Egypt, archaeologist Zahi Hawass: British Museum to return Rosetta Stone to us.


Star archaeologist Zahi Hawass, Egypt's former minister of antiquities, issues a request to the British Museum: return to Egypt the Rosetta Stone, the stone that enabled Jean-François Champollion to decipher hieroglyphics for the first time.

Another restitution request may soon hit the desk of the British Museum in London. After the Parthenon marbles, after the moaï from Easter Island, and after the Benin bronzes, the list could lengthen to include the Rosetta Stone, the 196 B.C. Egyptian stele discovered in 1799 by Pierre-François Bouchard during Napoleon Bonaparte’s Egyptian campaign, and most famous in that it enabled French Egyptologist Jean-François Champollion to decipher hieroglyphics for the first time, since the Stele presents the same text in three different spellings (hieroglyphic, demotic and ancient Greek). After the defeat of the French in Egypt, the British kept the Stele as spoils of war and it has been on display in the British Museum since 1802.

However, Egypt’s most famous archaeologist, Zahi Hawass, former minister of antiquities in his country, said in an interview with the Middle Eastern newspaper The National that the Stele should return to Egypt. Hawass would like it back along with the famous bust of Queen Nefertiti found in Berlin and the Zodiac in the Louvre in Paris (“I think these three objects are unique and their home should be in Egypt. We have collected all the evidence to show that these three objects were stolen from Egypt,” he told The National).

But it is especially the stele, according to Hawass, that is “the icon of Egyptian identity”: the British Museum, in his view, “has no right to show this artifact to the public.” The museum has already made it known that there have never been any formal requests for its return, and besides, not all archaeologists share Zahi Hawass’s view. The former minister believes that the Rosetta Stone left his country illegally and has campaigned on the issue since his time as minister of antiquities. The case, however, is not a new one: back in 2003 he informed the then director of the British, Neil MacGregor, that he would give battle to the London museum if it did not return the stele of its own free will.

Then the case was frozen, and now, however, partly in the wake of the many international returns, Hawass has decided to reopen it. The stele, he concludes, “left Egypt completely illegally and should return.”

Egypt, archaeologist Zahi Hawass: British Museum to return Rosetta Stone to us.
Egypt, archaeologist Zahi Hawass: British Museum to return Rosetta Stone to us.


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