Numerous Archaeologists Endorse Returning the Rosetta Stone to Egypt

A petition has 2,500 signatures

Rosetta Stone
The Rosetta Stone is seen at the British Museum in London, Britain, May 17, 2021.
Han Yan/Xinhua via Getty Images

Early in the 19th century, a 2,000-year-old stone helped contemporary historians understand much more than they ever had before about life in ancient Egypt. The so-called Rosetta Stone, an object featuring a royal proclamation translated into multiple languages, allowed researchers to understand the ancient Egyptian system of hieroglyphics.

Knowledge is good, but the ethics behind the acquisition of the Rosetta Stone are a little more complicated. As details, the stone was first unearthed by the French military in 1799, and changed hands after a British military victory. Today, the Rosetta Stone can be found in the British Museum. But if the signatories of a new petition get their way, that might be about to change.

A new article at artnet news explains that 2,500 archaeologists signed a petition asking the British Museum to return the Rosetta Stone to Egypt. That this effort is underway isn’t all that surprising — we’re at a point in time when there’s greater scrutiny over how historical artifacts were obtained, and a number of ancient Egyptian objects have been returned to their country of origin in recent years.

The petition calls upon Mostafa Madbouly, the Prime Minister of Egpyt, to request the Rosetta Stone from the British government. It also argues that “[t]he presence of these artifacts in the British Museum to this day supports past colonial endeavors of cultural violence.”

As for whether this effort will work, that seems less clear. A high-profile effort to get the British Museum to return the Parthenon Marbles to Greece has been unsuccessful so far — and if that didn’t work out, that probably doesn’t bode well for this campaign.

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