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Rosetta Stones and Aliens

Greek text from Rosetta Stone

Key To The Kingdom

How did we ever figure out how to read Egyptian hieroglyphs, given that the ancient Egyptian language didn't survive?

French linguist named Jean‑François Champollion solved the riddle in the nineteenth century.

Champollion used a stone slab found in an Egyptian town called Rosetta. It had the same inscription in two languages. One was Egyptian, written in two different scripts, one of which was hieroglyphic. The other one was Greek. Champollion could read Greek, and he used this knowledge to figure out how to read the hieroglyphs.

Alien Tongues

Today, scientists are searching for signals from extraterrestrial civilizations. If they ever find anything, they will need to know how to decipher it, and formulate a reply. Could Champollion's accomplishment help?

In 2014 the SETI Institute held a conference on how to formulate a message that aliens could understand. An archeologist named Paul Wason spoke there, and he thought the Rosetta stone has lessons to teach us about creating a message that aliens could decipher.

There's a problem though. Champollion and the Egyptians both knew Greek. Extraterrestrials wouldn't know any human language at all. What could possibly take the role of Greek?

Math. Basic concepts in mathematics, like numbers and counting might be universal. Astronomers know that the same laws of physics and chemistry apply throughout the universe. So, basic concepts of physics and chemistry might be universal too.

But, that assumes that aliens' minds work similarly to ours, when they may use different concepts to understand physics than we do.

 Find Out More:

"The Mystery Of The Rosetta Stone" (BBC)

"Communicating Across The Cosmos, Part I: Shouting Into The Darkness" (Universe Today)

"Communicating Across The Cosmos, How Can We Make Ourselves Understood By Other Civilizations In The Galaxy?" (SETI Institute)

"Recognizing Extraterrestrial Intelligence: 'There Could Be Life and Intelligence Out There In Forms We Can't Conceive'" (The Daily Galaxy)


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