The Mystery of the Rosetta Stone is the story of the race to decipher Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.

When Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798, the country had been virtually closed to Europeans for centuries and its ancient culture lost and forgotten for over a thousand years. Napoleon took with him scholars, including antiquarians and linguists, whose job it was to unravel the mysteries of ancient Egypt. But they were able to achieve little more than to paint its beautiful ruined monuments and wonder what it all meant. For Egypt’s secrets were locked in the strange ancient writings, the hieroglyphs.

By a stroke of luck, Napoleon’s soldiers soon unearthed an extraordinary object that offered a crucial clue. The Rosetta Stone contained a written proclamation by pharaoh Ptolemy V in three different texts: the common writing of the time, Greek, and the sacred script of the hieroglyphs. Surely now, scholars would simply be able to translate the hieroglyphs from their knowledge of the Greek. But before they could get stuck in, the British attacked and defeated Napoleon’s army, taking The Rosetta Stone back to Britain as a spoil of war. It has been in the British Museum ever since. The French were left only with their copies.

The Mystery of the Rosetta Stone is a BBC history documentary from the series Egypt.