CAIRO: On the occasion of the 215th anniversary of the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, Egyptian archaeologist Ahmed Saleh called on the Egyptian government to demand the repatriation of Egypt’s most famous artifact from the British museum in London, Youm7 reported Saturday.
Saleh asserted Egypt’s eligibility to acquire the Rosetta Stone.
“It was forcibly taken from the French philologists of Napoleon’s expedition by the British army though it does not belong to any of them,” Saleh said
I urge the Egyptian government to file a lawsuit in the International Court of Justice if diplomatic negotiations with the British government to restore the artifact failed, he added.
The Rosetta Stone is a diorite stele made during the reign of Ptolemy V Epiphanes (204 B.C–181 B.C.), former head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities Abdel Halem Nour el-Din told The Cairo Post.
It is inscribed with Ptolemy V Epiphanes’s decree which exempted priests from paying taxes during his reign, said Nour el-Din adding that the stone was written in three scripts; the upper text is hieroglyphic, the middle text is Demotic while and the lowest text is ancient Greek.
“Since the content of the three texts presents more or less the same meaning, the decipherment of Rosetta Stone provided the key for a better understanding and appreciation of the ancient Egyptian civilization,” Nour el-Din said.
Rosetta Stone was rediscovered in the city of Rosetta, south of Alexandria in 1799 by a French soldier of the Napoleonic expedition to Egypt. However, Rosetta Stone came into British possession under the Capitulation of Alexandria following the defeat of the French expedition by the British troops in 1801.
It was transported to the British museum in London where it has been on public display since 1802.
“It is a masterpiece, a priceless and extraordinary item and is definitely the most-visited object in the entire British Museum,” Barbara Harris, a British tour operator told The Cairo Post.
If the British Museum argues that the Rosetta Stone should stay in England so that more people can see it and it would be “safer” in England, this view does not address the “ethical” aspect of keeping the Rosetta Stone, Harris said.
“I hope that the management of the British museum would return the Rosetta Stone to where it belonged on a permanent basis,” said Harris adding that it is ridiculous to see a replica of the stone displayed in the Egyptian museum in Cairo while the original artifact that belonged to Egypt and was discovered in Egypt is on display somewhere else.
Deputy-Chairman of the Egyptian Division at the British Museum, Jeffery Spencer was quoted by the Egyptian government State Information Service that the Stone was officially recorded amongst the property of the British Museum.
He pointed out that tourists come from all over the world to see this priceless monument, so it is unlikely they will give it up.
In 2008, Baron Crempengenton, a British official, stated in the Parliament that the British government will not let go of the Stone as it is legitimately possessed by Britain which received the Stone from France under the Alexandria Agreement of 1801, according to the Egyptian government State Information Service.
In 2002, Former Antiquities Minister Zahi Hawass had begun negotiations with academics and curators at the British museum to repatriate the stone.
Hawass, who has received widespread publicity and was the subject of a reality television series in the United States, said he hoped the British museum would agree to “voluntarily return the Rosetta Stone.”
He warned that, if the request was rejected, he would intensify his campaign to repatriate it.
“If the British want to be remembered, if they want to restore their reputation, they should volunteer to return the Rosetta Stone because it is an icon of our Egyptian identity,” Hawass was quoted saying by the Telegraph.