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Ronald Burgos 9/28/00 Period1 The Rosetta Stone In 1799, when Napoleon's army was
dismantling a wall in Rashid, Egypt, they discovered the Rosetta Stone. Little did they
know that this 11-inch thick piece of rock would be one of the greatest discoveries in
history! It contained Egyptian scripture, with Greek also on the stone. This was used to
decode the once lost Egyptian writing system. Before the 1800's, attempts at trying to
uncover the secrets held by the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics found on walls inside
numerous tombs were useless. The pictures were falsely believed to be symbolic,
representing some sort of object or idea. Something soon changed all of this
misconception. 1799 was the year of a great breakthrough in Egyptology. French troops,
under Napoleon's command, were destroying a wall when they found a black, basalt stone.
The stone was inscribed with three different forms of writing: Egyptian hieroglyphics, a
shorthand form of hieroglyphs, and Greek written in 196 BC. The Rosetta Stone then became
instrumental in decrypting the long forgotten Egyptian writing system. The stone was first
discovered near Rosetta, Egypt, by one of Napoleon's soldiers, named variously as
Bouchard, during his expedition to Egypt in August of 1799. In no time, this discovery was
mentioned to all the top scholars who were immensely interested since there was no way to
decode the hieroglyphs. In 1802, Johan David Akerblad was the first to break ground in
identifying the first demotic symbols. He identified a few of the proper names in the
demotic text, after comparing them with the same names found in the Greek text. (Ogg 78)
Next on the scene was Thomas Young, an English physicist, who took an interest to the
deciphering the Rosetta Stone as well. After much researching, Young was able to prove
that the proper names in the hieroglyphics section of the stone did in fact have phonetic
value, and were not made up of symbols. He then introduced the idea of the proper names
being written with ovals around them, known as cartouches. In reality, the hieroglyphs
only contained six. Of the phonetic values that he assigned to hieroglyphs, five were
correct (p, t, i, n, and f). (Budge 54) In 1814, he revealed the way in which the
hieroglyphic signs were to be read by studying the direction in which the birds and other
animals were all facing. He also was able to correctly identify some single-consonant
hieroglyphic signs. Young's main contribution to Egyptology was published in the 1824
Encyclopedia Britannica, which described his findings. Another man who devoted many years
of his life to studying the stone was Jean-Francois Champollion. After many years of
perseverance, Champollion finally translated the stone in 1822. He accomplished this feat
by first recognizing that hieroglyphs were not symbols, but instead were associated with
phonetics, as Thomas Young had proved. (Andrews 166) His first major breakthrough in his
studies was in 1808, when he resolved those fifteen signs of the demotic script related
with alphabetic letters from the Coptic language. From this he concluded that Coptic
language must be based on the remnants of the last of the ancient Egyptian language, and
written with the Greek alphabet, which is why it was readable to Champollion and other
scholars researching the stone. Also, that the hieroglyphic text was a translation of the
Greek, not the reverse, as had been previously believed. By 1818, Champollion had
successfully concluded that though some signs were basically ideograms, many of the glyphs
had phonetic value, meaning the ancient Egyptian script was at least partially alphabetic.
(Giblin 83) He came to this conclusion after referring back to three other different forms
Continues for 2 more pages >>




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