A Stones Throw from a Memory


The Rosetta Stone and KM

Francois Champollion decoded the Rosetta Stone in 1822, 23 years after its discovery by French soldiers.  It was etched sometime around 196 BC.  It is not unique today due to other discoveries but it was an important discovery that led the way for historians to decode ancient hieroglyphs. The reason this stone is so important is because it presents essentially the same text in three separate scripts; the upper text is Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, the middle portion Demotic script, and the lowest Ancient Greek.

For history fans (if you are interested) the stone sits in the British Museum , it has been replicated and placed in museums throughout the world.

Building Material – Explicit Knowledge

The stone was found as building material.    And let’s go back now..

In previous years the family of the Ptolemies had lost control of certain parts of the country. It had taken their armies some time to put down opposition in the Delta, and parts of southern Upper Egypt, particularly Thebes, were not yet back under the government’s control.

Before the Ptolemaic era (that is before about 332 BC), decrees in hieroglyphs such as this were usually set up by the king. It shows how much things had changed from Pharaonic times that the priests, the only people who had kept the knowledge of writing hieroglyphs, were now issuing such decrees. The list of good deeds done by the king for the temples hints at the way in which the support of the priests was ensured.

The decree is inscribed on the stone three times, in hieroglyphic (suitable for a priestly decree), demotic (the native script used for daily purposes), and Greek (the language of the administration). The importance of this to Egyptology is immense.

Soon after the end of the fourth century AD, when hieroglyphs had gone out of use, the knowledge of how to read and write them disappeared. In the early years of the nineteenth century, some 1400 years later, scholars were able to use the Greek inscription on this stone as the key to decipher them. — British Museum

And then.. when the tacit knowledge transfer stopped ..

Today’s Stones

Recently, I met a woman who is convinced that if she writes the mechanics of what she knows down on a piece of paper that her explicit knowledge will be enough to help her organization continue her work.    I sat in a room with her and some junior staff and observed that all of the important information about what she actually does is not being captured.     A good analogy is that she is teaching people to take over her singing on Broadway but the only thing they are getting is the words on the paper and maybe some small written part of the music but not even the whole tune.


“And we found the page with the chorus and some notes were scribbled at the top, we could only assume that the tune went like this .. da da da… di di di”

Once it was found..

They found the stone and realized that it meant something, it had some value and it was “key” to unlocking great mysteries and stories.  It is language.. ontologies.. taxonomies… ontological linkage.. SEMANTICS!   It took 20 years and 20 years with guessing and assumptions.  It is safe to say that we still don’t know the whole tune today <– analogy reference.      In other words,  the fact that we lost so much tacit knowledge and that the stories and teachings were not transferred by the priests with the words, the result is that it takes a great deal of time to discover the meaning and intent of the language.  

Writing it down isn’t enough

In the knowledge management field there is a great focus on explicit knowledge transfer.  The focus on tacit transfer because of the perception that it is soft or intangible creates a knowledge vacuum.    In our short human history, we have already experienced the result of forgetting.  Over and again, we forget.  We write things down but it isn’t enough.

We must pass things down and write them down, for knowledge transfer to work, we have to hear the music and feel the words to know the song and we will sing it once we know it.