The “Rosette Stone” was taken by the British from the French and then to Britain in 1802 after which it was deciphered. So, it would appear that Egyptian hieroglyphs were only deciphered after this date. But at what stage did they find out for the first time that the Old Kingdom came to an end in 2200 BC?
Can anybody help?
Greetings, Alewyn. I've done some digging through my library and online resources because your question has merit. You're right to mention the Rosetta Stone, although I would extend to that other epigraphic sources under study in the early nineteenth century. The decipherer of hieroglyphs, Jean-François Champollion, could affect only so many results from the Rosetta Stone because the English had it and he was stuck in France. His first successful decipherment in 1822, in fact, was from drawings provided by a friend who had visited Abu Simbel. He deciphered the name of Ramesses, which of course considerably predates the Rosetta Stone. A number of years followed before anyone could functionally translate Egyptian hieroglyphs, but Champollion got the ball solidly rolling. Pity he died so young because our grasp of the script would've been much quicker.
Nothing substantial or meaningful was known about ancient Egypt until its scripts were deciphered; this is not just hieroglyphs but hieratic and demotic, as well. But I'm droning on, as is my tendency. There is no easy answer to your question, Alewyn. Neither I nor anyone else could pin down a specific person who established the endpoint of the Old Kingdom. It's never that easy. As with any other field of historical study, Egyptology has been a growing discipline involving countless brilliant minds and an ever-increasing reliance on modern science.
Through the Etana database I found a free and downloadable PDF for J.H. Breasted's Ancient Records of Egypt (Volume 1) which was one of the seminal books of its time. Anyone interested in downloading it can visit this page and click on the second link for Volume I of Breasted's work; a PDF will open on your screen. Alternately, to go straight to the PDF download, click this link:
PDF download: Ancient Records of Egypt (Volume 1)
I'm recommending this book for two reasons: first, it's quite old (1906) and gives one a glimpse of how the chronology of pharaonic Egypt was understood by early scholars; and two, Breasted goes into some detail on how the chronology, dynasties, and royal lines were understood in his time. Breasted, from the University of Chicago and founder of the Oriental Institute, was one of the giants of his time. Yes, the substance of some of his material is outdated by this time, which is not surprising, but Breasted represents one of the brightest minds of the nascent state of Egyptology in the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century. He is one of the early scholars who helped to begin the polishing of our understanding of Egyptian chronology.
In substance the origin of this chronology goes back to the third century BCE and the accounts of Manetho, with whom everyone here is no doubt familiar. Manetho's original history of Egypt doesn't survive but has been preserved in parts through the writing of other writers of his era. It was Manetho who established the original system of dynasties with which modern historians first worked. Although the lists of kings provided by Manetho are quite garbled and difficult to follow, which is the result of both simple inaccuracies on Manetho's part and his need to write all of the names in Greek variants, we still follow a dynastic chronology that's similar to the original one derived by Manetho. The system of periods (Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, New Kingdom, intermediate periods, et cetera) was developed in more recent times.
The system of dynasties is not static. It continues to undergo enhancements as new evidence comes to light. For example, it was long thought that a mysterious queen named Nicrotis was the last monarch to rule Dynasty 6, although scholars eventually came to terms with the fact that there simply is no real evidence for her. Rather, it is now argued that after the long reign of Pepi II, a short-lived king named Merenre II reigned for perhaps a year. I think this was becoming clear even in Breasted's time, so it's not entirely fresh news.
When you examine old books written by Egyptology you will invariably see quite a spread in dates and years. Our knowledge of specific dates prior to the Persian period is still on unsolid grounds, but it has grown a lot more stable through the years. Modern science is essential for the polishing of timelines. Carbon dating, for example, has shown that the pyramid of Pepi II dates to around 2300 BCE; the conventional reign for Pepi II is usually in the range of 2290-2196 BCE, so the carbon-dating results are very close. Moreover, archaeoclimatology analyses of numerous Near Eastern sites have fixed the 4.2 kiloyear event beginning at about 2200 BCE.
This is one of those cases where science and historical inquiry mesh very well. Dynasty 6 would've ended around 2200 BCE, and both the textual and archaeological records reveal a sharp decrease at this time in the power of central authority in Egypt. In short course Egypt devolved into the civil wars of the First Intermediate Period. Such collapses are seen elsewhere at the same time, as with the Akkadians in Iraq. The 4.2 kiloyear event marked a rapid onset of drought from North Africa, through the Levant and Mesopotamia, and all the way up into the Hindu Kush. The widespread failures of crops and death of livestock would've played havoc on the kingdoms of this period. And as it happens, we see this very thing happening in Egypt after Pepi II and Merenre II. It is the sharp turn in socio-politics and the breakdown of central authority that clearly mark the transition between Dynasty 6 of the Old Kingdom and Dynasty 7 of the First Intermediate Period.
I apologize for the length of this post as well as for an inability to name a specific person who devised the chronological end for the Old Kingdom. But like I said, it's not that simple: it's a complicated mixture of historical investigations going back well over a century and the advent of modern science.
On a concluding note, I can't promise I'll be a regular participant in this discussion. I realize that the OLB has putative connections to the Near East but the majority of its content is beyond my scope of research. I don't know that I'd have much to contribute. But if anyone has a question about ancient Egypt, please know I'm available. You might end up with a tedious post like this one, and I certainly can't promise I have all the answers, but I'm willing to help where I can.