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Who Should Have the Stone?
News Bytes 12/1/2022 2 Comments

Britain’s largest museum marks the 200-year anniversary of the decipherment of hieroglyphics this year. Meanwhile, a debate rages. Who owns ancient artifacts—museums, or the nations the artifacts came from? More specifically, who owns the Rosetta Stone? Thousands of Egyptians demand the stone’s return.

The Rosetta Stone is the most visited piece in the British Museum. Without it, we would understand very little about ancient Egypt today. Napoleon Bonaparte’s army found the ancient rock in Rosetta, Egypt. Its surface shows the same carved message in Egyptian hieroglyphics, ancient Greek, and a script called demotic. The stone was designed so that everyone in Egypt could read it. It enabled people to crack the hieroglyph code for the first time. Suddenly, scholars could read thousands of years’ worth of written Egyptian history.

The stone was taken from Egypt by forces of the British Empire in 1801 as part of a surrender deal. It has remained in the British Museum since.

Over 4,000 people have signed a petition demanding the stone be returned to Egypt. Another petition bears more than 100,000 signatures.

Some argue that Egypt had no say in the 1801 agreement. The British Museum refutes this. The 1801 treaty includes the signature of a representative of Egypt, an Ottoman admiral. Ottomans ruled Egypt at the time of Napoleon’s invasion.

The museum also argues: There are 28 known copies of the same engraved decree. Twenty-one of them remain in Egypt.

But petition signers want the original.

Western museums often assert that they should be able to keep relics. Why? Because they can display them well in big, busy museums. Artifact smuggling has been a problem in Egypt. And other countries may have better facilities to care for the treasures. In 2015, it was discovered that cleaners at Cairo’s Egyptian Museum had damaged the burial mask of Pharaoh Tutankhamun by attempting to re-attach the beard with super glue.

Archaeologist Nigel Hetherington thinks the British Museum has other motives. ‘‘It’s about money, maintaining relevance, and a fear that in returning certain items people will stop coming,’’ he says.

Attorney Nicholas Donnell says no common international legal framework exists for such disputes. Unless there is clear evidence an artifact was acquired illegally, it’s up to the museum to decide whether to send it back home.

‘‘Given the treaty and the timeframe, the Rosetta Stone is a hard legal battle to win,’’ says Donnell.

Egypt’s government now invests heavily in its antiquities. Egypt has successfully reclaimed thousands of internationally smuggled artifacts. Officials plan to open a state-of-the-art museum to house tens of thousands of objects.

Egypt’s ancient monuments, from the pyramids of Giza to the towering statues of Abu Simbel at the Sudanese border, bring in visitors—and money locals need. The tourism industry drew in $13 billion in 2021.

Monica Hanna organized one of the petitions. She believes that Egyptians’ right to access their own history is most important. “How many Egyptians can travel to London or New York?” she says.

He loves righteousness and justice; the Earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord. — Psalm 33:5

(The Rosetta Stone is the centerpiece of a new exhibition titled “Hieroglyphs: unlocking ancient Egypt” at the British Museum in London, England. The show celebrates the 200th anniversary of the stone’s decipherment. The British Museum via AP)

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Most recent comments

1st comment

Honestly I think that it should stay with the British museum because of what they described up above about Tutankhamun mask being ruined

Super glue? come on Egypt

Super glue? come on Egypt

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