Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Persepolis Fortification Archive (PFA) Project Annual Report 2006-2007

[The following is a very slightly altered (addition of hyperlinks) version of the text of an 

2006-2007 Annual Report

Matthew W. Stolper

The Oriental Institute’s Persian Expedition discovered the Persepolis Fortification tablets in 1933; the Iranian government loaned the tablets to the Oriental Institute for study in 1936; they became available for study in 1937; they have been under study, sometimes by teams and sometimes by individual scholars, for seventy years now. Despite this long history, however, the tablets and the work on them have rarely appeared in the Annual Reports of the Oriental Institute. The Fiftieth Anniversary Report for 1968/69 mentioned Richard T. Hallock’s long-awaited publication of the Elamite texts from 2,000 Persepolis tablets (Hallock 1969), and in last year’s report, former Oriental Institute Research Archivist and ongoing Institute Research Associate Charles E. Jones even mentioned the tablets in connection with a Project.

This is the first report of that Project, so it seems a good idea to introduce the history, contents, and significance of the Fortification tablets, and to mention the shadow of crisis under which the Persepolis Fortification Archive Project has come together, before reporting on the last year’s progress. In fact, there has been much progress, so readers who already know about the past and present of the tablets from the Oriental Institute’s News & Notes, Winter 2007, may want to skip these preliminaries.

Background of the Project

When the Oriental Institute’s excavations at Persepolis began in 1931, James Henry Breasted thought of the palaces and sculptures of Darius, Xerxes, and their successors as “the full noonday of Persian civilized development, forming a noble heritage which the modern world is now only beginning to rediscover.” But he also believed that “our responsibility at Persepolis could not possibly be confined to an investigation of the great group of palaces, but must include also the related evidences which surround the place and which fuse together into a great body of cultural remains” (Breasted 1933: 316 f.). A few months after he wrote these words, in the autumn of 1933, the Persepolis team found the Fortification tablets. They were to answer, in ways that surpassed Breasted’s expectations, his hope to have a broad, deep, and concrete historical context for the palaces.

Workers at Persepolis began to build the palaces under Darius I soon after about 520 B.C., and their successors continued to build, adorn, and renovate them until the last moments of the Persian empire, when Alexander the Great conquered Persepolis, occupied it, basked in its luxury, then looted it, and burned it in 330 B.C.. The standing ruins were still dramatic sights when the first western travelers began to look with serious attention at remains of the ancient world in the 1600s and 1700s. The decipherment of the cuneiform scripts began in the early 1800s with multilingual inscriptions that early explorers recorded at Persepolis, and that decipherment was the key that unlocked 2,000 earlier years of the ancient writing, almost doubling the sweep of the historical record. The Persian empire, whose kings left these inscriptions, had stretched from India and Central Asia to Greece and Egypt, dwarfing the ferocious Assyrian and Babylonian empires. In fact, it had incorporated all the imperial peoples of the ancient Near East, and with them, their literate cultures.

From the point of view of 1931, therefore, Persepolis was the starting gate from which the ancient history of the Near East had been explored, and it was one of the culminations that synthesized that history. It was the place where one could hope to see the Persian empire from the inside. The royal inscriptions told how great, good, and powerful Darius, Xerxes, and Artaxerxes thought they were, or wished others to think they were, but the inscriptions did not tell how they got, held, and ran their empire or how they lived in their own Persian homeland. So when the Oriental Institute found tablets with written records in the homeland, great attention was paid and great hopes were raised.

The discovery was a stroke of good luck. In 1933, the excavators were building a ramp for truck access to the terrace. They cleared away remains of a bastion in the mudbrick fortification wall on the edge of the terrace, probably at an ancient point of access to the service buildings around the palaces. They found two little rooms full of clay tablets. Hence the name, Fortification tablets, not because they say anything about fortifications, but because they were found in the wall. Within six months, the excavator, Ernst Herzfeld, could give a good description of the find as a whole (Anonymous 1934: 231–32). There are three main components: first, tablets with texts in cuneiform script, in Elamite language, along with seal impressions — thousands of these, probably tens of thousands, some intact, more of them shattered; second, tablets with texts in Aramaic script, in Aramaic language, most of them also with seal impressions — fewer than a thousand of these; third, tablets without any texts, but with seal impressions — perhaps five or six thousand of these. And there are also some unique pieces: one tablet with a text in Babylonian script and language, one in Greek script and language, one in Phrygian script and language, a few with impressions not of seals, but of Persian or Athenian coins. Herzfeld guessed that there were as many as 30,000 tablets and fragments.

