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British Museum and Sketchfab Publish 3D Scanned 3D Model of Rosetta Stone

Dating to 196 BC, the Rosetta Stone is one of the most important pieces that archeologists ever uncovered as it enabled a greater understanding of ancient Egyptian culture and thus the origins of human history. Until today to see it you had to visit the British Museum, now, thanks to a collaboration between the British Museum and online 3D model platform Sketchfab, you can just download it.

The model represents a part of grey and pink granodiorite stela bearing priestly decree concerning Ptolemy V in three blocks of text: Hieroglyphic (14 lines), Demotic (32 lines) and Greek (54 lines). The inscription is a decree passed by a council of priests, one of a series that affirm the royal cult of the 13 year-old Ptolemy V on the first anniversary of his coronation.

The stone was found in Fort Saint Julien, El-Rashid, Egypt. It measures 112.3 cm in length, 75.7 cm max width and it is 28.4 cm thick. The 3D model is by Daniel Pett, created with 228 photographs taken with Nikon D5100, Sony A6000 and OnePlus3 mobile phone. This can be improved further with more photography in future.

Rosetta Stone
by The British Museum
on Sketchfab

Here are some interesting facts from the British Museum’s blog

For any student of Egyptology, the Rosetta Stone has to be the most extraordinary icon in your chosen field. By the time you are a trained Egyptologist – usually four years later – you are probably skilled enough to read the Egyptian inscriptions on it. The sheer excitement of reading a text for the first time is what drives every philologist and if you are lucky, you will now start to decipher texts yourself. Let’s be honest, every language specialist wants to be a Champollion, deciphering a previously untranslated ancient text!

The Rosetta Stone is itself a copy of an older document

The Rosetta Stone. Today, a unique object in Egyptology, but originally one of many identical stelae that were mass produced.
According to the inscription on the Stone, an identical copy of the declaration was to be placed in every sizeable temple across Egypt. Whether this happened is unknown, but copies of the same bilingual, three-script decree have now been found and can be seen in other museums. The Rosetta Stone is thus one of many mass-produced stelaedesigned to widely disseminate an agreement issued by a council of priests in 196 BC. In fact, the text on the Stone is a copy of a prototype that was composed about a century earlier in the 3rd century BC. Only the date and the names were changed!

The Rosetta Stone was not originally an Egyptian text

Decrees of this kind were essentially honorary Greek texts in composition, terminology, and ideology. The active priestly involvement in state affairs and the near exclusion of the Ptolemaic rulers from important religious decisions conveyed in the text is not very ‘Egyptian’ – in ancient Egypt, such decrees would have been issued by the pharaoh. By the time of the Rosetta Stone inscription, Egyptian priests were capable of composing Egyptian as well as Greek official texts, as they now belonged to the ruling class of the Ptolemaic administration.

Experts inspecting the Rosetta Stone during the International Congress of Orientalists of 1874. Published in Illustrated London News.
Priests made an effort to make the hieroglyphic text look old!

At the time the Rosetta Stone text was inscribed, the use of hieroglyphs was disappearing. As the Stone tells us, hieroglyphs were ‘sacred writing’ or ‘the writing of the words of the gods’. Distinguishing this script from the day-to-day script and language of Egypt (Demotic and Ancient Greek) was a way for the priests to display their knowledge and, therefore, their special status. When translating the text into hieroglyphs, they tried to make them ‘look old’ in comparison with Demotic. Rather than using the ancient equivalent for a Demotic word, they searched for synonyms. For example, instead of translating the Greek ψήφισμα ‘decree’ with the commonly used wD, they chose to use sxAw ‘memorandum’ because wD is too close to wt in Demotic.

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