French soldiers who were demolishing ancient walls to strengthen Fort Julien just outside of the Egyptian city of Rosetta in July 1799 uncovered an inscribed black slab that had been recycled in antiquity as building material. The soldiers’ superior officers realized it could be a significant artifact, so they alerted Napoleon’s scientists at the Institut d’Égypte, who dated the slab to the 2nd century BCE. The inscription—a decree establishing the divine cult of King Ptolemy V—was written in Greek, Demotic, and hieroglyphics. Because the same decree was written in three scripts, the Rosetta Stone gave researchers the chance to finally decipher ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. It took 20 years, but scholar Jean-François Champollion eventually cracked the code.
SPONGE DIVERS FIND THE WORLD’S OLDEST ANALOG COMPUTER.
The Antikythera Mechanism is a clockwork device of at least 30 interlocking gears made in Greece in the 2nd or 3rd century BCE. Used to calculate celestial events and the cycles for the Panhellenic Games (such as the Olympics), the mechanism is also considered the oldest-known analog computer. In the 1st century BCE, the Romans packed it on a ship full of luxury objects they’d looted from around Greece (experts don’t know exactly where the mechanism came from).