How will people be able to read our texts in thousands of years? The Rosetta Project is working on the solution.
The Rosetta Stone
The year is 1799. For many years the first Egyptologists tried to decipher the enigmatic hieroglyphs that cover the many temples, tombs and palaces of ancient Egypt. In vain.
Then comes the breakthrough everyone hopes for. French engineers in the Egyptian town of Rosetta (now Rashid) accidentally discover a stone covered in Greek letters, demotic characters (a simplified, 'shorthand' form of hieroglyphs) and hieroglyphs.
For the first time, copies of the same text in a known language, Classical Greek (which archaeologists could read), the demotic characters written in Church-Coptic (which were decoded after a few years), and the unknown hieroglyphs are found. After years of puzzling, the French archaeologist Jean-François Champollion succeeded in deciphering the hieroglyphs in 1822. Finally, researchers were able to decipher the epitaphs and papyrus scrolls. This find was a stroke of luck. For example, there are inscriptions from Crete, Linear A, which are still not deciphered.
Suppose it is the year 2982. Humanity was hit by a huge disaster many millennia ago, a nuclear war, virus or asteroid impact for example. The survivors fell back to the Stone Age. After several hundred years, the survivors have developed into a new civilization through trial and error.
Archaeologists find inscribed relics of our cities and miraculously a few more intact books. Only: after a thousand years, no one understands English anymore. For example, the survivors descend from a group of Twa, pygmies, hidden in the jungle, from Central Africa who spoke Twi, a language that is completely different from English.
In short: what our distant descendants will need is a modern Rosetta stone. The Long Now Foundation now coincidence lends a hand.
The Rosetta Disk, stored in a metal protective capsule of ten centimeters in diameter, is a nickel disc of about three inches in diameter.
One side immediately attracts attention with the inscription of a globe and texts in the ten major world languages that spiral downwards. The other side contains 13,000 pages of text etched into the disc, readable with a 650-fold microscope.
The disc survives at least two thousand years. The thirteen thousand pages of text describe the basic vocabulary and grammar of each language and contain common root texts.
Both halves of the spherical protective capsule are also utilized. One half is a lens that magnifies six times. The other half contains an engraving needle and a strip of metal on which the owners can leave messages for future generations. Unfortunately, the time capsules are not yet in mass production.
A happy ending?
The archaeologist Kwanzi Ntutu makes a great discovery. In the ruins of a library, he finds a mysterious metal sphere bigger than a man's fist. The sphere contains a metal disc with a globe on one side, surrounded by texts that revolve around the sphere like an ever smaller spiral and seem to dissolve into nothingness. One of them is difficult to read: it is Swahili, an ancient language that was widely spoken in East Africa. The news travels around the world by fanfare. Inventors from all over the world set to work to develop a good microscope. Then the microscopic texts on the other side of the disc become legible.
Deciphering the many paper archives is now fast. Science is advancing by leaps and bounds. A student of Ntutu, the brilliant Lusa Kwama, discovers what caused the disaster: the outbreak of a deadly genetically engineered smallpox virus developed by a military lab as a weapon. The shocking news has spread all over the world. Humanity is learning from its mistakes this time and through proper surveillance and better international cooperation, it prevents such disasters from ever happening again.