This first appraisal was a blow to the great hopes that the discovery had excited. It was daunting to realize that most of the texts were in Elamite. This was the indigenous language of southwestern Iran, but the least well understood of the Achaemenid languages. It was discouraging to realize that the texts were not about colorful deeds of kings and commanders and priests and eunuchs, but only about barley and flour and wine and sheep, mundane, even trivial stuff. They were not even a long record; they were all dated within less than twenty years (509–494 B.C.). They represented a single ancient information system, but a system that was dense, detailed, complex, and hard to reassemble from its bits.

So the real work of discovery began after the tablets were excavated, and it went very slowly. Only one other Achaemenid Elamite tablet of this kind had ever been found, so there was no comparison to go on, and everything had to start from the bottom. When World War II began, the team working on the tablets shrank to a few scholars, working mostly in isolation, who spent their entire lives on these puzzles. Foremost among them were Richard T. Hallock, who studied the Elamite texts, and Raymond A. Bowman, who studied the Aramaic texts. Bowman’s work was not completed and published, but when Hallock published his magisterial treatment of 2,087 Elamite texts (Hallock 1969), their significance began to become clear and their information began to transform many ways of understanding the Iranian past.

The texts provided a very large new corpus for the study of the latest phase of the Elamite language, a language written in Iran for more than a thousand years before the Persians arrived there, and known to modern scholars since the first decipherment of the cuneiform scripts, but still barely comprehensible. The Elamite texts also abound in transcribed Iranian names and titles, so they also gave an immense new corpus for the study of Old Iranian languages, especially the Iranian of the Achaemenid court (otherwise represented by a few royal inscriptions) and the terminology of production and administration (otherwise represented by loanwords in other ancient languages). The texts record a complex administration, so they offer a basis for reinterpreting fragmentary administrative records from other regions of the empire. Perhaps the contents of the texts are narrow, even dull, recording storage and payouts of food and drink, yet the institution that kept the texts dealt with almost the whole gamut of imperial society, from lowly workers and craftsmen to the king’s own family and in-laws. The tablets are dated and sealed, providing a vast corpus for the study of Achaemenid Persian art, its iconography, development, technique, and social context. The study of the seals on the tablets that Hallock published, undertaken in 1979 by Margaret Root (University of Michigan) and Mark Garrison (Trinity University), resulted in a definitive treatment of more than 1,400seals represented by more than 3,000 impressions (Garrison and Root 2001, the first of three volumes).

By showing the Achaemenids no longer as gaudy, operatic despots, but as rulers of real people with real needs, no longer as illiterate barbarian rulers of more civilized subjects, but as successors to millennia of statecraft and administrative technique, no longer as borrowers of the arts of other lands, but as the patrons and creators of vital artistic programs, this large sample of Fortification texts changed the direction of every form of modern study of Achaemenid history, art, institutions, and languages. No serious treatment of the Achaemenid empire can omit the view from the imperial center that the Fortification tablets afford. In this sense, the great hopes of 1933 began to be realized after 1969.

The Tablets Today

The Oriental Institute’s permit to explore Persepolis and its surroundings was the first concession granted under a newly rewritten antiquities law that ended the French archeological monopoly in Iran. The loan of the tablets in 1936 was another extraordinary expression of trust. The parties to this decision probably did not realize either how much patience the loan would entail or what historical and philological fruit the loaned material would bear.

In 2004, the Oriental Institute returned to the National Museum of Tehran three hundred of the loaned tablets that had been published by Hallock in 1969, after complete sets of digital images of them had been made and edited. This was not the first return of loaned Persepolis tablets (others had gone back in 1948 and in 1951), but it attracted wide attention. Most of the publicity was favorable, treating this gesture as an affirmation of long-standing academic trust even in strained political circumstances. But a few months later, this attention was followed by legal proceedings that sought to have the Persepolis tablets seized and sold.

