(Re)claiming the Rosetta: The Rosetta Stone and the (re)writing of Egypt’s Modern History

by Heba Abd El Gawad

Rosetta Stone © 2020 The Trustees of the British Museum.

In Neil MacGregor’s History of 100 Objects, the Rosetta stone is presented as an icon of European empires and their, what we are made to believe, peaceful adventures within Egypt. At the British Museum, the most well-known stone in the world narrates three heroically-themed stories; the story of the Greek kings who ruled in Alexandria after Alexander the Great conquered Egypt; the story of French and British imperial competition across the Middle East; and the scholarly contest that led to the most famous decipherment in history. 

In this podcast, Heba Abd el Gawad, gives us three counter narratives from the perspective of modern Egypt. Rosetta, here, is remembered as; Rashid, the Egyptian city that witnessed Europe’s violent and brutal occupation as well as Egyptian anti-colonial activism; the provenance from which an ancient stone was retrieved as a trophy of war and reused to whitewash Egypt’s, and wider Arab, contributions to the writing of Egyptian history; and a stone used to silence and suppress the diversity of Egypt’s modern communities from current repatriation debates. 

“Whose Rosetta?” A comic created by Heba Abd el Gawad and Nasser Junior amplifying Egyptian responses to British Museum social media posts on the Rosetta Stone. Each chat bubble turns up the volume on one of many Egyptian responses and reactions to British Museum tweets on Rosetta Stone at various occasions from 2011 till present. The text is in Egyptian Arabic and the translation of each bubble is as follows:
1. Champollion was not the first to decipher it
2. London’s thieves stole it
3. It is stolen even if its kept safe
4. One day it shall return to its original owners
5. We need it at Rashid (Arabic for Rosetta)
6. What is it doing in London, for god’s sake?

Drawing by Nasser Junior, an Egyptian cartoonist. © Nasser Junior

This podcast was introduced by Latika Gupta and produced by Alice Stevenson. The intro and outro music, an ensemble of Kpanlogo drum (female and male), Djembe drum, Gome drum (Frame drum), Kwadum drum (from ‘Kete’ ensemble), Twin bell (Dawuta) and Rattle (Ntorwa), was produced by Kwan Pa for 100 Histories of 100 Worlds in 1 Object.

We recommend citing this podcast as follows:
[Last Name], [First Name], host. “[Title]”. 100 Histories of 100 Worlds in 1 Object (podcast). [Date created]. Accessed [date]. [URL].

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