By Robert Crowe
Perhaps you have heard the media advertisements for Rosetta Stone, an item we all assumed was a rock or maybe some girl’s name. The present commercials relate to a system for learning languages. The origin of the name? It’s a rock.
An ancient way of communicating was the “stele,” an upright rock inscribed with the message of the day. For example, a dimension of Chinese history is presented in the Forest of Steles in Xi’an, China, where 3,000 stone tablets are displayed in a museum.
The original Rosetta Stone is a stele created in Memphis, Egypt, in 196 BC. It was probably displayed in a temple to provide the public decree that the newly crowned King, 12-year-old Ptolemy V, was considered as divine. Ptolemy V was named King at age five but the coronation was not held until seven years later.
The Stone was eventually discovered in 1799 by a French soldier during the Napoleonic occupation of Egypt. In 1801, the British defeated the French and the stone was transported to London and now rests in an English museum. Egypt regularly demands the return of the Stone to the homeland.
The importance of the discovery is that the Rosetta Stone provided the first key to the translation of Egyptian hieroglyphics. Carved in the rock is the same message about the King in three languages. One of the languages is ancient Egyptian. Being able to read the other two languages allowed scholars to interpret the mysterious hieroglyphics.