The grounds of the suit and the principles at stake were discussed by Oriental Institute Director Gil Stein in News & Notes, Winter 2007 (Stein 2007). Since then, the stately legal process has moved along without great changes. Motions, continuances, judgments, and appeals lie ahead, but the threat still hangs over the tablets. If the plaintiffs succeed, the tablets maybe seized, sold, and dispersed, and the integrity of the original discovery that is so crucial to interpreting it may be lost forever. If they do not prevail, Iran may demand immediate return of the material, making further study difficult, impractical, or even impossible. While the legal process moves on, the Persepolis Fortification Archive is available for recording, analysis, and reporting. Like salvage excavations in the face of a rising dam, the Persepolis Fortification Archive Project is coming together to face an emergency.

What is it that is really in peril? Of course, the tablets themselves are precious artifacts, literally priceless documents of Iranian cultural heritage. But the Oriental Institute is a research institution that deals with artifacts as vessels of knowledge. So what remains to be learned from the tablets and the archive? What knowledge is at risk? To paraphrase another assessment of another crisis, there are three kinds of things still to be learned: the known knowns, that is, more and better information of the kinds we are already using to interpret the archive; the known unknowns, that is, pending matters not yet worked out and whole classes of documents not yet thoroughly studied; and the unknown unknowns, that is, complete surprises of the kind that are often hidden in such floods of information.

There are a lot of known knowns still to be known. The texts deal with the storage and payment of food for various people on the government payroll. The records were mostly produced by five main branches of an organization: one dealing with grain, one with beer and wine, one with fruit, one with animals, and one with personnel. Records were produced at about 150 villages and about a dozen district centers, then brought into Persepolis to be compiled into six-month, twelve-month, or two-year summaries. Of course, no text actually describes all this, with an organizational chart and an information flow chart. Comprehension of the information system and the institution comes from a network of connections among texts, seal impressions, place names, personnel, commodities, work gangs, etc., forming a sort of tension structure that becomes more stable as more points are tied in. A large part of what remains to be gained is more data points and more connections in the network.

There are at least two big known unknowns. Almost everything so far known about the Persepolis Fortification Archive comes from the Elamite texts. The other large components of the archive, the Aramaic tablets and the uninscribed, sealed tablets, still await modern recording and thorough study. The Aramaic tablets, short administrative records with inked or incised texts of one to ten lines, are the largest known unpublished corpus of Imperial Aramaic. They are precisely dated and contextualized, and they are sure to challenge many of the suppositions of Aramaic paleography and epigraphy. The uninscribed tablets show impressions of thousands of different seals, making the archive one of the largest repertoires of seal imagery from anywhere in the ancient Near East. Furthermore, the seal impressions on a few Aramaic tablets and a few uninscribed tablets were made by seals that were also impressed on Elamite tablets, confirming what the findspot implies, namely, that all these classes of documents come from a common administrative setting. At the same time, most of the seal impressions on Aramaic and uninscribed tablets are new, made by unknown seals, implying that these documents originated with different individuals or offices of the overall administrative institution. The alreadyintricate relationships among the Elamite documents are only one dimension of the Persepolis Fortification Archive; the Aramaic and uninscribed tablets present a second and a third dimension. The greatest challenge for future work on the archive will be to understand the relationships among these three information streams and their implications for the institutional context.

The unknown unknowns, of course, cannot be predicted. New words and new seal impressions are plentiful. Some texts show new details that revise old ideas. The most unexpected find so far is an ordinary-looking Persepolis tablet with a text in Old Persian language and Old Persian script (Stolper and Tavernier 2007). We are in the laughable position of explaining why it comes as a surprise that at least one Persian in Persia wrote Persian in Persian script and expected someone else to know how to file what he wrote. Yet it is a surprise, and an important one: hitherto, Old Persian language and writing were only found in royal inscriptions; this tablet is the first “practical” Old Persian text ever found, anywhere. It will change the way we think about language and literacy at the imperial courts.

The Persepolis Fortification Archive Project

The Persepolis Fortification Archive Project came together to deal with this wealth of information and wealth of problems in these emergency conditions, with two main aims: first, to record as much of the archive as possible, at as high quality as possible, as quickly as possible; second, to make the information available widely, quickly, and continuously as we record it. Acting on these aims means using electronic media for recording and presentation, possibilities that would not have been available to earlier workers on the Persepolis tablets.

