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Egypt to demand the Rosetta Stone from the British Museum

Egypt has made repeated requests in the past for the return of the Rosetta Stone [1]. Most of these requests have been made to the press or at conferences – which rightly or wrongly are not counted as official requests. It now looks as though Egypt is planning on making a formal request for the return of the Rosetta Stone – Although I am uncertain that this will meet with a more positive response than previous informal requests did.

The Times [2]

December 6, 2009
Egypt to demand the Rosetta Stone from British Museum
Cristina Ruiz

EGYPT is preparing to make a formal request for the return of the Rosetta Stone, the ancient artefact that helped to unlock the secrets of the pharaohs, from the British Museum.

Zahi Hawass, the head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, said he is preparing to “fight” for the restitution of the stone which has been on display in the museum in London since 1802.

He regards the pinkish-grey tablet — the key to deciphering hieroglyphs — as one of the most important treasures removed from Egypt which now take pride of place in western collections. It dates from 196BC.

Hawass hopes Britain will hand it back in time for the opening of a new museum near the pyramids at Giza in 2013. The demand follows the decades-old tussle between Britain and Greece over the Elgin Marbles.

The Rosetta Stone was discovered by French soldiers in 1799 in the Nile Delta town of el-Rashid, or Rosetta. On Napoleon’s defeat in 1801, the artefact was taken by British troops and shipped to London.

The 3ft 9in by 2ft 4in stone is inscribed with a decree relating to the royal cult of Ptolemy V, a 13-year-old king. It appears in three scripts: hieroglyphics; demotic, the historic Egyptian script used for daily interaction; and classical Greek.

By comparing the pictorial hieroglyphs with their Greek equivalent, the French scholar Jean-François Champollion deciphered the ancient symbols in 1822, a breakthrough in understanding Egyptian civilisation.

Hawass first asked the British Museum to lend the Rosetta Stone to Egypt for a temporary display. However, he was angered when trustees asked him to provide assurances that the stone would be safe.

“The [security] standards of our new museums in Egypt are better than the standards of security at the British Museum and therefore I decided that we are not going to ask for a loan. We are going to bring [it back] for good,” said Hawass.

He is launching a new book on egyptology at the British Museum on Tuesday, but he is unlikely to make a formal request for the permanent return of the stone until next spring.

A spokeswoman for the British Museum said it was considering Egypt’s request to borrow the stone and that asking for information about the conditions of display was standard for any loan request.