Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

How the Mummy of the North Helped the Daddy of Translators; French Scholar Unravelled Secrets of Ancient Egypt - with a Bit of Help

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

How the Mummy of the North Helped the Daddy of Translators; French Scholar Unravelled Secrets of Ancient Egypt - with a Bit of Help

Article excerpt

Byline: Tony Henderson Environment Editor ? 0191 201 6224 ? tony.henderson@ncjmedia.co.uk

NEW research has uncovered the role played by the North East in a critical knowledge breakthrough which unlocked 3,000 years of ancient history. This year is the 190th anniversary of the first decipherment of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs by French scholar Jean-Francois Champollion. They were inscribed on the Rosetta Stone, which has been in the British Museum since 1802 and is one of its most popular exhibits.

By cracking the Rosetta Stone code, Champollion revealed the key to ancient Egypt's secrets and opened up the history of one of the world's oldest civilisations.

Rivalry between the British and French meant that Champollion's breakthrough met with a chilly reception by most scholars in this country.

But now a discovery by Egyptologist Margaret Maitland, based at the British Museum and on placement at the Great North Museum in Newcastle, has revealed the Frenchman's warm relationship with North East scholars.

Two letters from Champollion held in the archives of the Natural History Society of Northumbria in the Great North Museum show that the region provided Egyptian inscriptions to Champollion which were vital to his developing understanding of hieroglyphs . On Thursday Margaret will give a free lecture on her discoveries at the Great North Museum at 6pm.

The North East scholars sent the inscription on the Great North Museum's mummy, Bakt-en-Hor, to Champollion, which was amongst the earliest hieroglyphic texts available to him.

Margaret said: "When I first discovered that the Natural History Society had in its possession an incredibly rare letter written by Champollion, one of the first pioneers of Egyptology, I was astounded.

"Further investigation revealed a copy of an additional letter written even earlier, just one year after Champollion's initial breakthrough, when his understanding of the ancient Egyptian language was still in its infancy.

"It's been exhilarating to read his faltering yet surprisingly confident early work on one of our very own objects. …

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