For several years Chuck Jones and I collaborated with Gene Gragg (now emeritus Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and emeritus Director of the Oriental Institute) and with Sandra Schloen (Oriental Institute Internet Database Specialist) on a trial project to record and present Elamite Fortification tablets that had been edited by Hallock but were not yet published. We adapted some of the programs and standards that were being developed for the electronic version of the Chicago Hittite Dictionary. The Persepolis Fortification Archive became one of the pilot projects of the Online Cultural Heritage Research Environment (OCHRE), the suite of online tools developed by David and Sandra Schloen for recording, analyzing, and presenting all kinds of textual, linguistic, and archaeological information. Because OCHRE is designed to have this range, it is particularly suitable for the Persepolis Fortification Archive, where records of different kinds that were stored together in antiquity — Elamite, Aramaic, and glyptic — are now the provinces of separate academic fields (Assyriology, Northwest Semitic, Art History), but where understanding any of them depends on integrating all of them. Our pilot project with OCHRE has become a kernel of the Persepolis Fortification Archive Project.

With the help of graduate student John Nielsen, I began to make and edit digital pictures of Elamite Fortification tablets in 2003. This is less simple and routine than it sounds, even for a good photographer and a good cuneiformist. Many of the tablets have more or less the size and shape of a human tongue; the script is idiosyncratic; the seal impressions are often incomplete and the images in them are not always easy to recognize. As a result, just seeing the tablet correctly takes some experience, and most tablets need many set-ups to get full coverage and good lighting of all the text and seal impressions. During the last year, we have expanded and accelerated this process, thanks to a crew of assiduous photographers and photo editors. The mainstays have been gradu ate students Elise McArthur, Foy Scalf, and Jennifer Gregory, undergraduates Ivan Cangemi and Elizabeth Davidson, and Oriental Institute Volunteers Irene Glassner, Louise Golland, and Joe Rosner. We also had help from graduate students Monica Crews, Toby Hartnell, Ben Thomas, and Adam Miglio. We have improved our digital cameras, computers, data transfer,storage, and backup, but thanks to these inventive photographers, we have also learned to put other technologies to better use: pot-holders for handling hot lights, for instance, or twist-ties for propping up oddly-shaped tablets. These digital images are not only our permanent record of the tablets, they are also meant to be linked to the texts as they are put online, changing the ways in which the documents can be studied. This kind of detailed illustration has never been practical in conventional paper publication, and the large number of Fortification texts made even the conventional hand copies that are usual in publications of cuneiform texts impractical. As a result, until now most scholars who work with the Elamite Fortification texts have had very little idea what they look like.

The Elamite tablet photography began with support from a grant from the Oriental Institute Director’s discretionary budget and continued with support from another grant from the Provost’s Program in Academic Technology Innovation (ATI), made possible by the collaboration of Lec Maj (Research Computing, Division of Humanities). This ATI grant also allows us to employ undergraduate Jason Rosetto to scan an array of documents produced by earlier work on the Fortification Archive, including photographic negatives and prints made in the early 1940s under a grant from the Works Projects Administration, as well manuscripts, indexes, notes, and sketches produced by Hallock and Bowman. The scans are held on the Humanities server and made available to Persepolis Fortification Archive Project collaborators as needed. The main purpose of the ATI grant, however, has been to allow Lec Maj to help us explore advanced technologies which may help with conserving and/or recording the tablets, including various 3-D imaging techniques, CT scanning, volumetric subsurface laser scanning, and others. So far, we have some interesting preliminary results, but we have not yet found reliable, practical miracle devices.

The biggest step of the last year has been to form an editorial board to approach all the parts of the archive in a single, concerted effort. Annalisa Azzoni (Vanderbilt University) is working on the Aramaic texts, beginning with the incomplete editions by Raymond A. Bowman of about 500 of the Aramaic Fortification tablets. Elspeth Dusinberre (University of Colorado) will treat the seal impressions on the Aramaic tablets. Wouter Henkelman (Collège de France, University of Leiden) will finish Hallock’s unpublished editions of about 2,500 Elamite Fortification tablets. Mark Garrison (Trinity University) will oversee work on the daunting array of seal impressions, including those on the unpublished Hallock texts, those on new tablets as they are selected and recorded, and those on the uninscribed tablets. Gene Gragg and Chuck Jones continue their collaboration on the analysis and treatment of Elamite tablets, old and new. I survey and catalog boxes of as-yet unexamined and unrecorded tablets and fragments, helping to select items for others to work on. I also select and edit new Elamite texts.

