Egypt Wants Loan of Rosetta Stone

Posted on June 25, 2007

Egypt wants the Rosetta Stone loaned to it from the British Museum. But the British Museum thinks that is a very bad idea. Dr Zahi Hawass, head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, made the request in a letter to the British Museum.

Whether the loan is eventually granted is expected to depend on three main factors. First, conservation, and whether the 1,680 pound stone could be at risk. Secondly, if the Rosetta Stone can be lent in view of its iconic importance. It is probably the single most-visited object in the BM's entire collection, attracting even more visitors than the Parthenon Marbles. The Rosetta Stone has been at the museum since 1802, and has only left the building twice-when it was evacuated during World War I and when it was lent to the Louvre for one month in 1972.

Finally, there will concerns over whether it would be prudent to lend to Cairo, because of possible pressure in Egypt to retain the stone or request its permanent return. After receiving advice on these points, the request will be considered by the BM trustees.

In March, Dr Hawass told The Art Newspaper that he intends to seek the loan of five key masterpieces from international museums. The others are the head of Nefertiti (Berlin Museums), the Dendera zodiac ceiling (Louvre), the bust of Hemiunu, builder of the Great Pyramid (Roemer and Pelizaeus Museum, Hildesheim, Germany), and the statue of Ankhaf, builder of the Khafre Pyramid (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). "I will give guarantees for their safe return," he promised.

Egypt is getting increasingly aggressive about the return of items it claims belong in Egypt. But archaeologists and museum curators the world over watched in horror as some of the oldest human antiquities in existence were looted from the Baghdad Museum during the invasion of Iraq. The antiquities are safe in Britain and must not be lost or destroyed. When the Middle East is peaceful and transport can be guaranteed safely without the threat of terrorist attacks or theft, then such discussion can begin. Until then, the items should stay where they are.