Cracking Codes: The Rosetta Stone and Decipherment

The Rosetta Stone: Uncovering History
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Even now, one is struck by the mundaneness of the text.

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It begins with a long formal encomium to the king of the time, followed by a hodge-podge list of his good deeds tax relief, public works, military exploits, defeat of foreign invaders, and suppression of local rebellions , and goes on to declare that the priests will erect a statue of the king in every temple of Egypt and pay elaborate service to the statues in his honor. This Ozymandian closure reminds us both of how different the contents [End Page ] of these texts turned out to be from the mysteries that they were believed to hold even in late Classical times and of how puzzling they must always remain to us, who can never be Ancient Egyptians.

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Napoleon's troops discovered a granitoid slab in the village of Rosetta in the western Delta in The Rosetta Stone was to become one of. Cracking Codes: The Rosetta Stone and Decipherment Paperback – December 31, Cracking Codes, by Richard Parkinson, the British Museum's assistant keeper of Egyptian antiquities, is a companion volume for the museum's bicentennial exhibition of what has come to be known as the.

All in all, this volume is a wonderful addition to the growing list of books on ancient scripts that the British Museum and the University of California Press have put out over the last decade or so. It is also a refreshing reminder that the British tradition of superb popular scholarship is still alive and well.

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Before the Ptolemaic era that is before about B. It shows how much things had changed from Pharaonic times that the priests, the only people who had kept the knowledge of writing hieroglyphs, were now issuing such decrees. The list of good deeds done by the king for the temples hints at the way in which the support of the priests was ensured. Soon after the end of the fourth century C. In the early years of the nineteenth century, some years later, scholars were able to use the Greek inscription on this stone as the key to decipher them.

Thomas Young, an English physicist, was the first to show that some of the hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone wrote the sounds of a royal name, that of Ptolemy. The Rosetta Stone has been exhibited in the British Museum since , with only one break. When the Rosetta Stone was discovered in , the carved characters that covered its surface were quickly copied.

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When the paper was removed, it revealed an exact copy of the text—but in reverse. Once on display, the grease from many thousands of human hands eager to touch the Stone added to the problem. When work commenced to remove all but the original, ancient material, the stone was black with white lettering. As treatment progressed, the different substances uncovered were analyzed.

Decoding Egyptian hieroglyphs (the Rosetta Stone, Champollion, and Young)

Finally, white paint in the text, applied in , which had been left in place until now as a protective coating, was removed with cotton swabs and purified water. A small square at the bottom left corner of the face of the Stone was left untouched to show the darkened wax and the white infill. The Stone has a dark grey-pinkish tone with a pink streak running through it.

Today you can see traces of a reddish brown in the text. This material was analyzed and found to be a clear mineral known as hydroxyapatite; the color may be due to iron traces.

The mineral may have been applied deliberately, but there is no proof of this.