In November 2007 most of these editors took part in a previously scheduled colloquium devoted to the Persepolis Fortification Archive in the context of first-millennium Near Eastern archives, held at the Collège de France and the University of Chicago’s new Paris Center. The proceedings, including preliminary reports on several phases of the project, as well as surveys of older work on the Fortification tablets, are to be published late in 2007 (Briant, Henkelman, and Stolper n.d.). The meeting was also the occasion to recruit a few colleagues with authoritative reputations in Achaemenid studies (including Rémy Boucharlat [Lyon], Pierre Briant [Paris], Amélie Kuhrt [London], and Margaret Root [Ann Arbor]), as an advisory board to help with international liaison and longer-term policy issues.

All the editors made several visits to Chicago during 2006 to begin their assignments. During Annalisa Azzoni’s first visit, we discussed the problem of making adequate images of the Aramaic texts, something that posed a range of problems that images of the cuneiform texts did not encounter. We invited advice from the reigning authority on making high-quality pictures of West Semitic inscriptions of all kinds, Bruce Zuckerman of the West Semitic Research Project (WSRP) at the University of Southern California. He came, saw, and, being in Chicago, made no small plans. By the end of the summer, thanks to Bruce’s initiative, the Oriental Institute submitted a major grant proposal to the Andrew Mellon Foundation, seeking support for a two-year collaboration between the Oriental Institute and the West Semitic Research Project to make high-quality images of the Persepolis Aramaic tablets (and a selection of the uninscribed tablets) and distribute them online. The proposal was funded and the project began in January 2007; a pilot project and equipment shakedown in March went well; and the main phase is beginning as I write this, in July 2007. A Persepolis Fortification Archive Project imaging space is being set up in one of the rooms recently vacated by the Chicago Hittite Dictionary’s move, and Dennis Campbell (a recent NELC Ph.D. and long-time CHD and eCHD worker), John Nielsen (NELC), and Clinton Moyer are being trained by members of the WSRP group (Marilyn Lundberg, John Melzian, and Ken Zuckerman) to make and process the pictures.

This project will produce two kinds of images. One set will be very high-resolution digital images, using large-format scanning backs, long exposures, and filtered or cross-polarized light as necessary. The other set will be made with a technique called Polynomial Texture Mapping (PTM), developed a few years ago by Hewlett Packard Labs. The PMT images are captured with a camera and lights mounted in a dome, and then knitted in a way that allows a viewer at a computer to manipulate the apparent light source, as if holding a tablet under a light and turning it back and forth. This is very useful, of course, for recording information in low relief that one wants to examine in shifting light, like seal impressions, incised inscriptions, or impressed cuneiform texts.

The technology for capturing these images is the visibly glamorous part of this phase of the project. More ambitious, more challenging, and more consequential, but less immediately visible are the plans for distributing the information. It is to be done online, on a rolling, continuous basis, as quickly as the images can be edited, cataloged, and given basic editorial data. This bypasses some of the production costs and limitations of conventional hardcopy publication; it also bypasses some of the delay that arises from common conventions of academic study and publication, a delay that cannot be accepted under these emergency conditions. If this two-year project, concentrating on the comparatively small but exceptionally important group of Aramaic Fortification tablets, is successful, we hope to adapt and expand it to the entire Persepolis Fortification Archive.

