“The Rosetta Stone is arguably the most important Egyptian artifact ever recovered. Without it, Egypt would have stayed a silent civilization.”
—Excerpt from Discovery at Rosetta by Jonathan Downs
The decipherment of the Rosetta Stone is perhaps the greatest cryptography tale ever told. Less often told is the tale of the stone’s discovery in 1799 and the struggle over its ownership. This is the central focus of Downs, a history writer and journalist. Drawing upon eyewitness accounts, Downs tracks the lethal maneuverings of the French, British and Ottomans to control Egypt and its treasures. A highlight is "the greatest scavenger hunt of the art world,” a race worthy of Indiana Jones through the labyrinthine back lanes of the besieged city of Alexandria by the British to capture the stone from the French. Downs ends his tale with a summary of the stone’s decipherment and illuminates the neglected work of Arab scholars, including al-Misri, who correlated hieroglyphics to spoken Coptic 1,000 years before Champollion, and Ibn Wahshiyah, a ninth-/10th-century-CE alchemist who some Egyptologists credit as the first to crack the code of hieroglyphics.