Computer Science Illuminated, Third Edition


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Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta Stone was discovered in July 1799 by French troops occupying Egypt. Pierre Francois Xavier Bouchard, an engineer and officer in Napoleon's army, found the famous stone at Rosetta (also called Rashid), a town near Alexandria. The Rosetta Stone is a black basalt stone with three inscriptions: one in Egyptian hieroglyphics; another in Demotic, a late cursive Egyptian script; and a third in ancient Greek. While the two Egyptian languages were as of yet undeciphered, ancient Greek had been read and studied from antiquity through modern times. The Greek text stated that the three inscriptions on the stone were translations of the same text.

The French troops used the Rosetta Stone as a printing block, making copies of the inscriptions, which reached Paris in the fall of 1800. Casts were taken of the Stone, and it was prepared for shipping to France.

Throughout 1801 the French gradually lost ground to British and Turkish troops. The French general Menou held Alexandria and the surrounding area until August of that year. Under Article 16 of the Capitulation of Alexandria, the French surrendered all antiquities collected by Napoleon's scholars in the Alexandria region to Britain. General Menou claimed that the Rosetta Stone was his own personal property; nonetheless, English Colonel Turner took possession of the Stone, which arrived in England in 1802. It was donated to the British Museum, where it can be seen today.

Prints and copies of the Stone were sent to scholars throughout Europe and America for deciphering. The Demotic, or Egyptian cursive, script proved useful in the understanding of the hieroglyphic word grouping. As the French scholar Sylvestre de Sacy (1758-1831) and the Swedish diplomat Johan Akerblad (1763-1819) made strides in deciphering the Demotic text, English scientist Thomas Young (1773-1829) and French linguist Jean-Francois Champollion (1790-1832) made inroads on the hieroglyphics.

Greek and Roman authors had written about cartouches, or oblong figures in which the ancient Egyptians wrote the names of their rulers and deities. Using the hieroglyphics identified for Ptolemy and Cleopatra, Chompollion deciphered names from the cartouches of various monuments. On September 14, 1822, he discovered that he could read the names of earlier, native Egyptian pharaohs. Therefore, Chompollion concluded, hieroglyphics were not only pictoral but also sound-signs for Egyptian words-a sort of alphabet. He also deduced that Coptic-the early Egyptian Christian language recorded in an adaptation of the Greek alphabet and preserved through the Coptic Church-was the same language as ancient Egyptian.

On September 27, 1822, Chompollion read a letter stating his discoveries to the Academie des Inscriptions et Belles Letres in Paris. This historic letter marked the birth of modern Egyptology.

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Rosetta Stone
Good images, including a map and pictures of the stone, can be found at this site. Check it out!

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