the Second of Never.

“Ummmm….”
*leans in to microphone*
“No.”

American Human | December 6, 2022 at 12:16 pm

I don’t know…the British have taken a lot of things from a lot of people in a lot of countries over the centuries.

Just because they (or the French) took it doesn’t mean it belongs to them. Possession isn’t necessarily 9/10ths of the law.

The Muslim Brotherhood riots destroyed hundreds of museum pieces and historical statuary. That was a mere decade ago. Muslims have an extraordinarily poor record at preserving antiquities and a brilliant record in destroying them. Remember the Muslims in Egypt burned thousands of mummies, thousands of ancient texts, particularly Christian writings. And removed the finish stones from the pyramids making them a travesty of the former appearance. No relic is safe in the hands of Muslims. Not even ancient Koranic writings.

    retiredcantbefired in reply to puhiawa. | December 6, 2022 at 2:38 pm

    Might be worth adding that Champollion, who learned to read hieroglyphs after at least 1400 years when no one remembered how to, was French.

BierceAmbrose | December 6, 2022 at 2:23 pm

“Demand.”

My response to demands in “no”, to extortionate demands “no, and you can’t make me.” If I’m feeling generous I’ll add: “Let’s have a different conversation.”

The British Museum might want to try that.

Robert Arvanitis | December 6, 2022 at 6:32 pm

The stone was produced under the Ptolemaic Dynasty, to confer the benefits of the Greek language.
Belongs to the West.
Let it stay in the British Museum

    In fact Greek was the language of Egypt royalty for near 300 years when the monument was carved. The loss of the ability of the world to read hieroglyphics is a true mystery in that it was a common language and important method of inscription at the time of Christ and well beyond. Traveled the ancient world from Greece and Rome through China. And then poof….the Muslims came in and destroyed all but stone carvings. The Muslims are no different than the new left.

      retiredcantbefired in reply to puhiawa. | December 7, 2022 at 1:35 pm

      Speakers of Late Egyptian, aka Coptic, started writing their language in the Greek alphabet. That’s what killed off the glyphs.

      Champollion had studied Coptic and Arabic before he went to work on deciphering hieroglyphs. Those who ruled Egypt for close to 12 centuries spoke Arabic—and looked down on Coptic as the language of inferior beings.