Page last updated at 21:31 GMT, Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Rosetta Stone row 'would be solved by loan to Egypt'

The Rosetta Stone
The Rosetta Stone was found in Egypt and is currently in the British Museum

Egypt's head of antiquities will drop a demand for the permanent return of the Rosetta Stone if the British Museum agrees to loan it out, he says.

The Stone - a basalt slab dating back to 196BC which was key to the modern deciphering of hieroglyphics - has been at the museum since 1802.

Dr Zahi Hawass has long called for foreign museums to return six of the most prized antiquities of Egypt.

The British Museum said it would consider the loan request soon.

A spokeswoman said no official request had been made by Egypt for the permanent return of the stone, but the loan had been discussed and would be considered by the museum's trustees "fairly shortly".

Dr Hawass said while he still ultimately wanted the stone to have its home in Cairo, he would settle for the British Museum's acceptance of his request for a three-month loan.

We are not pirates of the Caribbean - we are a civilised country
Dr Zahi Hawass

He had written to the museum to ask for the stone to be made available temporarily for the opening of Egypt's Grand Museum at Giza, due by 2013, he said. Other European museums have been sent similar requests.

He said the response from some museums had been "not good", with questions over how they could guarantee artefacts would be returned at the end of the loans.

"We are not pirates of the Caribbean. We are a civilised country. If I sign something I will do it," he told the BBC's Nick Higham.

"We have the right for our monuments to be shown."

The Rosetta Stone, discovered in Egypt by French soldiers in 1799 and given to the English under the terms of the Treaty of Alexandria two years later, is one of the most high-profile items Dr Hawass has previously demanded be returned.

What makes it so significant is that it contains the same text in Egyptian hieroglyphs, another ancient Egyptian script and in ancient Greek.

The presence of that Greek translation meant that for the first time it was possible to use the stone to decipher and understand hieroglyphs.

Dr Zahi Hawass
Dr Zahi Hawass says Egypt has the right to shown its own monuments

Last month Egyptian archaeologists travelled to the Louvre Museum in Paris to collect five ancient fresco fragments stolen from a tomb in the Valley of the Kings in the 1980s.

Dr Hawass also lobbies for the return of other cultural objects deemed to be of great archaeological value to Egypt.

This includes the 3,500-year-old bust of Queen Nefertiti, wife of the famous Pharaoh Akhenaten, on show at the newly re-opened Neues Museum in Berlin, Germany.

Other items on his wish list include a statue of Hemiunu, the architect of the Great Pyramid at Giza - also in Germany; the bust of Anchhaf, builder of the Chepren Pyramid - at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston; a painted Zodiac from the Dendera temple, which is kept at the Louvre, and the statue of Ramesses II in Turin Museum.

Since he became head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in 2002, Mr Hawass claims to have returned 5,000 artefacts to Egypt which he says were stolen.

Thousands of artefacts were spirited out of Egypt during the period of colonial rule and afterwards by archaeologists, adventurers and thieves.

According to a 1970 United Nations agreement, artefacts are the property of their country of origin and pieces smuggled out must be returned.

Egypt also pursues items taken before that time if it has evidence of illegal practices. However, the process of determining whether an item has ever been stolen can be laborious and complicated.

Print Sponsor

The quest to regain Egypt's antiquities
11 Nov 09 |  Middle East
Egypt demands artefacts' return
21 Jan 09 |  Arts & Culture
Louvre to return Egyptian frescos
09 Oct 09 |  Europe
Egypt wants antiquities loan
30 Jul 03 |  Arts & Culture

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific