EGYPT: Prominent Egyptian archaeologists have renewed calls for the return of the iconic Rosetta Stone from the British Museum to Egypt, nearly 200 years after the historical artefact was deciphered, unlocking mysterious secrets of the hieroglyphic text and marking the birth of Egyptology.
Egyptian archaeologists have launched an online campaign to bring attention to the issue, garnering around 2,500 signatures to authorise the petition demanding the Rosetta Stone’s return.
The campaign aims to “tell Egyptians what has been taken from them,” said Monica Hanna, acting Dean of the College of Archaeology in the Egyptian city of Aswan.
The Rosetta Stone bears a grim historical past, entrenched in British plunder. It dates way back to 196 BC and was unearthed by Napoleon’s army in northern Egypt in 1799.
Rosetta Stone was seized by the British after Napoleon’s defeat under the terms of the 1801 Treaty of Alexandria, along with other antique objects discovered by the French, and was eventually shipped off to Britain, to be housed in the British Museum since 1802.
The stone slab bears inscriptions of the same text in Hieroglyphs, Demotic and Ancient Greek. It was used by Frenchman Jean-Francois Champollion to decipher hieroglyphs in 1822, widening the body of knowledge about ancient Egyptian language and culture.
This renewal of demands calling for the return of historical and cultural artefacts hopes to push Western museums, especially the British Museum, which hoards a huge number of cross-cultural artefacts within its walls, to return antiques that were illegitimately seized from countries under colonial rule.
“I am sure all these objects are eventually going to be restituted because the ethical code of museums is changing. It’s just a matter of when,” said Hanna.
She further added, “The stone is a symbol of cultural violence; the stone is a symbol of cultural imperialism. So, restituting the stone is a symbol of changing things—that we’re no longer in the 19th Century but we’re working with an ethical code of the 21st Century.”
A British Museum spokesperson said that there had been no formal request from the Egyptian government regarding the return of the Rosetta Stone.
The spokesperson also confirmed that the 28 stelae engraved with the same decree written by Egyptian priests had been discovered, starting with the Rosetta Stone in 1799, and that 21 remain in Egypt.
The museum is opening an exhibition entitled “Hieroglyphs: unlocking ancient Egypt” on Oct. 13, which sheds light on the role of the Rosetta Stone.
“The British Museum greatly values positive collaboration with colleagues across Egypt,” the statement added.
Egypt has said that the return of misplaced cultural artefacts to their rightful place will boost tourism in the country, a crucial source of economic assistance for its struggling economy.
It is going to open a large new museum near the Giza pyramids to showcase its most famous ancient Egyptian collections in the next few months.
“Egyptian antiquities are one of the most important tourism assets that Egypt possesses, which distinguishes it from tourist destinations worldwide,” Tourism Minister Ahmed Issa said last week at an event to mark the 200th anniversary of Egyptology.
Several countries that were formerly under European colonial rule have called for the return of cultural antiques that were stolen and seized from their lands when they were under colonial occupation.
Following the death of England’s longest reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, on September 8, many belonging to the Indian intelligentsia renewed their calls for the return of the famous Koh-i-Noor diamond.
One of the largest cut diamonds in the world, the Koh-i-Noor, is worn by Britain’s monarchs during their coronation ceremonies. It was obtained by the British during their Empire’s rule in India and many suggest that the precious diamond be reinstalled in its rightful place.