History Book: An archaeological breakthrough


MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Monday, September 26th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming up next: the WORLD History Book. Today, we’ll tell you about a World Series filled with firsts and about some past innovations that helped shape the future.

But before we get to that, 200 years ago, a French scholar cracked a code that gave us insight into ancient history. Here’s arts and media editor Collin Garbarino.

COLLIN GARBARINO, REPORTER: On September 27th 1822, Jean-Francois Champollion announced that he had deciphered the hieroglyphics on the Rosetta Stone. For the first time in almost 1500 years someone was able to read ancient Egyptian writing.

A French officer found the stone in Egypt during Napoleon’s campaign in 1799. After the British defeated the French in Egypt, they took the stone to London. The Rosetta Stone bears an inscription in three different scripts—Egyptian hieroglyphics, Egyptian demotic, and Greek. Scholars thought that by comparing the three scripts they might be able to decode the hitherto indecipherable hieroglyphics. Academics all over the world worked on the problem, often stealing ideas from one another. But in the end, the relatively young Champollion figured it out.

Bob Briers describes Champollion’s moment of breakthrough for the Great Courses.

BOB BRIERS: Champollion rushes over to his brother’s house and says, “I’ve done it,” and faints. He is so overcome and exhausted that he remains in bed for five days. When he finally gets out of bed and resumes work, Champollion starts reading out loud all the words he has on the Rosetta Stone and listens for Coptic matches. Soon he has dozens and dozens of words. Now he really can translate hieroglyphs.

Champollion was one of the only scholars working on the problem to have bothered to learn the modern language of the Coptic Christians living in Egypt. And that knowledge gave him an edge in deciphering hieroglyphics.

Soon after Champollion’s discovery, scholars began filling in many of the gaps in Egyptian history using the wealth of writings that had perplexed researchers for more than a millennium.

Next we head to the 1947 World Series.

Seventy-five years ago this week game one began with the New York Yankees taking on their crosstown rivals the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was a series of many firsts. Plenty of future hall of famers played—guys like Yogi Berra and Joe DiMaggio—but this was the first World Series in which a black player took the field—Dodgers’ Jackie Robinson.

ANNOUNCER: In the Dodgers’ half of the first with one out, Jackie Robinson draws a base on the ball. He dances back and forth to worry pitcher Shea who tries to pick him off. On Shea’s second pitch to Reiser, the fleet footed Robinson lights out for second and beats catcher Berra’s hurried throw to Rizzuto.

1947 was also the first year the World Series was televised, although it aired in only a few major cities on the east coast. But the little bit of extra money coming from television rights helped boost the series’ profits to more than $2 million for the first time. The Yankees beat the Dodgers in seven games. When the Yankees beat the Dodgers in the World Series again two years later everyone east of the Mississippi River could watch the game on TV. By the 1952 World Series, all of America from coast to coast could watch the Yankees beat the Dodgers yet again.

Next we head to 1982 for a couple of momentous moments in entertainment history.

Forty years ago this week, EPCOT Center opened as the second theme park at Walt Disney World in Florida.

Walt Disney had originally conceived of EPCOT as being a real city that would serve as a model for the future. EPCOT stood for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, and Walt planned for it to be a hub of innovation and technology. After his death in 1966, the Disney company abandoned his idea for creating a real city. But they kept the name and folded some of the original ideas into the new theme park.

At the grand opening, Disney CEO Card Walker stood before EPCOT’s iconic geodesic dome and offered these thoughts echoing Walt’s desire to create the city of tomorrow.

CARD WALKER: Our goals for EPCOT Center are quite clear. We want to first entertain, then inform and inspire all who come here and above all to instill in our guests a sense of belief and pride in mankind’s ability to shape a world that offers real hope to people everywhere in the world.

The same day Disney launched its new theme park devoted to innovation, Sony and Philips released a new technology that would revolutionize the music industry—the compact disc. The two companies cooperated on the design to avoid a format war like the one waged between 8-tracks and cassette tapes. The Australian Broadcasting Company explains the exciting new technology:

ANNOUNCER: The player itself is a huge advance over conventional record players because it gives you the same sort of control you have on a tape recorder—fast forward and fast reverse scanning, pause and stop buttons, and the ability to instantly select any track you want.

One of those early CD players cost about $1000, but prices came down quickly. Within five years, CD sales had overtaken vinyl records—three years later they overtook cassette tapes. But the digital revolution CDs helped spawn would eventually lead to the format’s demise when hard drives became more efficient methods for storing music.

That’s this week’s WORLD History Book. I’m Collin Garbarino.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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