Restitution of Knowledge: The Rosetta Stone and Egypt’s Estranged Heritage

This talk will deconstruct the different notions and claims of the British Museum and indigenous Egyptians today in relation to the colonialist imperialist past and post-colonialist present. In September 2022, an Egyptian team of scholars have started a petition to repatriate the seventeen objects taken as a spoil of war by the combined army and exhibited in the British Museum according to the capitulation of Abouqir. These seventeen objects related to the different historical periods of Ancient Egypt, out of which the famous Rosetta Stone was taken by the French in early attempts for decipherment. The decipherment of the Rosetta Stone led to the start of Egyptology; a discipline that has little evolved over the years and kept its knowledge limited to western and academic circles with a superficial connection to the modern Egyptians. Today, Egyptians struggle to see how the past interacts with the present and future partly due to its colonialist past, but also because of post-colonialist cultural governance policies. The repatriation of objects lies at the heart of the restitution of agency to the Egyptians to produce knowledge about their past via the creation of platforms of cultural justice and equity as opposed to 19th century cultural violence and plunder.

Dr Monica Hanna is an Egyptologist and Associate Professor at the College of Archaeology and Cultural Heritage, Arab Academy for Science and Technology and Maritime Transport (AASTMT) in Aswan, Egypt.