The Rosetta Stone

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The Egyptian Campaign

One of the most important by-products of the French invasion of Egypt was the wealth of knowledge gathered by the teams of scientists and historians who journeyed with the army.

Of all the discoveries made, the most important was the Rosetta Stone, the key that unlocked the ancient marvels of Egypt.

Previous to the stone's discovery by Napoleon Bonaparte's troops near the city of Rosetta on 20 August 1799, Egyptian writing - hieroglyphics - had been indecipherable.

The 1.5 metre high slab of dark stone was uncovered when soldiers knocked down a wall of Fort St Julien.

They reported the discovery and a member of the Cairo Institute, Michel-Ange Lancret, immediately recognised its importance and alerted the savants - the name given to intellectuals accompanying Napoleon's expedition.

Rubbings were taken of the stone's inscriptions - two styles of hieroglyphics and one of ancient Greek - and they were sent back to France for study.

When the French surrendered Egypt to Britain in 1801, the victors demanded that the Rosetta Stone be included in the treasures surrendered. It was taken to the British Museum on board the captured French frigate HMS l'Egyptienne.

A French scholar, Jean Champollion, eventually translated the key on the Rosetta Stone opening the ancient world to modern eyes. It took him 20 years.

Despite vigorous campaigns to return the Rosetta Stone to Egypt, it remains in the British Museum.

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