One of the most significant archaeological discoveries of modern times was made on July 15, 1799. What is known as the Rosetta Stone was uncovered in the town of Rashid (Rosetta) in the Nile Delta by French soldiers during Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign.
The large granitoid stone slab is inscribed with three versions of a decree issued in 196 BC on behalf of King Ptolemy V. The first text is Egyptian hieroglyphs (suitable for a priestly decree). The second is Demotic, meaning ‘language of the people’. It was used in everyday situations. The third text is Ancient Greek. This was language of administration in Egypt at the time.
After the French were defeated in by the British in 1801 the stone became a British possession. Since 1802 it has been displayed in the British Museum. In 1822, French Egyptologist Jean-Francois Champollion (1790-1832) cracked the stone’s code. Champollion’s work opened the door to ancient Egypt, deciphering a written language which had been dormant for nearly 2000 years.
You can now view a Rosetta Stone replica in the Irish Linen Centre and Lisburn Museum. It is part of the British Museum Touring Exhibition ‘Egyptian hieroglyphs: unlock the mystery’. The exhibition is free to the public and runs until October 12.