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Interact With the First 3-D Scan of the Rosetta Stone

The British Museum’s model lets users get a close-up view of the precious relic

The Rosetta Stone in the British Museum. (Hans Hillewaert/CC BY-SA 4.0)
smithsonian.com

It's been 218 years since the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, and if you fancy celebrating the occasion by taking a look at the famous stele, the British Museum has you covered. As Dyllan Furness reports for Digital Trends, the museum recently uploaded the first-ever 3-D scan of the Rosetta Stone to the online platform Sketchfab.

The model, which consists of 228 photographs, lets users rotate the stone and zoom in for close-up views of the text. Thanks to Sketchfab’s new audio feature, a description of the artifact automatically plays when the page is loaded.

Discovered on July 19, 1799, by Napoleonic troops in Egypt, the Rosetta Stone dates to 196 B.C. It is inscribed with a decree by a priestly council affirming the reign of Ptolemy V. While the decree doesn’t make for particularly gripping reading, the stone became a vital resource for scholars because it contains three identical texts written in three different scripts: Demotic, ancient Greek, and Egyptian hieroglyphics.

By the time the Rosetta Stone was found in the late 18th century, knowledge of how to read hieroglyphics had disappeared; the script fell by the wayside in the 4th century A.D., according to the British Museum’s description on Sketchfab. But scholars did know how to read Demotic and Greek, making the Rosetta Stone a vital tool for unlocking the mysteries of hieroglyphics.

In 1801, after the French surrendered to the British in Egypt, the stone made its way to the British Museum. More than twenty years later, the French scholar Jean-François Champollion began publishing papers announcing that he had finally cracked the hieroglyphic code.

The British Museum has been uploading 3-D images of artifacts to Sketchfab since 2014, according to Sarah Cascone of artnet News. About 200 items—from a majestic statue of the Roman emperor Septimius Severus to a little Medieval chess piece—can now be explored online. The goal of the project is “to augment and enhance the museum experience,” Daniel Pett, the museum’s senior digital humanities manager, tells Cascone in an email.

The Rosetta Stone is a particularly special addition to the digital collection. It is one of the most popular items in the British Museum, where it is housed in a wide glass case that lets visitors take in the stone from all angles. Thanks to the new 3-D scan, taking a trip to London is not a prerequisite for viewing this precious relic. The timeless draw of the Rosetta Stone can now be appreciated from the comfort of your home.

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a journalist based in New York City. Her work has appeared in New York magazine, Flavorwire, and Women in the World, a property of The New York Times.

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