Sunday, May 27, 2007

John Ray - The Rosetta Stone and the rebirth of Ancient Egypt

There is no doubt that the Rosetta Stone has captured the imagination of many thousands of people. It’s intriguing combination of scripts, unreadable except to the expert seem to conceal all the excitement of ancient Egypt. John Ray makes the point at the start of this little history of the Stone, that it is probably the British Museum’s most popular object. Certainly sales of Rosetta Stone postcards, mouse mats and t-shirts must bring in tremendous funds for the museum.

This is one of the excellent series of books on the “Wonders of the World”. However, I am not sure that it works in this context, as well as some of the others – however important the Rosetta Stone is to archaeology, it is not the Roman Colosseum or The Parthenon.

That said, the story of the stone (and the “rebirth of Ancient Egypt” that took place as a result of its study) is fascinating. While the inscription on the stone isn’t as exciting as perhaps we’d hope, the combination of three written languages allowed the unlocking of the language of the Ancient Egyptians. This in turn allowed scholars to read the words of the Egyptians for the first time since antiquity and in turn, re-opened their world to study.

John Ray does a superb job of bring the story of the translation into the open. Two main characters dominate, the Englishman Thomas Young, described accurately as a “polymath”, who started the process of unlocking the mysteries of Hieroglyphics and the Frenchman Jean-Francois Champollion, who perhaps single handed created the arena of history now known as Egyptology.

John Ray takes us through how they worked out the meaning of the words – first translating the ancient Greek, then gradually associating the different Hieroglyphics with the intermediary demotic script. We also read a potted history of other attempts to translate ancient writings and get a short breakdown of the step-by-step processes that are used. We also get a fleeting history of Egypt. The Egypt of the Pharaohs (and the sort of things they wrote about, including an amusing account of Egyptian erotica) and the Egypt that was fought over by French and British colonialism. A conflict that eventually lead to the Rosetta Stone spending the last two centuries in the British Museum.

John Ray also briefly examines the thorny question of who should own the Stone, or similar artefacts. Should they be returned to their country of origin? Can anyone really “own” such items? John ducks the issue slightly I feel .Certainly I think that Egypt has a greater claim on the Rosetta Stone than some of the more complex examples he raises. The Stone was imperial plunder from the region, and certainly Egypt’s museums are more than capable of looking after it and similar items.

But this is really a digression from what is an entertaining, informative and well-written account of one of the most important archaeological pieces in museums anywhere. Uniquely, its importance, as John Ray points out, isn’t simply about the information contained within its inscriptions, but it’s also about the history that has developed around the Stone and what it enabled historians to understand about the past.

Related Reviews

Keith Hopkins & Mary Beard - The Colosseum


Taurina said...


The Rosetta Stone is one of the most famous textual artifacts of Ancient Egypt and a subject of numerous researches by scientists. Its name originates from the place where it was found - Rosetta (El-Rashid in Arabic). It was discovered by a soldier from Napoleon's Army while building a fortification in 1799.

After Napoleon's defeat, and signing a peace treaty in 1802, all artifacts found by French become British property. Among those, the Rosetta Stone was transferred to the British Museum, where it is now, and represents one of the most valuable items the museum owns.

The Rosetta Stone is a black granite slab with the following dimensions:

Height: 1.44 m
Width: 0.72 м
Thickness : 0.28m
Weight: 762 кг

The special decree that had been inscribed on it, according to contemporary scholarship, was issued by the priests in order to glorify the pharaoh Ptolemy V Epiphany Eucharist one year after his coronation, more precisely, according to present-day calendar on 27th of March 196 B.C.

The text is written in three languages: ancient Egyptian, written in hieroglyphic script, ancient Macedonian, written in demotic script, and ancient Greek, written in ancient Greek alphabet. For a long time no one could decode the ancient Macedonian script. Professors Aristotel Tentov and Tome Bosevski made a great discovery when they succeeded to decode the middle text from the Rosetta Stone, and as their scientific proves say, it turns out to be in ancient Macedonian language, written in demotic script, that royal Egyptian Macedonian family (originates from Ptolemy I, Alexander the Great's General) used together with the ancient Egyptian and ancient Greek languages.

Besides the enormous importance this discovery has in global terms, it shows a different perspective towards "history" as it was known before, and changes some thing that were taken for granted before. First, from the fact that the language of this script is very similar to contemporary Macedonian language, it shows that there is a direct link between Macedonian people today and their ancient Macedonian ancestors. Secondly, it shows that Macedonia was the cradle of European culture, an older civilization than Greek or Egyptian one, and then it turns the previously known history upside down, because according to Professors Tentov and Bosevski, present-day Macedonians do not originate from the Carpathian Mountains, but were forced to flee from Macedonia and settled there, spreading their culture and civilization among natives. Then, in the 6th century, they came back home, again fleeing from invaders. The resemblance between the language in which the middle text of Rosetta Stone was written and the contemporary Macedonian language is astonishing and raises many questions that should be answered in the future.

Congratulations on this success Professors!

Here is the web site where you can find their magnificent results. I recommend it:

Anonymous said...

Are you kidding us?? the work of those hilarious characters has only proven that there is so much stupidity in the world... These engineers (for this is their profession) shook the world with an astonishing theory that was proven rubbish, since from 2005 they have failed to translate other texts of the egyptian middle demotic...So many years have passed that had it been something else than anti Greek propaganda, our libraries would have been filled with new data from the thousands of egyptian inscriptions we have.... Thumbs down!

Anonymous said...

Good Job! :)

Anonymous said...

the original translation if the demotic is a joke. Simple substitution translation which was done with the texts cannot be considered a system. Its even more hilarious that scholars are fine with this mockery after so many years.

The texts/symbols were isolated according to their position on the stone in correlation with the greek text, the text he already knew. That is the “system ” which determined the meaning of the demotic.

Can you this with any modern languages, even in the same group? Put together the same text in german and english and try it out.

i would simply not allow myself to dismiss a theory like this.


Anonymous said...

Well, all of Egyptology is based upon Champollions' translation. If his translation of Demotic is wrong, then the translation of the Hieroglyphics based upon the demotic script is wrong as well. So, every Ancient Egyptian text that has been translated so far would be mistranslated. Is there such a possibility, to have thousand of Ancient Egyptian inscriptions mistranslated? Is it possible that so many scholars didn't notice anything?

But why go so far as the Hieroglyphics anyway. Coptic is a living (albeit severely wounded) language. Champollion assumed that the middle text was a precursor to the modern Coptic, and this is how he made that translation. The university of Chicago has a Demotic script project some years now that continues translating demotic scripts based upon Champollions' translation. The project is pursued by no less than 12 institutions and 69 individuals.

Tentov and Bosevski wrote a letter to them explaining how wrong they were to make all of these translations. What was the response from the University of Chicago to them? They didn't even respond to them. Is it surprising? No, no institution has responded to Tentov and Boseski so far, except for another rogue Russian historian. Obviously, no mainstream linguist takes them seriously...

Anonymous said...

They have translated many other texts in demotic script, and they keep getting very, very interesting results..

Not to mention they have read few completely new things in the middle rosetta (that weren't mentioned in the other 2 texts)

As mentioned previously, this is not their primary job, so they can't progress very fast. However the truth is about to show up.

Anonymous said...

Also, the translation wasn't made by isolating the symbols and comparing the greek text, but using only the meaning of the text, some names and assumptions about the language, that it was of "so called slavic" i.e. macedonian character. Rest is research..