The information will be presented both via OCHRE, based at the Oriental Institute, and via the WSRP’s long-established Web site, InscriptiFact. We also expect to collaborate with other online projects. Editions of Elamite and Aramaic texts will also be distributed via, and images of seal impressions and associated data also will be distributed via Achemenet and the Musée Achéménide Virtuel et Interactif (MAVI),both sites maintained by the Chair of History and Civilization of the Achaemenid empire at the Collège de France. Transliterations of Elamite texts, along with scans of the tablets, will be distributed via the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative at the University of California, Los Angeles. There are two reasons for this apparent redundancy. First, OCHRE is the unique site and uniquely structured means for keeping all the components of the Fortification Archive linked to one another, the best electronic counterpart of the original composition of the archive as it was found; but OCHRE is in continuing development, while other relevant projects have established sites already set up to present some parts of the data immediately. Second, the several components of the Persepolis Fortification Archive material (cuneiform, Aramaic, glyptic) each have distinct, only partially overlapping audiences (Assyriologists, Semitists, Art Historians) served by these sites.

Thanks to the painstaking work of our predecessors, especially indefatigable Hal- lock and Bowman, we have a large number of Fortification tablets ready to record and distribute, plenty of material to prime the project pumps and get the information flow going. We also have a very large balance of tablets and fragments that have not yet been cleaned and conserved, recorded, nor, in some cases, even examined closely.

When the tablets came to Chicago in 1936, they were packed in about 2,500 cardboard boxes, each containing between one and twenty-five pieces. Hallock and Bowman removed individual tablets from these boxes as they worked on them, numbering and storing them separately. The two of them, other early team members, and the WPA project photographers examined at least 1,500 of the original boxes. By 1980 the original cardboard boxes had deteriorated seriously, so Chuck Jones led a team that transferred the pieces, box by box, to new plastic boxes of about the same size, making notes of each box as they worked.

This outwardly simple task required four years, and the daunting appearance of the boxes explains why. Some hold well-preserved, solid tablets or large, solid fragments with apparently legible texts or beautifully clear seal impressions. Others hold pieces whose surfaces are obscured by dirt and encrustations. Others hold flakes and fragments that will never provide useful information. It takes only a few moments to realize that planning the project necessitates taking an inventory of the boxes, both to identify the items that will reward an immediate investment of time and attention and items that may reward later effort, and to estimate how many pieces of each kind there are and how many there were, the overall shape of the original Archive.

In 2006 I began a rough inventory of the boxes, recording what items had been removed and edited, what kinds of items were left (Elamite, Aramaic, uninscribed), and what condition they were in. I transcribed occasional well-preserved Elamite texts and recorded exceptional items, such as the Old Persian tablet (which looked completely unexceptional as it sat in the box next to other Fortification tablets). I entered the information in OCHRE, along with snapshots of the boxes as a guide for future planning. The first part of this inventory, covering about the quarter of the boxes, was the basis for the paper that Chuck Jones and I gave at the Paris conference, “How Many Fortification Tablets Are There?” Our estimates: 20,000–25,000 tablets and fragments, representing 15,000–18,000 original documents, about 70% Elamite, 20% uninscribed, 5% Aramaic.

Only a few thousand of these are in good enough condition to provide useful texts and seal images immediately. Thousands more need conservation, cleaning, and stabilization of the inscribed and sealed surfaces before they can be usefully recorded, requiring painstaking effort by skilled conservators working under the oversight of the Oriental Institute’s chief conservator, Laura D’Alessandro. Monica Hudak has begun work on some of the tablets, giving us some idea of what we can expect, and we have received a one-year emergency grant from the National Geographic Society’s Committee for Research and Exploration that allows the project to hire her full-time for a year. NGS-CRE normally makes grants only to support fieldwork, so this award is a signal recognition of the urgency and importance of our task.

We have also received a grant from the PARSA Community Foundation that will allow us to acquire a binocular microscope dedicated to the project and to hire another part-time conservator. This is also a gratifying award, since it is part of the very first funding cycle of this organization, dedicated to Iranian-American interests, including the cultural and historical heritage that the Fortification tablets embody. And thanks especially to the initiative of Laura D’Alessandro, we have also received a grant from the Women’s Board of the University of Chicago that allows us to acquire a Compact Phoenix Laser Cleaning System. This is a device that will speed the delicate final part of the cleaning process. It literally blasts away the last fine layers of dirt and concretion over the cuneiform signs and seal impressions without compromising the underlying surface. We expect it to come online in 2008.


