Our page banner is a detail of the Rosetta Stone.
Photo: (Creative Commons) European Space Agency
The Rosetta Stone is our key to understanding the meaning of hieroglyphs.
The Rosetta Stone was a black basalt slab with the same piece of writing carved in three different languages: Hieroglyphics (top), Demotic (middle) and Greek (bottom).
Scholars were able to make sense of the hieroglyphic version by comparing it with the Greek which they already understood.
The Rosetta Stone was discovered in 1799, during the French Revolutionary Wars, by one of Napoleon's officers near the town of Rosetta (now called Rashid) . In 1801, it was captured by the British and, since 1802, has been on show in the British Museum.
In 1822, a French Egyptologist called Jean Francois Champollion (1790-1832) was the first person to translate all the hieroglyphs on the stone. He discovered that it was a piece of writing in praise of the good works of the pharaoh Ptolemy V and that it was carved in 196 BC.
Thanks to his work, we now have a knowledge of the language of the Ancient Egyptians and an appreciation of this great civilisation through the many hieroglyphic writings that have survived.