Archive for September, 2018

The Rosetta Stone

Larissa B.

Photo of the real Rosetta Stone in the British Museum in London, England

An ancient Egyptian artifact known as the Rosetta Stone is a notable object of historical linguistic studies that unlocked the ability for scholars to begin understanding the language of Hieroglyphics. The pictorial writing system is not simply understood and has yet to be deciphered word-for-word. The three feet-nine-inch-long Stone contains two different languages­ – ancient Egyptian presented in two different scripts, Hieroglyphs and Demotic, and ancient Greek – that describe the reign of King Ptolemy V. Up until the rediscovery of the Stone in 1799, the script of Egyptian hieroglyphs was mostly untranslatable as not many people understood the characters. With the rediscovery of the Stone, scholars also rediscovered an old writing system, which in turn has allowed intellects to better understand the history of ancient writing. Hieroglyphic writing disappeared nearly 1800 years ago, leaving the full translation of the text on the Rosetta Stone ultimately unknown.

The Rosetta Stone is believed to be one of several slabs of granodiorite stele that all contain an official message, or “decree,” that was issued by a congress of priests around 196 BCE. This decree was thought to be created as a celebration of the first anniversary of King Ptolemy V’s kingship. This message was to be placed in every temple in Egypt and was designed to establish a cult following towards the new King. After Ptolemy’s reign and Roman Emperor Theodosius came into power, he issued the closing of all non-Christian temples sometime between 379 and 392 BCE, and subsequently caused the demise of the Rosetta Stone. In the 1400s when old temples were being used in the construction of new ones, the Rosetta Stone is thought to have been used in one of the building’s foundations. It was not until 1799 that the Stone was rediscovered during Napoleon’s reign. It is believed that one of his soldiers, a Frenchman named Pierre-Francois Bouchard, uncovered the stone in the town of Rashid (Rosetta, translated in English) while digging the foundations for a new Fort. At the time of the discovery, the French were in battle with the British. When the French were defeated, the British ordered that all artifacts uncovered during the time of battle be ceased over to British. The French complied, and the Rosetta Stone now rests in the British Museum in London, England.

Once the Stone was placed in the British Museum, the stone was colored in white chalk with the purpose of creating increased legibility. The two-language narrative contained fourteen lines of the Egyptian language written in hieroglyphs, said to be the prestigious script of the priests; thirty-two lines of Demotic, the script Egyptians used for everyday purposes; and around fifty-three lines of ancient Greek, said to be the language of the administration. After the stone became clearer to read, scholars began to conduct studies to decipher what the stone read. One of the first steps in deciphering the Stone lay in the works of Johan David Akerblad and Antoine Isaac Silerstre de Sacy. Akerblad composed an alphabet of twenty-nine Demotic letters, in which Silerstre de Sacy was able to uncover five names that the Stone mentioned. Aside from a few names, the two could not determine the meaning of the leftover characters. Another notable man to mention is Hubert Pascal, who first translated the Greek section of the Stone into both French and Latin in hopes of reaching a greater radius of scholars who may be able to continue the Stone’s archaeologic literary studies. An English physicist named Thomas Young was the first intellect to focus on the hieroglyph section of the Stone. Hieroglyphs is a script, a way pf writing Ancient Egyptian, that uses pictures or symbols to represent a word, syllable, or sound– a script that nobody could read after Theodosius’ reign and before the discovery of the Rosetta Stone. Young discovered that some of the hieroglyphs were phonetic, or represented syllables and sounds, rather than being solely alphabetic. The second most notable scholar of the Rosetta Stone is a Greek and Coptic-speaking Frenchman named Jean-Francois Champollion. In addition to further proving that the hieroglyphs were portrayals of recorded sound of the Egyptian, Champollion also noticed that some of the symbols were determinative, in which the symbol represented the meaning of the word itself rather than just the pronunciation of it. By using his knowledge of both Greek and Coptic language, he was able to decipher the Demotic symbols and translate them into Coptic, where he further applied this technique to the hieroglyphic symbols. In solving what some of the hieroglyphs meant, he was able to guess the meaning of the remaining symbols. Due to this work, Champollion is considered to be the first translator of the Rosetta Stone.

University of Saskatchewan’s replica of the Rosetta Stone located in the Museum of Antiquities

While there is great comprehension of the contents of the Rosetta Stone, though a straight-forward translation of the Stone into English does not fully exist due to minor variances between the three different styles of text, there are certain aspects of the meaning of the Stone that most intellects can agree on. If it were not for the rediscovery of the Stone, the script of Egyptian hieroglyphs may still be lost in history. The modern study of the Stone has allowed scholars to better understand and translate the ancient script, as well as learn of significant events of Egyptian history. As previously mentioned, the script states notable deeds and accomplishments produced by King Ptolemy during his kingship, in particular the charity of gifts to the temple, granting tax reductions to his people, and restoring the peace of the civilization. Though educated individuals presently possess a general understanding of how to translate the Stone, the entire context of the stone still holds a few grey areas as the language of hieroglyphs demands attentive study in order to accurately translate its characters. Over four hundred symbols have been recorded to date, but the section of hieroglyphs in the Stone demands further studies. Until then, the full translation of the stone rests in interpretation. One thing is for sure though, the script of hieroglyphs that represents the ancient Egyptian language has been rediscovered, offering greater appreciation for historical writing systems.

Translations of the Rosetta Stone


The Power of Indigenous Storytelling

Jesse S.

Storytelling is a term that everybody interprets in his or her own way.  For the most part, it makes me think of the fictional fairytales that my parents read to me when I was a kid.  However, in Indigenous cultures, storytelling is firmly grounded in oral tradition and history.  Indigenous storytelling is a way to instill a knowledge of the mind, body, and soul in connection to the earth through experienced and trusted “knowledge keepers.”  In many Indigenous cultures, storytellers must be trained, apprenticed, and given the right to share knowledge through these stories. (Wheeler, Winona. Personal interview. 15 September 2018.)  The life lessons brought about in Indigenous storytelling are essential for Indigenous peoples to make sense of the world and to teach about values, history, significant events, relationships, cultural beliefs, and sacred stories.  I spoke with two Indigenous professors to try and understand what makes Indigenous storytelling more than fictional entertainment.

This image is a depiction of the Cree Creation Story: Turtle Island. It beautifully illustrates the turtle sacrificing himself for the preservation of all living things. Artist: Aaron Paquette.

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