To describe our problem, our circumstances, and our work, I gave a talk to a combined audience of the Oriental Institute’s Breasted Society and the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations in January 2007, and I gave another version of it as the first Musa Sabi Lecture on Iranian Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, in March. Earlier, in October, The University of Chicago Magazine discussed the legal travails of the Fortification tablets (Puma 2006), and when we published the Old Persian tablet online (the first, I hope, in a series of such project bulletins), the University’s press office sent out a news release that was picked up by the Financial Times and National Geographic’s online services, among others, and that led to an interview with the Persian-language service of Voice of America. The best way to keep abreast of developments, to see related news items from many sources and points of view, and also to see some of the past scholarship on the tablets, is to visit the Persepolis Fortification Archive Project blog that Chuck Jones set up at, averaging about thirty visitors a day since it began in Autumn 2006).


Anonymous. 1934. “Recent Discoveries at Persepolis,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 1934: 226–32.

Breasted, James Henry. 1933. The Oriental Institute. The University of Chicago Survey 12. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Briant, Pierre; Wouter F. M. Henkleman; and Matthew W. Stolper, editors. Forthcoming. Les archives des Fortifications de Persépolis dans le monde achéménide. Persika 11. Paris: de Boccard.

Hallock, Richard T. 1969. Persepolis Fortification Tablets. Oriental Institute Publications 92. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Puma, Amy Braverman. 2006. “Worth millions … or priceless?” The University of Chicago Magazine, October 2006: 16–19.

Stein, Gil J. 2007. “A Heritage Threatened: the Persepolis Tablets Lawsuit and the Oriental Institute.” Oriental Institute News & Notes 192: 3–5.

Stolper, Matthew W. 2007. “The Persepolis Fortification Tablets.” Oriental Institute News & Notes 192: 6–9.

Stolper, Matthew W., and Jan Tavernier. 2007. “From the Persepolis Fortification Archive Project, 1: An Old Persian Administrative Tablet from the Persepolis.” ARTA 2007.001.


This Annual Report is republished here with the kind permission of the Oriental Institute Membership Office. The Oriental Institute Annual Reports are available for members as one of the privileges of membership. They are not for sale to the general public. They contain yearly summaries of the activities of the Institute’s faculty, staff, and research projects, as well as descriptions of special events and other Institute functions.

See linked data for Persepolis via awld.js 

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Arta Update

Arta: Achaemenid Research on Texts and Archaeology

A new direct link to the homepage of this excellent journal.

Achemenet / MAVI update


Prof. Pierre Briant

Launch of MAVI, the Virtual Achaemenid Museum

From 1999 onwards a main focus of the newly created chair has been to contribute to the development of an encompassing Internet platform. The project aims to be, on the one hand, a crossroads of communications and exchanges between specialists based at a whole range of different countries, and, on the other hand, a repertory of existing documentation, which can be accessed and handled by newly-developed tools. It is against this background that, in the summer of 2000, was created. The site, re-developed in 2005, will soon celebrate its sixth anniversary. Throughout the global academic community it is nowadays considered to be the central locus for Achaemenid Studies. Another branch of the aforementioned project had hitherto not yet been developed, however, as a result of technical difficulties: the gathering and rendering accessible of tens of thousands of Achaemenid objects, originating from the vast expanses between the Indus and the Mediterranean, created during the period of the Great Kings’ supremacy over these regions (550-330 BC), and since then dispersed over a dozens of different museum and institutions all over the world.

