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Thousands of Egyptians are calling for the return of the Rosetta Stone, which has been on display in the British Museum since 1802.
The museum’s most visited piece is now the subject of a petition that has received more than 110,000 signatures. Launched last month by Zahi Hawass, an Egyptologist and Egypt’s former minister for antiquities affairs, the petition also demands the Louvre return the sculptured Dendera zodiac.
This year also marks the 200th anniversary of the decipherment of the hieroglyphics on the stone – a discovery that furthered scholars’ understanding of ancient Egyptian civilisation.
The Zodiac of Dendera which was removed from Egypt by the French in 1820
(AFP via Getty Images)
“It is the time Egyptian identity comes back home. We are not asking the British Museum to return the 100,000 Egyptian pieces they have, we just ask them to return one item,” Mr Hawass said.
French soldiers discovered the stone in 1799 during Napoleon’s military occupation of Egypt. It was found in the northern town of Rashid, known by the French as Rosetta.
After defeating Napoleon’s forces in Egypt, the British took the stone and other antiquities under the terms of an 1801 surrender deal between the generals of the two sides. It has been in the British Museum ever since.
The stone is one of more than 100,000 Egyptian and Sudanese artefacts on display in the British Museum.
Egyptologists hope to have the stone on display in the Grand Egyptian Museum
In recent months, other museums and collectors have returned relics to their country of origin, including New York’s Metropolitan Museum which returned 16 antiquities to Egypt in September. A US investigation concluded that they had been illegally trafficked.
On Monday, London’s Horniman Museum signed over 72 objects, including 12 Benin Bronzes, to Nigeria following a request from its government.
Mr Hawass said he hoped the Rosetta Stone would be brought back to Egypt and displayed in the Grand Egyptian Museum. The museum is set to be the largest museum of Egyptian antiquities in the world when it opens in Giza next year.
It will also include all the pieces of the tomb of King Tutankhamun, which was discovered in 1922.
Mr Hawass, who was minister of antiquities in 2010, is planning another campaign to return the Nefertiti Bust from the Neues Museum in Berlin once his Rosetta Stone petition hits a million signatures.
“The Rosetta stone is the icon of Egyptian identity,” he said.