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July 15, 2011 / jmeuropeana

Rosetta Stone discovered

On the 15th of July –

In 1799 the Rosetta Stone was rediscovered by French army lieutenant Pierre-François Bouchard. The granite slab with identical (translated) inscriptions in Greek, demiotic and hieroglyphs provided the vital key for the decipherment of the ancient hieroglyphic writing system by Champollion in 1822.

This is his original publication of the hieroglyphic ‘alphabet’ in a ‘Lettre a M. Darcy’. The work is based on quite a few predecessors, as good science usually is:
Lettre à M. Dacier,... relative à l'alphabet des hiéroglyphes phonétiques... / par M. Champollion le jeune

In Europeana we do not have any images of the Rosetta Stone itself, but we do have a very curious and beautiful report of a Pennsylvaia University committee that was tasked with making a full translation of the stone in English. This is how beautiful a scientific report can be. Be sure to look inside:
Report of the Committee appointed by the Philomathean Society of the University of Pennsylvania to translate the inscription on the Rosetta Stone

I have always had a weakness for the underdog, the non-succesful slaves to science who often work for amny years on a problem, and die not having solved it. Their determination and resolve often lets them make other discoveries, that seem insignificant to them at the time but are valued much later by others.
Here are a few of the people that worked on the decipherment of hieroglyphs over the centuries:

Johannes Goropius Becanus (or as we say in Dutch: Johannes van Gorp):
Esme de Boulonois, portret van Johannes Goropius Becanus (1518-1572), 17de eeuw, papier, kopergravure.

His book on hieroglyphs can be found through, but please note that the PDF download is a 50MB file 😦

Athanasius Kircher
Athanasius Kircher

Here is one of his publications on hieroglyphics – in an excellent scan by the University of Heidelberg (as usual):
Athanasi Kircheri ... Obeliscvs Pamphilivs: Hoc Est, Interpretatio Noua & hucusque intentata Obelisci Hieroglyphici, Quem non ita pridem ex Veteri Hippodromo Antonini Caracallae Caesaris, in Agonale Forum transtulit, integritati restituit, & in Vrbis Aeternae ornamentum erexit Innocentivs X. Pont.

Georg Zoëga
Bildnis des Archäologen Johann Georg Zoega

His book on the ‘origin and use of obelisks’ dates from 1797, just two years prior to the discovery of the Rosetta Stone:
De origine et usu Obeliscorum


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