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Current time:0:00Total duration:3:56

Video transcript

we're in the British Museum and we're looking at one of the most important objects in the collection the rosetta stone it's in a glass case surrounded by people who are taking pictures of it love it they do and there's gifts in a gift shop about it you can get your own little rosetta stone you can get residual posters on a mug I think you can get a doormat rosetta stone yeah but the story itself is historically incredibly important it allowed us for the first time to be able to understand to be able to read to be able to translate hieroglyphics hieroglyphics was the written language of the ancient Egyptians and until the mid 19th century we really didn't know what it said the language itself is pictorial and actually that led to one of the real confusions because I think that early archaeologists believed and linguists believe that the pictures they could see you can make our birds and snakes and various different kinds of forms actually referred in some way to a specific thing in the world right so if you saw a bird it's somehow referred to a bird and in fact that's not the case he's a far more sophisticated language and the rosetta stone was really what helped them to understand that Egyptian hieroglyphics are not pictorial they're not pictographs they're actually phonetic so all those things that look like pictures actually represent sounds and that's how they were able to finally figure out and translate ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic and the reason we were able to do that is because this stone said that same statement three times in three different languages so the three languages are ancient Greek which is down at the bottom now that was the language of the administration that was the language of government and the reason for that is because Alexander the Great had conquered Egypt and had set up the sort of Greek rule in this Hellenistic era and that maintained itself in ancient Egypt let's remember talking around 200 BC here which is actually getting close to the end of the life of hieroglyphics as well it would last for another few hundred years before it died out completely so this is really the tail end of this three thousand year long so the middle section is demotic which actually means the language of the people and it was this common language used by the Egyptians and the top of course was the sacred writing this was hieroglyphs right and that was the language that we really couldn't read until we had the rosetta stone and we could see within the writing of the rosetta stone cartouche --is which held the names of the rulers our teachers are kind of oblong shape that contains the name of the ruler in this case that would be told me v and by recognizing that that rulers name in these three different languages we found a way to begin to unlock hieroglyphs now that would take decades it was an incredibly difficult task and we haven't even talked yet about how this was found Napoleon has his army in Egypt and Napoleon's brought with him some I guess we would call sort of archaeologist types and one of those people who accompanied Napoleon found or came across the rosetta stone it was being used as a part of the foundation of a fort in fact and of course it would originally have been erected in the temple or near an ancient Egyptian temple and I suppose it's important to say that this is the bottom portion of a much larger steely or sort of stone tablet that would have been quite tall so Napoleon took it back except hold on a second because we're not in the Louvre we're in London in the British Museum so how does that work well the British defeated Napoleon and brought back the stone and a year or two later I think 1801 or 1802 is brought to the British Museum and it's been here ever since well it's clearly still extremely popular