Egyptians are calling on the British Museum to return the Rosetta stone
It is becoming more commonplace for Western countries to return ancient artifacts to their countries of origin, and now the spotlight is on the British Museum’s most visited artifact
The Rosetta stone has been on display at the British Museum since 1802 — British forces took the artifact from Egypt in 1801 and now, Egyptians want it back.
Debates over ownership of ancient artifacts have challenged American and European museums in recent years. In 2010, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York voluntarily returned 19 artifacts that came from Tutankhamen’s tomb to Egypt, per The New York Times.
The Rosetta stone is one of the most visited displays at the British Museum. It has messages carved into it in three types of writing, and its discovery led to a breakthrough in understanding how to read Egyptian hieroglyphics.
After spending over two centuries in the British Museum, there are two petitions claiming the stone should be returned to the country it originated from.
“The British Museum’s holding of the stone is a symbol of Western cultural violence against Egypt,” said Monica Hanna, dean at the Arab Academy for Science, Technology & Maritime Transport, and organizer of one of two petitions, per The Associated Press.
When Napoleon Bonaparte’s military forces occupied Egypt, French scientists discovered the stone in 1799 in the northern town Rashid, which the French called Rosetta. After British troops defeated the French in Egypt, they acquired the stone under terms in the Treaty of Alexandria, reports the British Museum.
Another petition, which has over 110,000 signatures, called the stone “an icon of our Egyptian identity” and said that returning it would be an “acknowledgement of the commitment of Western museums to decolonizing their collections and making reparations for the past.”
The British Museum refutes all claims that Egypt is the rightful owner of the stone. In a statement, per The Associated Press, the museum said the Treaty of Alexandria contains a signature from an Egyptian representative. The museum also mentioned that is has not received a request of return from the Egyptian government.
The Rosetta stone is one of over 100,000 Egyptian artifacts in the British Museum. It has become more commonplace to return artifacts to their country of origin. On Monday, the London Horniman Museum formally transferred ownership of 72 items, including the “Benin Bronzes,” back to Nigeria, per BBC.
According to Nicholas Donnell, a Boston-based attorney specializing in cases concerning art and artifacts, believes getting the Rosetta Stone back will be difficult.
“Given the treaty and the timeframe, the Rosetta stone is a hard legal battle to win,” said Donnell, per The Associated Press.
The British Museum has not revealed if it has ever repatriated any artifacts from its collection.
“We are calling on the international community to demand the repatriation of these objects. We need to show that the world knows that these objects belong in Egypt,” Zahi Hawass wrote on one of the petitions.