Renowned Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass has called on the British Museum to return the Rosetta Stone to Egypt, announcing last week that he plans to send a petition signed by a group of Egyptian intellectuals to European museums in October.
The Rosetta Stone, a 2,200-year-old granodiorite stele inscribed with hieroglyphs, Ancient Greek, and cursive Egyptian letters, was acquired by the British Museum in 1802 from France under a treaty signed during the Napoleonic Wars. Napoleon’s troops apparently stumbled on the stone while building a fort near the town of Rashid, or Rosetta. The stone, which led to archaeologists deciphering ancient hieroglyphs for the first time, is among the British Museum’s most notable artifacts.
The Rosetta Stone is one of three objects, along with a bust of Queen Nefertiti in Berlin and a sculpted Zodiac ceiling at the Louvre Museum in Paris, that Hawass would like to see returned.
“I believe those three items are unique and their home should be in Egypt. We collected all the evidence that proves that these three items are stolen from Egypt,” Hawass told The National. “The Rosetta Stone is the icon of Egyptian identity. The British Museum has no right to show this artefact to the public.”
As the former antiquities minister, Hawass brought thousands of artifacts back to Egypt. He has been pushing the return of these three objects to no avail; he believes changing perspectives on the return of pilfered objects from colonial conquests, however, can help his cause.
According to the museum, there has never been a formal request to return the ancient stone.
Hawass maintains that the stone left Egypt illegally and, as head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, he reportedly informed former British Museum director Neil MacGregor as far back as 2003 that he would fight the museum if it did not voluntarily return the Stone.
The British Museum has been working with Egyptian scholars to organize a new exhibition on Egypt, which according to a museum spokeswoman, aims to make the Rosetta Stone accessible by publishing a 3D scan online.
This is just the latest among restitution claims. Recently, Germany returned the looted Benin Bronzes to Nigeria and the British Museum has called for a “Parthenon Partnership” to loan the Parthenon Marbles to Greece.