The Rosetta Stone

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the most famous museum objects in the world, shown in the image above in replica, and dating from around 196 BC. It is a damaged, dark granite block on which you can faintly see three scripts engraved: Greek at the bottom, Demotic in the middle and Hieroglyphs at the top. Napoleon’s soldiers found it in a Mamluk fort at Rosetta on the Egyptian coast, and soon realised the Greek words could be used to unlock the hieroglyphs. It was another 20 years before Champollion deciphered them, becoming the first to understand the hieroglyphs since they fell out of use 1500 years before and so opening up the written culture of ancient Egypt to the modern age.

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  • Penelope Wilson No other episodes
    Associate Professor of Egyptian Archaeology at Durham University
  • Campbell Price 2 episodes
    Curator of Egypt and Sudan at the Manchester Museum
  • Richard Bruce Parkinson No other episodes
    Professor of Egyptology and Fellow of The Queen's College, University of Oxford

Reading list

  • The Riddle of the Rosetta: How an English Polymath and a French Polyglot Discovered the Meaning of Egyptian Hieroglyphs
    Jed Z. Buchwald and Diane Greco Josefowicz (Princeton University Press, 2020) Google Books →
  • The Rosetta Stone. British Museum Objects in Focus
    Richard Parkinson (British Museum Press, 2005) Google Books →
  • Cracking Codes: The Rosetta Stone and Decipherment
    Richard Parkinson (British Museum Press, 1999) Google Books →
  • The Rosetta Stone and the Rebirth of Ancient Egypt
    J. D. Ray (Profile, 2007) Google Books →
  • Cracking the Egyptian Code: The Revolutionary Life of Jean-Francois Champollion
    Andrew Robinson (Oxford University Press, 2012) Google Books →

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Programme ID: m000s2qd

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Auto-category: 932 (Ancient Egypt and neighboring civilizations)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello, the Rosetta Stone may be the most famous museum object in the world, though perhaps not the most imposing.