The artifact that provided the key to unlocking Egyptian hieroglyphics gets an account emphasizing the furious conflict it has prompted ever since being discovered in 1799.
Debut author Downs begins with a cursory summary of Egyptian history leading up to the fated discovery of the Rosetta Stone, originally created in the second century BCE. He then devotes a generous portion of his text to Napoleon’s 1798 invasion of Egypt, how the arriving French soldiers looked to bewildered Alexandrians and the disappointment these troops felt on discovering the dilapidated living conditions in Egypt. Approximately one-third of the text has passed by the time the author gets to the Stone, unearthed in 1799 by Captain Pierre-François Bouchard during the demolition of Sultan Qayt Bey’s 15th-century fort. Many of the details surrounding the Stone’s discovery are shrouded in mystery, including the exact date. However, Downs points out, Bouchard was immediately aware of its importance as “a code-key expressing the same text in both ancient Egyptian and hieroglyphs in a known language.” General Jacques-François Menou and his troops transported the Stone from Cairo to Alexandria—a fatal mistake that led to its capture by the British, declares the author, who believes that had it stayed in Cairo the defeated French would have shipped it back home with the repatriated troops. Downs mulls over the specifics of the Stone’s capture, which have been heatedly debated over the years, and closes with a lengthy look at the various challenges inherent in deciphering the inscriptions.
Colorful, but adds little to what is already known.