Ancient Egyptian stone bearing inscriptions the decipherment of which led to     

the understanding of hieroglyphic writing. An irregularly shaped stone of

black basalt 3 ft 9 in. (114 cm) long and 2 ft 41/2 in. (72 cm) wide, and

broken in antiquity, it was found near the town of Rosetta ( Rashid ), about 35

mi (56 km) northeast of Alexandria. It was discovered by a Frenchman named

Bbouchard or Boussard in August 1799. After the French surrender of Egypt in

1801, it passed into British hands and is now in the British Museum.

The inscription, apparently written by the priests of Memphis, summarize

benefactions conferred by Ptolemy V Epiphanies (205-180 BC) and were written

in the ninth year of his reign in commemoration of his accession to the

throne. Inscribed in two languages, Egyptian and Greek, and three writing

systems, hieroglyphics, demotic script (a cursive form of Egyptian

hieroglyphics), and the Greek alphabet, it provided a key to the translation

of Egyptian hieroglyphic writing.

The decipherment was largely the work of Thomas Young of England and

Jean-Francois Champollion of France. The hieroglyphic text on the Rosetta

Stone contains six identical cartouches (oval figures enclosing

hieroglyphs). Young deciphered the cartouche as the name of Ptolemy and

proved a long-held assumption that the cartouches found in other

inscriptions were the names of royalty. By examining the direction in which

bird and animal characters faced. Young also discovered the way in which

hieroglyphic signs were to be read.


In 1821-22 Champollion, starting where Young left off, began to publish

papers on the decipherment of hieratic and hieroglyphic writing based on

study of the Resetta Stone and eventually established an entire list of

signs with their Greek equivalents. He was the first Egyptologist to realize

that some of the signs were alphabetic, some syllabic, and some

determinative, standing for the whole idea or object previously expressed.

He also established that the hieroglyphic text of the Rosetta stone was a

translation from the Greek, not as had been thought, the reverse. the work of

these men established the basis for the translation of all future Egyptian

hieroglyphic texts.