On July 19, 1799, a whopping 222 years ago today, Pierre-François Bouchard's men found the ancient Rosetta Stone whilst completing a last-minute construction gig in Egypt. And suddenly, it changed the world forever. When they discovered the large slab, the group noticed not just one, but three different languages inscribed in it.
Recognizing one of the languages as ancient Greek, Bouchard began to wonder if the stone's multiple languages all said the same message. So, the discovery was shared with French scholars who were in Egypt in search of archaeological finds. As it turned out, they certainly got more than they expected.
The men had discovered the Rosetta Stone, a slab of rock covered in the symbols and letters of ancient Egyptian civilization. But, before they could figure out what the etched messages and teachings were, they had to crack the code, knowing they only had a piece of the puzzle. Upon close inspection, a discovery was made.
The Rosetta Stone spoke of the Royal cult of an Egyptian King, Ptolemy V Epiphanes, who took the throne in 204 B.C. At that time, the kingdom was facing war. So, these hieroglyphics were written and passed by a Priest-filled council to declare the people's loyalty to the pharaoh. The declaration was then transcribed twice more.
The Ptolemaic hieroglyphics were copied into Demotic Egyptian script, which was subsequently transcribed into Greek. The stone later switched hands in 1798 and ended up in France. Soon after, threatening forces caused the Rosetta Stone to be sent to London, where it was displayed at the British Museum within days of arrival.
While on display, Jean-François Champollion, founder of Egyptology, unlocked the message in 1822. He then created an alphabet of phonetic hieroglyphics and teamed up with fellow scholars to translate what turned into one of the most crucial objects in history. The stone resides at the British Museum, visited by over 6M per year.
Egyptologist John Ray told the Smithsonian that the stone "Is really the key...to ancient Egypt [and] decipherment itself. We knew there were big civilizations, like Egypt, but they'd fallen silent. With the cracking of the Rosetta Stone, they could speak with their own voice, and suddenly whole areas of history were revealed."