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