1. What is the purpose of ReturnTheStone.org and the “Global Petition to Return the Rosetta Stone to Egypt”?
ReturnTheStone.org is a new global grassroots campaign to morally compel the return of the world’s most famous looted artifact – the Rosetta Stone – to Egypt, the country from which it was stolen. This campaign is embedded within the wider movement to morally pressure governments around the world to immediately return looted and stolen artifacts to their rightful owners. ReturnTheStone.org is NOT affiliated with any government or institution.
2. Who created ReturnTheStone.org and the “Global Petition to Return the Rosetta Stone to Egypt”?
ReturnTheStone.org and the “Global Petition to Return the Rosetta Stone to Egypt” were created by John Navarre, an American who has been a champion for the country and people of Egypt for over two decades. John is the creator of EgyptTravelBlog.com, host of The Egypt Travel Podcast and the Egypt History and Culture Podcast, and is a passionate advocate for promoting travel to Egypt. John currently splits his time between Europe, Egypt, and the US.
3. Why should someone who is not Egyptian be a leader in the movement to return the Rosetta Stone to Egypt?
The famous American abolitionist, Frederick Douglas, once said, “When I ran away from slavery, it was for myself; when I advocated emancipation, it was for my people; but when I stood up for the rights of women, self was out of the question, and I found a little nobility in the act.” Serious large-scale social and political movements often require the active support and participation of more than just those who are affected by the issue. They require a broad base of support from a wide network of friends, allies, and supporters who are not directly affected by the issue as well.
The people and government of Egypt have been demanding the return of the Rosetta Stone for decades, but the British government and the British Museum have simply ignored these demands. While the British government may able to ignore the demands of one country and its people without consequence, it cannot ignore the demands of the rest of the world when the entire global community finally comes together to demand justice for Egypt and the Egyptian people.
By itself, Egypt as a country is limited in the pressure that it is able to exert on a country like the United Kingdom. The government of Egypt has a great political relationship with the UK, and the country’s economy is heavily dependent on tourism from Western countries such as the UK. As a result, it would be much more damaging to Egypt and Egyptians themselves for them to engage in significant pressure and protest actions against British entities and institutions, such as coordinated boycotts or persistent public shaming. However, the rest of the world can certainly speak out and put pressure on the British government without fear of such consequences.
Egyptians should not be expected to stand alone against the remnants of colonial-era imperialism. It is also the responsibility of all non-Egyptians — especially those of us in the West — to stand up, speak out, and help lead the charge against the British government’s continued illegal, illogical, and immoral retention of the world’s most famous looted artifact — the Rosetta Stone.
4. How do we know that the Rosetta Stone was stolen from Egypt and not legally removed?
The history of the Rosetta Stone is very well documented. The British Museum and the British government do not even deny that the Rosetta Stone was looted from Egypt during colonial times as a spoil of war. Instead, the reason for not returning the stone has changed over time, but the current excuse centers around their argument that they should not have to revisit and relitigate wrongs that were perpetrated during colonial times as opposed to those committed in the current era.
5. What is the history of the Rosetta Stone and how did it get to the United Kingdom?
Check out this page, About the Rosetta Stone, for a factual history of the artifact, including its creation and original purpose during the Ptolemaic era, its accidental rediscovery in 1799, how it made its way to England by 1802, and why it is widely considered to be one of the most famous and important surviving artifacts in the history of Egypt — and the world.
You can also check out this episode of the Egypt History & Culture Podcast to learn more about the Rosetta Stone and the story of how it was finally deciphered.
6. What is the British Museum’s official statement or policy regarding the Rosetta Stone?
The British Museum remains conspicuously silent about the Rosetta Stone, despite the fact that it has a dedicated section on the press and media page of its website called “Contested objects from the collection.” Strangely, this section only addresses the Benin Bronzes, human remains, the Maqdala collection from Ethiopia, the Parthenon Sculptures (also known as the Elgin Marbles), a single wooden Aboriginal shield from Australia, and a final category that the museum ambiguously calls “1933–45 provenance,” which is a term the museum uses to refer to art and artifacts stolen by the Nazis during World War II, including from victims of the Holocaust. Astonishingly absent from this list, however, is any reference to Egyptian artifacts including the world’s most famous looted artifact — the Rosetta Stone.
7. Why won’t the Egyptian government just let the United Kingdom keep the Rosetta Stone, especially since it could be considered good advertising for people who see it and might be motivated to visit Egypt?
The final disposition of the Rosetta Stone should be up to the government and people of Egypt, not the government and people of a country who stole the artifact during the colonial era and now refuse to give it back. If Egypt would like to lend the Rosetta Stone back to the British Museum or any other institution, that decision is the unconditional right and prerogative of the government of Egypt. Perhaps Egypt would prefer to display the stone in its own new state-of-the-art, billion-dollar Grand Egyptian Museum, or perhaps it would prefer to have the Rosetta Stone on display at the Louvre in Pairs, the Smithsonian in the United States, the Tokyo National Museum in Japan, the National Museum of Korea, or all of the above to promote tourism to Egypt from those other countries and regions. Regardless, the decision of where the Rosetta Stone resides, whether permanently or temporarily, should be up to Egypt and only Egypt.
8. What if the British government and the British Museum offer to lend the Rosetta Stone to Egypt, either temporarily or permanently?
Would you consider it moral, right, or just for someone to steal something from you, then offer to lend it back to you while they set the conditions for the loan and also retained ownership of the object? Absolutely not! Similarly, the only just and moral thing that the British government and the British Museum can do is to unconditionally return the Rosetta Stone to Egypt, preferably with an accompanying sincere apology for not having done so long ago, and let the government of Egypt decide what it wants to do with its own rightful property.
9. Does the British Museum have an official policy on the acquisition of objects for its collection?
Yes. In fact, the title of the policy document is called “Acquisition of Objects for the Collection,” a copy of which can be found here on the British Museum’s website.
Section 2.1 of the policy clearly states:
“Objects will only be acquired for the Collection if:
(i) they are legally available for acquisition; and…
(ii) there is no reasonable cause to believe that they were wrongfully taken from a lawful owner; looted from archaeological sites or museums; or wrongfully exported or imported.”|
10. Who is responsible for making the decision to return the Rosetta Stone to Egypt? Can the Director of the British Museum or the museum’s Board of Trustees make that decision themselves, or does the British government or Parliament have to take action in order for the British Museum to be able to return the Rosetta Stone to Egypt?
Legally within the United Kingdom, the British Museum’s operations and the actions of its Trustees are currently governed by the British Museum Act 1963, a copy of which is available on the British government’s website here.
Section 5 of the Act, entitled “Disposal of objects,” states:
“The Trustees of the British Museum may sell, exchange, give away, or otherwise dispose of any object vested in them and comprised in their collection if -…
(c) in the opinion of the Trustees the object is unfit to be retained in the collections of the Museum and can be disposed of without detriment to the interests of students…”
Given this section of the Act, the British Museum’s Board of Trustees could easily pass a resolution stating something like this:
“It is the opinion of the Trustees that it is unfit to retain in the collection of the Museum an artifact of incalculable historical and cultural significance to another country and people, which was illegally looted from that country and illegally placed into the Museum’s collection, the retention of which runs explicitly counter to the Museum’s own Policy on Acquisition of Objects for the Collection, the Code of Ethics of the International Council of Museums, and the Code of Ethics of the Museums Association.”
With such a resolution, which is morally and historically justified, the museum would be legally authorized by the Act to “give away or otherwise dispose of” the Rosetta Stone by immediately transferring it to the government of Egypt via the Egyptian Embassy in London.