In 1799, French troopers marching by means of the ruins of the Egyptian city of Rashid made a exceptional discovery, stated Francesca Peacock in The Day by day Telegraph. It was the darkish slab of granite-like rock now generally known as the Rosetta Stone: a big pill inscribed in 196BC with three variations of the identical textual content in Greek, demotic script (a type of historic Egyptian cursive writing) – and hieroglyphs.

The gorgeous semi-pictorial script of the Pharaohs and their monuments had fascinated students for hundreds of years, however there had been no technique of studying them. Some believed hieroglyphs weren’t a written type of language, however a sequence of “magical symbols”.

From France to the British Museum

Following Napoleon’s retreat from Egypt, the stone handed into British guardianship. It was in 1822 {that a} French Egyptologist referred to as Jean-François Champollion lastly deciphered it; supposedly, he rushed into his brother’s room, shouted “Look! I’ve received it!”, then collapsed on the ground.

Now, 200 years on from his eureka second, the British Museum, the place the stone famously resides, has mounted an “expansive” exhibition that investigates the “nineteenth century fascination with hieroglyphs inside a wider context”. It brings collectively many “fantastic examples of the decoded language itself”, together with vividly adorned sheets of papyrus, elegantly inscribed tablets and the Rosetta Stone itself, borrowed from elsewhere within the museum. These shed a lot mild on quotidian life in Historical Egypt, bearing all the pieces from “protecting spells to safeguard kids, divorce paperwork and love poems, and even erotic drawings and jokes”.

‘Backbone-tinglingly’ inscriptions

“This can be a dense and demanding present,” stated Laura Freeman in The Instances. “Don’t go anticipating King Tut’s loot or Valley of the Kings bling.” But the delicate treasures on show are “spine-tinglingly” fascinating all the identical. We see many inscriptions, some “shallow as scratches, others roughly gouged”; even for those who can’t make head nor tail of them, they’re steadily “ravishing” as reduction sculpture.

One significantly lovely object is a fraction of a papyrus scroll discovered within the tomb of Queen Nedjmet and generally known as The Guide of the Lifeless (c.1069BC). This ornate funerary textual content is “alive with blue baboons, noticed cows and a pair of lions with bumblebee tails”, a few of that are believed to be depictions of Thoth, god of writing. There are even just a few moments of sunshine reduction: one small amulet, for example, bears a picture of “a person with a phallus so large he can wrap it spherical his neck”.

Studying in regards to the Rosetta Stone

The present turns into “drier” when it broaches the topic of the Rosetta Stone and its eventual decipherment, stated Caroline McGinn on Time Out. But this isn’t to counsel it’s boring. We be taught, for example, in regards to the totally different languages of Historical Egypt and their respective scripts, and the methods wherein they fell out of circulation: they had been “obliterated by years of conquest and plunder”, by the hands of Caesar Augustus and later invaders.

The exhibition can also be “conscious of its troubled context”: there have been calls to repatriate the stone lately. Nonetheless, “that cry appears a bit half-hearted on this case”: there are at the very least 28 different surviving stones bearing the identical inscription, most of which stay in Egypt. General, this “nuanced and by no means dumbed-down” exhibition does a superb job of explaining simply why the Rosetta Stone is so vital. It’s a “considerate and scholarly” occasion that “requires and repays shut consideration”.

British Museum, London WC1. Till 19 February; britishmuseum.org