Egypt Discarded the Rosetta Stone, Now Egypt Wants It Back

A pair of articles recently caught my eye: Egyptians call on British Museum to return the Rosetta stone (from PBS) and Act of plunder: Egyptians want the Rosetta Stone back (from Al Jazeera).

As a student of history, I have a difficult time accepting the demands of countries to have treasures like Rosetta Stone "returned" to their country of origin when that country never bothered to take care of these treasures in the past. While the Rosetta Stone was created in Egypt, it was also discarded by Egypt and lost to the world for literally 2,000 years. What's more, the Rosetta Stone's discovery was over two centuries ago, it's purpose was deciphered by archeologists and scholars from central Europe - not Egypt - and it has been on public display for the rest of the world to admire for two centuries.


The Rosetta Stone's fate thus far - e.g. safely kept in a museum - has been far better than if it had been taken as spoils of war by a military commander, and spent the past two centuries languishing in someone's private collection, which might easily have happened if others had discovered the Rosetta Stone. Or as we have seen with ISIS running rampant throughout the Middle East, the Rosetta Stone might just as easily have been destroyed due to the ignorance of its discoverers.

At what point is an item of antiquity no longer within the realm of "possession" by a country that cared so little for its significance that it was used as building material? Now that 200 years have passed and Egypt has finally realized the Rosetta Stone's worth - if nothing more than museum fodder for tourist money - why should the rest of the world heed the requests of a country that didn't care enough to preserve it in the first place?

Europeans didn't raid an Egyptian museum to steal the Rosetta Stone from it's "rightful owners." On the contrary, French soldiers found the Rosetta Stone discarded in the desert, and realizing its potential significance, the French treated the Rosetta Stone with far greater care than Egypt had demonstrated. Eventually France lost its battles with England, and the British took possession of the Rosetta Stone and placed it in a position of prestige at the British Museum. As I said earlier, the Rosetta Stone has fared far better in the hands of foreigners than it had had in its country of origin.

Enough said. Rant over. Please resume your regularly-scheduled Internet browsing.

Comments are closed