The Rosetta Stone has been in the hands of the British since the early 1800s. But now Egyptians say they want it back. Repatriate Rashid, an online petition started by a group of Egyptian archeologists, is calling for the British Museum to return the ancient artifact to its rightful owners.
As the petition points out, Egypt was controlled by the Turkish Empire and was not in control of its cultural heritage at the time the four foot granite stone was taken from them. Therefore, the stone and other artifacts the Brits took back then are not rightfully theirs.
The petition states:
“The Rosetta stone was undeniably a spoil of war and an act of plunder that was outlawed in the 17th and 19th centuries. The presence of these artifacts in the British Museum to this day supports past colonial endeavors of cultural violence and deprives Egypt as the country of origin of not only the physical return of these objects but also of their important role as Egyptian cultural heritage that spans a millennia of rich history.”
The Rosetta stone is a piece of a larger stone slab with a message carved into it about King Ptolemy V. But because that message was inscribed in three different scripts, including Ancient Greek, the stone became an important tool to help scientists decode hieroglyphics.
The stone was “discovered” by Napoleon’s army in 1799. But when the French surrendered Egypt to Britain in 1801, the Treaty of Alexandria gave them the stone and other artifacts along with it.
As the petition points out, returning the stone and other artifacts to Egypt is a major step in righting the wrongs of the past. “History can’t be changed, but it can be corrected. And despite the withdrawal of political, military, and governmental rule of the British Empire from Egypt over a century ago, decolonisation is far from being over.”