On the 19th July 1799, an announcement was made of the discovery of a slab of rock covered in carvings by French Lieutenant Pierre-François Bouchard in the area around Fort Julien near the Egyptian town of Rashid or, as it also known, Rosetta. The Rosetta Stone was soon identified as the key to understanding hieroglyphics, but it would be another twenty-five years before the ancient Egyptian language was actually deciphered.
Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt had begun the previous year with the dual aim of protecting French trade in the area and undermining Britain’s access to India. However, his force also included 167 scientists and scholars who had been tasked with various jobs including researching a possible Suez Canal and creating accurate maps of the country.
It was while some of the engineers were working with the army to strengthen Fort Julien that the granodiorite block we now know as the Rosetta Stone was uncovered. It was soon sent to the newly-created Institut d’Égypte in Cairo who announced the find and devised ways to make copies of the inscriptions which soon made their way to universities and museums around the world.
The inscription is a decree written in three different scripts that all say effectively the same thing: Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic, and Ancient Greek. It is because the scripts effectively convey the same message that transliteration was able to take place.
When the British defeated the French army in 1801 they seized a large number of French finds, including the Rosetta Stone. It has been exhibited in the British Museum ever since.