“Sorry, You’re Never Going to See Your Rosetta Stone,” by Lynn Sakai Burn

Jul 19th, 2023 | By | Category: Fake Nonfiction, Prose

We won’t be granting you a visa to visit our museums so that you can view the artifacts we stole from your country, and we’re not returning them. 

We, the diversity-embracing nations that reject colonialism and discrimination in all their pernicious forms, have some bad news for you. Regrettably, we must decline your request for the visa necessary for you to visit our countries and see your stolen cultural heritage that is housed in our museums.

You see, given the messy state of affairs in your native land (how did you all let it get so bad?), we fear that once you touch down on our untroubled soil, you might stay here indefinitely. After all, your ancestors’ precious artifacts did. They’ve been with us for years with no sign of leaving.

Some of you have suggested that if we won’t let you visit us, we should at least return your most iconic antiquities. Unfortunately, we are unable to accommodate that request, nor are we under any obligation to do so. As per the international law that we wrote back when you didn’t even have a proper country (you snooze, you lose, as the colloquialism goes), artifacts stolen during colonial rule are licit because they have been in circulation for such a very long time. Bad luck for you, but you must roll with life’s little punches.

In any case, you still have plenty of famous statues and stelae and obelisks within your borders. We were generous enough to leave plenty behind. Just because you won’t be seeing the Bust of Nefertiti, the Benin Bronzes, the Maqdala Collection, the Rosetta Stone, the Dendera Zodiac Sculpture, the Bust of Prince Ankhhaf, the Statue of Hemiunu, the Ain Ghazal statues, the Babylonian Ishtar Gate, and the like, please be reasonable.

Don’t be selfish–think about us too! After all, if we were to give them back to you, who would visit our museums?

We hear that in retaliation, you’re considering reducing the amount of excavation permits you issue to our archaeologists. That would be a grave mistake–and we’ve never made mistakes in your graves. The graffiti that La Commission des Sciences et des Arts carved into the walls of your ancestors’ temples, the mummy unwrapping parties our Victorian predecessors hosted when they weren’t swept up in fern craze or preoccupied with writing anonymous erotica, the thousands of cuneiform tablets and clay bullae acquired by Hobby Lobby—those are little exceptions.

Plus, these incidents pale in comparison to what you did. Living right at the mouth of ancient tombs? It demonstrates an abominable disrespect for the dead royals and aristocrats. Quite frankly, it also makes our tours of the sites less enjoyable. We want to see magnificent monuments, not interact with poor locals. It spoils the grand aesthetic to see your children scampering all over these ancient testaments to humanity’s achievements. And what if they scuff one of the temple walls? Or run over ceramic tiles and scatter them out of order?

What we’re trying to delicately convey is, even if the partage system wasn’t perfect, your antiquities are safer with us. Aside from the pieces that were lost, looted, and destroyed during WWII, of course. But there are no more wars in Europe–except for the current one. Besides that one, though, our point stands. And don’t up the 70 objects at the Neues Museum in Berlin that were defaced with an oily substance. That was clearly the fault of immature vandals. You have far more of those in your country, what with the scores of unemployed males that wander around your streets. They most certainly won’t be getting visas.

Our modest proposal? 3D printing has come so far. Take some of the money that we have generously donated as part of our foreign aid program and set up little maker spaces in your museums. You can 3D print your very own Rosetta Stone! We doubt that many people in your country will be able to tell the difference.

After all, you don’t appreciate or understand your own history the way we do.


By degree, Lynn Sakai Burn is a linguist, but she works as a professional analyst and communicator. Over the past decade plus, Lynn has bounced around the globe, living in Toronto, Detroit, Boston, Cairo, Jerusalem, and Amman. She writes, rides her bike, and brews and consumes kombucha in her spare time.

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