Connect with us

World

Egyptians call on British Museum to return Rosetta Stone

News Agencies

Published

on

CAIRO (AP) — The debate over who owns ancient artifacts has been an increasing challenge to museums across Europe and America, and the spotlight has fallen on the most visited piece in the British Museum: The Rosetta Stone.

The inscriptions on the black granite slab became the seminal breakthrough in deciphering ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics after it was taken from Egypt by forces of the British empire in 1801.

Now, as Britain’s largest museum marks the 200-year anniversary of the decipherment of hieroglyphics, thousands of Egyptians are demanding the stone’s return.

‘’The British Museum’s holding of the stone is a symbol of Western cultural violence against Egypt,” said Monica Hanna, dean at the Arab Academy for Science, Technology & Maritime Transport, and organizer of one of two petitions calling for the stone’s return.

Advertisement

The acquisition of the Rosetta Stone was tied up in the imperial battles between Britain and France. After Napoleon Bonaparte’s military occupation of Egypt, French scientists uncovered the stone in 1799 in the northern town of Rashid, known by the French as Rosetta. When British forces defeated the French in Egypt, the stone and over a dozen other antiquities were handed over to the British under the terms of an 1801 surrender deal between the generals of the two sides.

It has remained in the British Museum since.

Hanna’s petition, with 4,200 signatures, says the stone was seized illegally and constitutes a “spoil of war.” The claim is echoed in a near identical petition by Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s former minister for antiquities affairs, which has more than 100,000 signatures. Hawass argues that Egypt had no say in the 1801 agreement.

Advertisement

The British Museum refutes this. In a statement, the Museum said the 1801 treaty includes the signature of a representative of Egypt. It refers to an Ottoman admiral who fought alongside the British against the French. The Ottoman sultan in Istanbul was nominally the ruler of Egypt at the time of Napoleon’s invasion.

The Museum also said Egypt’s government has not submitted a request for its return. It added that there are 28 known copies of the same engraved decree and 21 of them remain in Egypt.

Advertisement

The contention over the original stone copy stems from its unrivaled significance to Egyptology. Carved in the 2nd century B.C., the slab contains three translations of a decree relating to a settlement between the then-ruling Ptolemies and a sect of Egyptian priests. The first inscription is in classic hieroglyphics, the next is in a simplified hieroglyphic script known as Demotic, and the third is in Ancient Greek.

Through knowledge of the latter, academics were able to decipher the hieroglyphic symbols, with French Egyptologist Jean-Francois Champollion eventually cracking the language in 1822.

‘‘Scholars from the previous 18th century had been longing to find a bilingual text written in a known language,’’ said Ilona Regulski, the head of Egyptian Written Culture at the British Museum. Regulski is the lead curator of the museum’s winter exhibition, “Hieroglyphs Unlocking Ancient Egypt,” celebrating the 200th anniversary of Champollion’s breakthrough.

Advertisement

The stone is one of more than 100,000 Egyptian and Sudanese relics housed in the British Museum. A large percentage were obtained during Britain’s colonial rule over the region from 1883 to 1953.

It has grown increasingly common for museums and collectors to return artifacts to their country of origin, with new instances reported nearly monthly. Often, it’s the result of a court ruling, while some cases are voluntary, symbolizing an act of atonement for historical wrongs.

New York’s Metropolitan Museum returned 16 antiquities to Egypt in September after a U.S. investigation concluded they had been illegally trafficked. On Monday, London’s Horniman Museum signed over 72 objects, including 12 Benin Bronzes, to Nigeria following a request from its government.

Advertisement

Nicholas Donnell, a Boston-based attorney specializing in cases concerning art and artifacts, said no common international legal framework exists for such disputes. Unless there is clear evidence an artifact was acquired illegally, repatriation is largely at the discretion of the museum.

‘‘Given the treaty and the timeframe, the Rosetta Stone is a hard legal battle to win,’’ said Donnell.

The British Museum has acknowledged that several repatriation requests have been made to it from various countries for artifacts, but it did not provide The Associated Press with any details on their status or number. It also did not confirm whether it has ever repatriated an artifact from its collection.

Advertisement

For Nigel Hetherington, an archaeologist and CEO of the online academic forum Past Preserves, the museum’s lack of transparency suggests other motives.

‘‘It’s about money, maintaining relevance and a fear that in returning certain items people will stop coming,’’ he said.

Western museums have long pointed to superior facilities and larger crowd draws to justify their holding of world treasures. Amid turmoil following the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak, Egypt saw an uptick in artifact smuggling, which cost the country an estimated $3 billion between 2011 and 2013, according to the U.S.-based Antiquities Coalition. In 2015, it was discovered that cleaners at Cairo’s Egyptian Museum had damaged the burial mask of Pharaoh Tutankhamun by attempting to re-attach the beard with super glue.

Advertisement

But President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi’s government has since invested heavily in its antiquities. Egypt has successfully reclaimed thousands of internationally smuggled artifacts and plans to open a newly built, state-of-the-art museum where tens of thousands of objects can be housed. The Grand Egyptian Museum has been under construction for well over a decade and there have been repeated delays to its opening.

Egypt’s plethora of ancient monuments, from the pyramids of Giza to the towering statues of Abu Simbel at the Sudanese border, are the magnet for a tourism industry that drew in $13 billion in 2021.

For Hanna, Egyptians’ right to access their own history should remain the priority. “How many Egyptians can travel to London or New York?” she said.

Advertisement

Egyptian authorities did not respond to a request for comment regarding Egypt’s policy toward the Rosetta Stone or other Egyptian artifacts displayed abroad. Hawass and Hanna said they are not pinning hopes on the government to secure its return.

