The debate over the return of artifacts to their ‘rightful’ owners has become increasingly heated in the past decade as countries have discovered the power they yield to get these objects returned. The active return of objects in the past decade began with the Getty Villa’s unprecedented return of 40 objects to Italian state. Italy’s success in coercing the Getty and later the Met has been emulated by Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, who succeeded in getting the Louvre to promise the return of four frescoes.
While there was evidence that the frescoes which the Louvre returned had been stolen from Egypt in the 80s, the history of the Rosetta Stone is much less murky. Mary Beard, an eminent Classicist at Cambridge, makes an astute assessment of Egypt’s claims to the Rosetta stone stating, ” It wasn’t born an icon, it became an icon by a lot of hard academic grind.” She argues that the Rosetta Stone became a symbol of French and English academic pursuits and even of the 18th century struggle for power between the two nations. I am impressed that a scholar of Beard’s standing is willing to take, as she puts it, this “jingoistic” stance.