Skip to comments.Rosetta Stone
Posted on 11/25/2005 3:24:22 PM PST by blam
By Nevine El-Aref
The Rosetta stone
The black basalt Rosetta stone was found in 1799, a year after the French expedition to Egypt began, in a fortress located on the outskirts of Rashid by a young French officer named Pierre-François Bouchard. It measured 113cms tall, 75.5cms long and 27cms thick, and contained three distinct bands of writing.
The most incomplete was the top band containing hieroglyphics; the middle band was written in the demotic script and the bottom was in Greek.
Studies carried out on the stone by scholars revealed that the stone was a royal decree which stated that it was to be written in the languages used in Egypt at the time.
Scholars began to focus on the demotic script, since it was more complete and resembled alphabetical letters rather than the pictorial hieroglyphs.
This was essentially a shorthand form of hieroglyphics and had evolved from an earlier shorthand version of Egyptian called hieratic.
The first scholar to make any sense of the demotic script on the Rosetta Stone was a French linguist named Silvestre de Sacy, who succeeded in identifying the symbols which comprised the names "Ptolemy" and "Alexander", thus, establishing a relationship between the symbols and sounds.
Using the Coptic language, Swedish diplomat Johann Akerblad was able to identify the words for "love", "temple" and "Greek" thus, making it clear that the demotic script was not only a phonetic script but it was also translatable.
In 1801, the stone became British property according to the Al-Arish political decree, and in 1802 the Reverend Stephen Weston made an early translation of the Greek text into English.
Hence, several attempts were made to decipher the hieroglyphics on the Rosetta Stone. In 1819 Jean François Champollion, who had mastered many Eastern languages, continued the research on the stone.
In 1822 new inscriptions from a temple at Abu Simbel on the Nile were introduced to Europe, and Champollion correctly identified the name of the Pharaoh who had built the temple as Ramses.
From then on he continued successfully to decipher the hieroglyphs, opening up an understanding of the ancient Egyptians.
In the same year a translation of the Rosetta Stone was published in "Lettre à M. Dacié".
The stone text concerns honours bestowed on Pharaoh Ptolemy V Ephiphanes in March 196 BC. After praising Ptolemy V, the stone describes the siege of Lycropolis and the Pharaoh's benevolence towards the temple.
The text continues with its main purpose, which was establishing a cult for the Pharaoh.
Since 1822 it had been thought that Champollion was the first person to break the hieroglyphic code, but a recent analysis made by an Egyptian Egyptologist based in London, Okasha El-Dali, on some mediaeval Arabic manuscripts buried among other works in libraries in Paris, Ireland, London, Istanbul and India has proved that Arabic scholars decoded hieroglyphs 1,000 year earlier.
This is still more notable, as El-Dali points out, since at a time when mediaeval European scholars thought that the hieroglyphic signs were magical symbols, each representing a concept in itself, Arab scholars had grasped the fundamental principle that this writing represented sounds and ideas.
In an interview with the Weekly, El-Dali said Arab scholars had always paid a great interest in the knowledge of the ancient Egyptians for two reasons: the first went back to the classic period when it was thought that Egypt was the source of science, wisdom and magic, so much so that when the Arabs came to power and admired the splendid ancient Egyptian monuments they maintained the same principles.
Even early Arab alchemists considered that studying ancient Egyptian inscriptions would lead them to acquire the key to chemistry, as Egypt was known for its pioneering and brilliant chemists.
It is said that the word "alchemy" was derived from the ancient name for Egypt, KMT.
The second reason for the Arab interest was that they were fascinated with the gigantic ancient Egyptian temples, soaring obelisks and splendid tombs.
They even referred to Egypt in their maps with a drawing of the Pyramids, such as is shown in the map of Ibn Hokal.
"What I found during my seven-year research contradicts what had been long assumed, that the world of the Pharaohs had long since been forgotten by Egyptians who were thought to have been incorporated into the expanding Islamic world by the seventh century," El-Dali told the Weekly.
It was even said, he continued, that the Arabs considered the pre-Islamic era as paganism which ought to be ignored.
They concentrated their attention and efforts towards chemistry, medicine, and engineering as valuable and useful sciences, while archaeology was not of such importance. However, El-Dali says: this over-hasty conclusion ignores the vast contribution of mediaeval Arab scholars in general and Egyptians in particular between the seventh and 16th centuries.
"In fact a huge corpus of mediaeval writing by both scholars and ordinary people exists that dates from long before the earliest European Renaissance," he says.
"My analysis reveals that not only did Muslims have a deep interest in the study of ancient Egypt, they could also correctly decipher hieroglyphic scripts and translate Greek poetry."
Through their research and from reading manuscripts, Arab scholars have passed on to their descendants an important continuity of the span of ancient Egyptian history which had otherwise become extinct, and which archaeologists, until now, have been unable to find through their excavations.
El-Dali eventually found a link in the work of the ninth-century alchemist Ibn Wahshiyah.
"I compared his studies with those of modern scholars and realised that he understood completely what hieroglyphs were saying," he says.
El-Dali stressed that Muslim scholars had not simply been handed the secrets of hieroglyphs after Egypt was taken over by Islam.
Very interesting. I don't have a clue what it all means, but it was an interesting read. Thanks for posting it.
This sounds a lot like the Russians claiming they invented everything a few years back. Remember when they said they invented baseball?
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I got to touch it in 1993. I was shocked it is in the middle of the floor, wide open for all to grab and whatever.
Gosh they sound smart, I wonder when they'll discover Democracy and Freedom.
"Arabs came to power and admired the splendid ancient Egyptian monuments they maintained the same principles"
Maybe, but what about the Bamiyan Buddhas ?
A fourth text segment has since been deciphered. It says, "Bush lied!"
SHHHH. It's revisionist history week.
SHHHH. It's revisionist history week.
What? I thought baseball was invented by Algore.
I wondered how the Egyptians built such a large civilisation when they couldn't read their own writing!
On a more serious note, you are right about the rock type, but most people thought it "black basalt" until it was cleaned by the British Museum recently:
"Analysis of the stone has shown that it is a granite-like rock and not a basalt as it has previously been described.... All of these contaminants, including the white paint, were removed to reveal a grey stone with a natural sparkle and a broad pinkish vein at the top."
This provides a lesson for us, I think. We are not truly free to express our religious beliefs. In some places it is actually a crime punishable by fine, court order, etc.; even though freedom of expression is expressly guaranteed in the First Amendment.
It means, that though the Islamic civilization largely ignored all those things that built their civilization, Age of Unbelief, they recently discovered, that they, not the frogs, deciphered the glyphs that constituted the ancient language of Egypt.
I was shicked I could rub it, scratch it, touch it, and all there was, was a red rope around it, not steel bars!
Race, back in 1954, my Granddad gave me a bunch of old books with grainy photo's, it was a series, that he got somewhere, he had broad interests, hooked me on history and archeology.
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