We now have unprecedented open access to the Rosetta Stone thanks to the digital technicians at the British Museum, who last week uploaded the very first 3D model of the stone slab. Residing on Sketchfab, the model allows you to examine the gray stela from all angles and zoom in to study its inscribed characters and varying textures from up close. One of the museum’s most famous objects, the stone is typically kept in a glass case that allows you to view it from all sides, but crowds can make getting near it difficult.
“This scan was part of our larger attempt to capture as many of our iconic pieces from the collection — and indeed the unseen in store objects — and make them available for people to view in 3D or in more tactile forms,” Daniel Pett, the museum’s senior digital humanities manager, told Digital Trends, which first reported the project.
Published last week, the scan coincides with the 218th anniversary of the stone’s discovery in 1799 by Napoleon’s troops at Fort St. Julien in Egypt. The museum also took advantage of Sketchfab’s new integrated audio feature so a brief description of the stone’s history automatically plays when you load the model.
Dating to 196 BCE, the stone was the key for scholars to decipher and consequently read hieroglyphs, as the ancient Egyptian script appears alongside identical texts in Demotic and ancient Greek, which they could understand. The message relayed thrice over was a copy of a decree passed by a council of priests on the first anniversary of king Ptolemy V’s coronation to affirm his reign. The 14 lines of hieroglyphs appear at the fractured top of the stone, which is a broken portion of a larger slab. Below it are 32 lines in Demotic and 53 in ancient Greek that collectively cover the entire face of the stela.
The 3D model joins over 200 objects from the museum’s collection that it has uploaded so far on Sketchfab, from the 9,500-year-old Jericho Skull to a sculpture of the Pacific god A’a. All are also available to view in virtual reality if you have access to a headset such as Google Cardboard.