‘‘The Rosetta Stone is the icon of Egyptian identity,’’ said Hawass. ‘‘I will use the media and the intellectuals to tell the (British) museum they have no right.’’

Advertisement
Continue Reading
Advertisement

Advertisement

Breaking News

Editor Pick’s

Latest Entertainment

Entertainment38 mins ago

Amy Robach and T.J. Holmes mediating with ABC amid suspension: ‘It’s all a huge mess,’ says source

T.J. Holmes and Amy Robach’s fate at GMA3 unclear as the two begin a mediation with ABC. (Photo: Getty Images)...

Entertainment5 hours ago

Salma Hayek’s see-through dress leaves Channing Tatum speechless: ‘I have no comment’

Salma Hayek stuns in a see-through dress at the premiere for Magic Mike’s Last Dance. (Photo: Getty Images) Salma Hayek...

Entertainment5 hours ago

Succession season 4 teaser promises more warring, more Wambsgans, and a wedding

Succession will return for its fourth season March 24, HBO announced today. And we also got us our first, predictably...

Entertainment5 hours ago

Sam Smith Says ‘Changing’ Their Pronouns ‘Felt Like Coming Home’ — but Had Its Challenges

Sam Smith is reflecting on their journey since coming out as non-binary in 2019. In an exclusive clip shared with...

Entertainment5 hours ago

Why ‘Cheers’ favorite John Ratzenberger makes a rare TV appearance in ‘Poker Face’

Natasha Lyonne and John Ratzenberger in the second episode of Poker Face. (Photo: Evans Vestal Ward/Peacock) It’s been 30 years...

Entertainment6 hours ago

This is no joke, this is catering! See Adam Scott and crew in Party Down season 3 first trailer

The gang’s back together in the first trailer for the long-awaited third season of cult fave Party Down. Original stars...

Entertainment6 hours ago

Bristol Palin shares she underwent ninth breast reconstruction surgery to fix ‘botched’ reduction

Bristol Palin is getting candid on Instagram about her current and past operations. (Photo: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images) Bristol Palin is...

Entertainment7 hours ago

M&M’s get a new name after Maya Rudolph replaces the brand’s ‘beloved spokescandies’

Don’t try looking for M&M’s at the candy counter: starting today, you’re shopping for Ma&Ya’s. Days after retiring its popular...

Advertisement

Latest Sports

Sports33 mins ago

Slight problem: Will Mahomes use chatter as fuel?

Unlike Tom Brady, Michael Jordan and others, Patrick Mahomes has never leaned into slights. Sunday, against the Bengals and Joe...

Sports53 mins ago

Patrick Reed: ‘It’s not like I tried to assassinate Rory McIlroy’

In less than a day Patrick Reed went from calling Rory McIlroy “an immature child” to praising the world No...

Sports1 hour ago

Jack Edwards apologizes to Pat Maroon for body-shaming comments

The Bruins broadcaster apologized to Maroon face to face ahead of Thursday's game in Tampa.

Sports2 hours ago

Ole Miss quarterback room is packed, Brian Kelly accidentally got an extra million dollars & should scholarships be removed from college sports?

Dan Wetzel, SI’s Pat Forde & SI’s Ross Dellenger react to a new in-depth article that covered the North Carolina...

Sports2 hours ago

Astros hire Braves VP Dana Brown, who becomes MLB’s only Black GM

The Braves drafted the 2022 NL Rookie of the Year and the runner-up under Brown.

Sports3 hours ago

Nik Antropov reflects on Evander Kane’s tenure in Winnipeg: ‘Nobody had time for him’

The 14-year NHL veteran said Kane wouldn't listen to anybody, which led to a confrontation with teammate Dustin Byfuglien.

Sports3 hours ago

Tyrone Wheatley Hired as Head Football Coach at Wayne State

Similar to what he did on the field, Tyrone Wheatley continues to ascend in his football coaching career. After coaching...

Sports3 hours ago

NFL betting: Chiefs now favored over Bengals in AFC championship after another big line movement

Despite being the road team, the Bengals were favored by as many as 2.5 points on Wednesday. As of Thursday...

Technology Hot News

Technology1 week ago

Led by "Amazon" and "Microsoft" .. the technology giants are planning to lay off 64,000 employees

After 10 years of driving the stock market bull run, big tech companies are racing to downsize staff to adapt...

Technology1 week ago

Apple introduces MacBooks with new M2 processors

Yesterday, Tuesday, Apple unveiled MacBooks powered by the new, faster “M2 Pro” and “M2 Max” processor chips, in a surprise...

Technology1 week ago

All you need to know about the upcoming Galaxy S23 phones from Samsung

Samsung has officially announced that the (Galaxy Unpacked 2023) event will be held this year on Wednesday, February 1, which...

Technology1 week ago

FTX Exchange Announces Hacking and Stolen $415 Million in Cryptocurrency

Bankrupt American cryptocurrency firm FTX announced today, Wednesday, that $415 million in cryptocurrency has been hacked and stolen from the...

Technology1 week ago

Because of a "fraudulent tweet"… Elon Musk's trial begins

Elon Musk's trial began Tuesday in San Francisco with the selection of jury members who will have to decide whether...

Technology1 week ago

An electric spoon replaces salt and spices, but with conditions

Experts have developed an electric spoon that is able to replace spices and flavors and affect the taste buds in...

Technology2 weeks ago

The biggest dangers of using tracking devices.. so you can escape?

If you spot an unknown Bluetooth tagging device, there are ways to disable the device so it can't track your...

Technology2 weeks ago

New Twitter.. For You tab to web version

The Twitter platform announced that it will bring the new tab (For You), which launched last Tuesday for iPhones and...

Advertisement