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Rosetta Stone: a new museum is reviving calls to return the artefact to Egypt
City of Cairo as a gesture of goodwill, recognition of the stone as Cairo's cultural property, and a symbol of a country that is increasingly reclaiming its heritage.
By: The Conversation
With the Arab spring of 2011, a downturn in tourism and the devastation of COVID, the odds have been stacked against the opening of Giza's Grand Egyptian Museum, work on which began in 2005 and is due to complete 2023.
Nevertheless, it will house over 100,000 artefacts and become the largest archaeological museum complex in the world. It is sure to draw millions of visitors to see the most complete story yet of ancient Egypt, told by Egyptians.
Highlights will include the entirety of Tutankhamun's treasure, displayed together for the first time. However, as dazzling as this will be, it is unlikely to completely distract from the ever-present repatriation debate.
In fact, the museum's opening looks set to mark a turning point in the academic debate around returning its most obvious missing artefact – the Rosetta Stone – to Egypt.
Implications For Worldwide Heritage
The British Museum has stated that they have received no formal request for the return of the Rosetta Stone, but as the 1963 Act prevents its return, the most logical way forward is the establishment of a partnership with Egypt's Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.
George Osborne's position as chair of the British Museum is that the strength of the collection is in the representation of common humanity, but that the museum is willing to enter into a dialogue to ensure a satisfactory outcome for all parties.
However, as ownership will still reside with the British Museum, advocates for the stone's return may feel this does not go far enough. On the other hand, there is a concern about the potential for cultural regression if museums start to divide their collections, although the likelihood of having to empty stores is small.
The Rosetta Stone is a perfect example of the continuing biographies of objects. Its significance no longer rests only on its role in the decipherment of hieroglyphs, and 18th- to 19th-century relationships between Britain, France and Egypt. It has taken on new meaning, and its importance now is as a symbol of the decolonisation debate, and of Egypt itself.
The Conversation is a nonprofit,
independent news organization.