Jonathan Downs, the author of Discovery at Rosetta, which I mentioned a few weeks ago, has kindly sent me the text of the concluding chapter of this book. This chapter looks at the case for the return of the Rosetta Stone to Egypt – both its legality & the arguments surrounding it. The case for the restitution of the Rosetta Stone has a lot of parallels with the Parthenon Marbles – their acquisitions were roughly contemporaneous, they both came from outposts of what was at that time the Ottoman Empire, They both ended up in the British Museum.
The author has also offered to respond to any queries that people make in the comments on this message.
Jonathan Downs (by email)
The following is an extract from Discovery at Rosetta (by Jonathan Downs, Constable, 2008, pp.210-215) outlining the current status of the Rosetta Stone, the facts governing its legal ownership and its possible repatriation to Egypt:
THE ROSETTA STONE: A PROUD TROPHY?
Despite the Rosetta Stone’s public profile, historically its status as an exhibit in the British Museum has not been nearly as contested as that of the ‘Elgin’ or Parthenon Marbles. To many it is immediately recognizable and more memorable than the sculptures that were formerly part of the Athenian Acropolis. This is understandable; until the end of the 1990s the Rosetta Stone rested on an angled frame close to the entrance of the museum – unavoidable, it was one of the first objects to be encountered, and crowds of visitors have gathered round it for the past two hundred years. Cleaned by conservators, it now occupies an equally prominent position in the centre of the Egypt collection by the Great Court entrance, upright within a protective case, still one of the most famous objects in the world. Before the arrival of the antiquities from Egypt in 1802, the British Museum contained little grand sculpture, its halls filled chiefly with smaller curiosities. The acquisition of the Rosetta Stone and the cargo from the Alexandria victory was an important step in the development of the institution.
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