Happy Birthday to Forest Whitaker, who is 48 today.
Please note that this photo was taken by Pierre Omydar, who released it for use by Wikimedia Commons, which is a very cool thing to do since everything should be free. (Omydar and his wife started eBay.)
If you go to the original on Omydar’s flickr site, you will see that he and his wife Pam are actually standing next to Forest and they are all at the Ted Conference, which is also very cool. I don’t quite get the Ted Conference, except that it always seems to have very interesting speakers.
If there had been a Ted Conference in 1800 one of the speakers might have been a French Army lieutenant named Pierre-Francois Bouchard. In 1799 on this date, Bouchard discovered a stele fragment while on duty in Egypt and thought it might be important – the whole army was doubtless aware of Napoleon’s love of all things Egyptian. Bouchard turned it in and its significance was clear immediately. The stele had the same text in hieroglyphics, demotic and ancient Greek. It was, in short, the key to deciphering all the mysterious carvings on all the discoveries that had been made to date.
It was called Le Pierre de Rosette (the stone of Rosette) by the French, who shortly had to surrender it to the British – long story there, but we’ll cut to the chase. It was called the Rosetta Stone by the Brits and it was promptly installed in the British Museum.
It sat there more than 20 years, simultaneously baffling and fascinating scholars, until Jean-Paul Champollion translated the Egyptian texts and hieroglyphics were finally on their way to being deciphered.
Two interesting things about the Rosetta Stone: first, it should be called the Rashid Stone since that is the Arabic name of the place where it was found, and second, of the more than seven million objects in the British Museum, it is far and away the most popular.
The English and French have argued for years over who really owns it; recently, Egypt has said it would quite like to have it back.
Rembrandt van Rijn was born on this date in 1608 and what a great excuse that is: