After passing through the massive, white porticoed main entrance of the British Museum, you will find yourself standing in the Great Court.
The sky above is covered by an elaborate grid of glass and steel, while the floor below is etched with the quote, ”…and let thy feet millenniums hence be set in the midst of knowledge” by Tennyson.
Turning right off of this grand central courtyard, you will walk straight into the Gallery of Ancient Egypt, and come face to face with the Rosetta Stone.
A massive chunk of grey rock under glass, the Rosetta Stone doesn’t seem nearly as impressive as the large-scale Egyptian sculptures that dominate the rest of the gallery. That is, of course, until you understand what it represents.
By the end of the fourth century AD, the knowledge of how to read and write hieroglyphs had all but disappeared. Like with the bones of extinct animals, scholars studying this extinct language could speculate on it’s meaning, but couldn’t read or really understand it.
In 1799, Napoleon’s army discovered the stone in a town called el-Rashid (Rosetta in English) and upon his defeat in 1801, it became the property of the British. Thomas Young and Jean-Francois Champollion were the two scholars that studied the stone initially, and realized that it was the key to understanding the Eqyptian language.
Young and Champollion discovered that the same phrase was written out on it three times — once in hieroglyph, once in demotic (native every-day Egyptian script) and once in Greek. Because they already had a working understanding of the Greek language, they were able to use the Greek inscription as a key to translate the Egyptian ones, laying the foundation for all of our current knowledge of the ancient Eqyptian language.
Without the discovery of the stone, we may never have been able to decipher the true meaning of hieroglyphs.
You can see this amazing piece of history yourself at the British Museum in London, England.