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A Year: Day to Day Men: 15th of July, Solar Year 2018

Sunflowers in Blue Vase

On July 15, 1799, French Captain Pierre-Francois Bouchard finds the Rosetta Stone.

The Rosetta Stone is a granodiorite stele, inscribed with three versions of a decree issued at Memphis, Egypt in 196 BC on behalf of King Ptolemy V. The top and middle texts are in Ancient Egyptian using the Hieroglyphic script and the Demotic script, respectively, while the bottom is in Ancient Greek. As the decree had only minor differences between the three versions, the Rosetta Stone proved to be the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs.

The Rosetta Stone is a fragment of a larger stele; no additional fragments were found in later searches. Owing to its damaged state, none of the three texts is absolutely complete. This fragment of the stele is 3 feet 8 inches high at its highest point, 2 feet 6 inches wide and 11 inches thick. It weighs approximately 1,680 pounds. The front surface is polished smooth with the incised text; the sides are smooth; and the back is only roughly worked as this would not have been visible when erected.

The stone, carved in black granodiorite, similar to granite, is believed to have been originally in a temple, possibly at nearby Sais. It was moved during the medieval period, and was eventually used as building material in the construction of Fort Julien near the town of Rashid in the Nile Delta. During the Napoleonic campaign in Egypt, Pierre-Francois Bouchard discovered the stone and was immediately convinced of its importance. It was the first Ancient Egyptian bilingual text recovered in modern times; it aroused widespread interest with its potential to decipher previously untranslated hieroglyphic language.

Study of the decree was already under way when the first full translation of the Greek text appeared in 1803. It took another 20 years, however, before the transliteration of the Egyptian scripts was announced by Jean-Francois Champollion in Paris in 1822.  It took longer still before scholars were able to read the Ancient Egyptian inscriptions and literature confidently.

The major advances in the decoding of the Rosetta Stone were: The recognition in 1799 that the stone offered three versions of the same text; It became known in 1802 that the demotic text used phonetic characters to spell foreign names; Thomas Young recognized in 1814 that the hieroglyphic text did so as well, and had pervasive similarities to the demotic text; Champollion saw in his 1822-1824 studies that. in addition to being used for foreign names,  the phonetic characters were also used to spell native Egyptian words.

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