The Rosetta Stone: Meta tags ca.190 BC

Posted by jerry on May 4th, 2004 — Posted in History, New media, Technology

The internet has come up with a range of standards in relation to information about information – meta data standards. The best known of these are the Dublin Core meta data standards But the issues that led to the Dublin core standards are not new. The Rosetta Stone (196 BC) – just 200 years after Plato, and during the Greek administration of Egypt revealed something really interesting – the existence of meta tags almost 2000 years before the Internet.

The two languages in three scripts on the stone revealed the difficulties of applying consistent language standards across an empire. Just as Web pages today specify a language an script to be aplied, so too, the Rosetta stone includes as part of the inscribed decree, the stipulation that it is to be set stone, in the three scripts: heiroglyphic, demotic and Greek.

What we have in fact is a meta data standard that specified the platform (a stel of hard stone), the language versions, the authority of the specification, (Ptolemy V), and its URL (each of the first,second and third rank temples). In web language these would look like this in the part of the cartouche:

In other words about half of the dublin core meta data standards are incorporated into the Rosetta Stone. This must surely provide us with an insight into something fundamental about the nature of information, and the nature of official discourse. What is needed to establish the intelligibility and authoritativeness of a piece of text when it is removed from the body (speech) and placed into a third-party medium? This is not a new question – and it is the main subject of my next book …

Rosetta Stone
The Rosetta Stone (in the British Museum, London)


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