Who Owns the Rosetta Stone?

Who Owns the Rosetta Stone?
Louisa Adams: Economics, Discovery and Daily Life

Skill: Middle School
Time Required: Three to four class periods.


Louisa Adams was, by the standards of the 19th century, a very well educated woman, interested in a great many things that most women avoided as belonging to the world of men. As the wife of a diplomat, she was also knowledgeable about military matters, and always interested in the affairs of France, where she spent a great deal of time prior to her marriage to John Quincy Adams. It is therefore likely that when French soldiers engaged in Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt found the Rosetta Stone, she would have known about it. The discovery of the Rosetta stone fostered new interest in the western world in the ancient cultures of Egypt.  The hieroglyphics were deciphered in 1822 and unlocked the meaning of many pieces of ancient writing. 


The purpose of this lesson is to allow students to research the various aspects of the Rosetta Stone: its discovery, history, and deciphering and its subsequent impact.  Then, students will assume roles for a simulation of a World Court debate on the subject of who should “own” the actual Rosetta Stone.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet; access to print reference materials about the Rosetta Stone.


All students need to have background information on the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, the history of the stone itself, how it was deciphered by Jean-Francois Champollion in 1822, and the impact on archeology that Champollion’s work had.  After everyone is secure in the factual information, divide the students into 3 national teams—British, French, and Egyptian.  Based upon the common base of knowledge and fortified by additional research using the Task Sheets attached to this lesson, these three teams will make the case before the World Court that the Rosetta Stone truly belongs to their country.   If possible, invite other teachers or members of the administrative team to sit in as justices to decide on the basis of the arguments.

Extending the Lesson:

The teacher may wish, instead of a simulation, to have students write out the arguments that each country’s delegation might make to the World Court.  The three national teams could also develop a PowerPoint presentation to accompany their arguments.

Sources & Resources:

Downs, Johnathan. Discovery at Rosetta: The Stone that Unlocked the Mysteries of Ancient Egypt. 2008.
Parkinson, Richard. The Rosetta Stone. 2005.
         The Rosetta Stone on Wikipedia
         The Rosetta Stone

         The Discovery of the Rosetta Stone

         The Rosetta Stone at the British Museum 
         How the Rosetta Stone "Works"

    Debate on Who Should “Own” the Rosetta Stone 
        About the Rosetta Stone
        Video on the debate between the Egyptians and the British 

        Hieroglyphics and the Rosetta Stone

        Egyptian Argument       

        English Argument       

        French Argument

        Task Sheets for Egyptian, British, and French Teams


This lesson was developed by Bette Brooks, Kent State University.