Britain should return the Rosetta Stone to Egypt and replace it with a virtual reality replica, says new head of Giza museum
- The Rosetta Stone has been on display at London's British Museum since 1802
- But Egypt has long called for the the treasured stone artefact to be returned
- Dr Tarek Tawfik says British Museum could replace it with a virtual reality replica
- His Grand Egyptian Museum will open in Giza in 2020 with 50,000 exhibits
Britain should return the Rosetta Stone to Egypt, the head of the country's new national museum has said.
Dr Tarek Tawfik said the British Museum in London – where the artefact has been on display for more than two centuries – could replace it with a virtual reality replica.
'It would be great to have the Rosetta Stone back in Egypt but this is something that will still need a lot of discussion and co-operation,' Dr Tawfik, the director general of the Grand Egyptian Museum, told the Evening Standard.
Britain should return the Rosetta Stone (pictured) to Egypt, the head of the country's new national museum has said
'Due to the fact today we have all these modem means of communication and the means of virtual reality, there will be a way of co-operation and means of complementing each other between the museums.'
Dr Tawfik also revealed he is having 'vivid discussions' about the return of a number of treasures with major institutions, including the British Museum.
Egypt has long called for the Rosetta Stone to be returned.
Those who argue against repatriation say historic objects are better cared for by major institutions in the West.
Dr Tarek Tawfik, the director of the Grand Egyptian Museum, says the British Museum could replace the Rosetta Stone with a virtual reality replica
But Dr Tawfik, whose $1billion museum is set to open with 50,000 exhibits near the Great Pyramids of Giza outside Cairo in 2020, says it will have the technology to 'prolong their life.'
A British Museum spokeswoman said it has not received a request for the return of the Rosetta Stone from the Grand Egyptian Museum.
'In April, British Museum director Hartwig Fischer and colleagues visited the galleries at GEM with Dr Tawfik, which will allow a stunning new display of pharaonic Egypt,' she added to the Standard.
The Rosetta Stone, which dates back to 196 BC, is one of the British Museum's most treasured exhibits.
It was discovered by accident by Napolean's Army as they were digging in the foundations of an addition to a fort near the town of Rashid (Rosetta) in the Nile Delta in July 1799.
After Napoleon's defeat, the stone was handed over to Britain under the terms of the Treaty of Alexandria in 1801 along with other antiquities the French found.
It was shipped to England and arrived in Portsmouth in February 1802 and was soon put on display at the British Museum.
The Grand Egyptian Museum (pictured during construction in July) will open outside Cairo in 2020 with 50,000 exhibits
What is the Rosetta stone and what is its significance?
The Rosetta Stone, which dates back to 196 BC, is one of the British Museum's most treasured exhibits – and is a broken part of a bigger stone slab.
Carved into it is a decree about the king, Ptolemy V, written three times in three different scripts – hieroglyphs, Ancient Greek and Demotic, a native Egyptian script.
At the time of its discovery, no-one understood how to read ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.
It was found by accident by Napolean Bonaparte's Army as they were digging in the foundations of an addition to a fort near the town of Rashid (Rosetta) in the Nile Delta in July 1799. It had apparently been built into a very old wall.
The officer in charge, Pierre-François Bouchard, realised the importance of the discovery.
But after Napoleon's defeat, the stone was handed over to Britain under the terms of the Treaty of Alexandria in 1801 along with other antiquities the French found.
It was shipped to England and arrived in Portsmouth in February 1802 and was presented to the British Museum by King George III in July.
At first, the Rosetta Stone and other sculptures were placed in temporary structures in the museum's grounds because the floors weren't strong enough to take their weight.
The Rosetta Stone has been on display at the British Museum (pictured) since 1802
After a plea to Parliament for funds, construction began in a new gallery to house the acquisitions.
It has been on display since 1802 with only one break towards the end of the First World War.
The museum became concerned about heavy bombing in London in 1917 and the stone was moved to safety along with other important objects.
It spent the next two years in a station on the Postal Tube Railway 50 feet below the ground at Holborn.
In the early years of the 19th century, scholars used the Greek inscription on the Rosetta stone to crack the code of the hieroglyphs.
Thomas Young, an English physicist, was the first to show that some of the hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone wrote the sounds of a royal name: Ptolemy.
French scholar Jean-François Champollion then realised that hieroglyphs recorded the sound of the Egyptian language.
Champollion made a crucial step in understanding ancient Egyptian writing when he pieced together the alphabet of hieroglyphs used to write the names of non-Egyptian rulers.
He announced his discovery in a paper at the Academie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres at Paris in September 1822.
Champollion made a second crucial breakthrough in 1824, realising that the alphabetic signs were used not only for foreign names, but also for the Egyptian language and names.
Source: British Museum
The knowledge of how to read and write hieroglyphs had long been forgotten – but in the years of the 19th century, scholars used the Greek inscription on the Rosetta stone to decipher them.
And the Rosetta Stone is not the only object of contention in the British Museum.
The case of the Elgin Marbles is one of the longest-running cultural disputes in the world.
They were removed by a Scottish nobleman – Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin – from the Parthenon in the early 19th century when Athens was under Turkish rule.
Greece wants them back, which Britain has consistently refused to do.
Greece wants the British Museum to return the Elgin Marbles (pictured in the British Museum) to join the rest of the sculptures from the Parthenon at the Acropolis museum in Athens
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