The first contacts and reflections on the project between Pierre Briant and José Paumard (Maître de conférences de Génie informatique at Paris-XIII), at the end of 2001, quickly led to the conclusion that a custom-made site would be a necessity, that this site would require functions that were not yet fully developed at that point, and that these functions would be embedded in software that had to be specifically written for the site, which would take the shape of an immense on-line data-base. Once the scientific part of the project had been precisely delineated and approved, José Paumard invested all his research time to developing specific software and building the electronic architecture of the nascent “musée achéménide virtuel et interactif” (MAVI). In order to help us conduct the project in the right direction, we asked Philippe Bertin, a computer consultant, site developer and graphic designer, to join the team. In addition, Pierre Briant was backed by an international steering committee charged with the task of negotiating with the world’s largest museums and institutions, which are also the richest in terms of Achaemenid objects. Among these are the British Museum, the Musée du Louvre, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, but also American, Dutch, German, Swiss and Iranian museums. All these have welcomed our project with great enthusiasm. By consequence, we have been able, in the course of the subsequent years, to collect almost 8,000 objects of which we now possess about ten thousand images in a very high resolution, stored on a server donated to the project. At the same time, thanks to the data provided to us by the cooperating institutions, but also thanks to the work of Marie-Françoise Clergeau, Salima Larabi and part-time aides, every object is accompanied by a file containing a highly detailed description that meets academic standards. Thanks to fine-tuned technical innovations, the Internet user can visit a given collection, but can also create his own personal archive (which he may save and reuse during a subsequent session), submit queries (thanks to the powerful Sinequa® search engine), and has access to an on-line help function (which gives him instructions by means of animations). Simultaneously, the project also aims at a wider public and for this purpose internal navigation has been expedited. In addition, an animated introduction (using Warmseason® software) on the Achaemenid empire, written by P. Briant and created by Ph. Bertin, as well as several modes to visualise the contents of the site have been put in place. Fundamentally, the MAVI program enables its staff to accomplish a task of prime importance for both the present and the future. In fact, the cataloguing, archiving and consulting of data on cultural patrimony have become decisive concerns in current thinking about cultural and scientific affairs. The start of the 21st century marks a moment particularly well-conditioned for creating technical solutions for problems that cannot be solved by the existence of ‘real’ museums alone: preserving cultural patrimony and rendering it accessible. The joint progress achieved in digitalisation, in data-basing, and in Internet data- transferring, render possible what seemed impossible only yesterday. Today it is therefore the solemn responsibility of researchers and academic institutions to set themselves to the task of gathering data, archive it, and provide an access to those immensely rich artistic, archaeological and cultural archives – now still dispersed over hundreds of locations and publications, museums and their reserves, catalogues,
excavation reports, articles and studies – by engendering a vast international cooperation, not only of specialists of the discipline in narrow sense (historians, archaeologists, museum keepers), but also of those from the humanities at large, from social sciences, and from computer sciences. This, in short, is the philosophy of a project that has by now been partially realised, that has been, and will continue to be, a generator of technological innovation, and that embraces the ideal of being applicable to other academic forums as well. Though we are well aware that there remains much to be done, the response in the daily and weekly press, in France and in Europe (September-October 2006), has shown that the choices we have made are considered to be the right solutions. Simultaneously, a considerable number of the world’s museums have now declared their willingness to join our adventure. Briefly, launched in September 2006 after five years of intense preparation, MAVI remains a project for the future, a project in continuous development.

A brochure in .pdf format can be downloaded at

This text is used with the kind permission of Pierre Briant, and was published in Letter of the Collège 2, 2006-7, p. 15-16. To see the origial contect click on the image below:

Achemenet also reports the following updates:

Nous sommes heureux de vous annoncer la mise en ligne de la nouvelle version du site Achemenet, toujours à l'adresse :

Les entrées ont été recomposées de manière à rendre le site plus facile à consulter.

***Vous pouvez désormais copier et/ou envoyer un lien (URL) vers chaque page du site, grâce à la nouvelle fonction signet (bookmark), disponible en haut à droite de votre écran.

***Parmi les nouveautés du site, nous vous proposons désormais la rubrique "Découverte de l'empire", comprenant une présentation historique sous forme de séquences animées en Flash.
Venez découvrir dès maintenant les séquences "Flash back", "Le Moyen Orient vers 550" et "Pasargades", à l'adresse suivante :
Cette rubrique est également accessible via >Découverte/Discovery

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Kharg Island Old Persian Inscription?

Reports are surfacing of the discovery on Kharg Island, of an Old Persian inscription. The following photo appears upside down in a recent news story.

While it's not about the Persepolis Fortification Archive, it is interesting nevertheless. Until now, the most recently discovered Old Persian text was from the Persepolis Fortification Archive:

Stolper, Matthew W.; Tavernier, Jan. From the Persepolis Fortification Archive Project, 1: An Old Persian Administrative Tablet from the Persepolis Fortification ARTA: Achaemenid Research on Texts and Archaeology, June 2007.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Matthew Stolper's National Geographic Podcast

Old Persian Tablets Offer a Surprise
Matthew Stolper explains why clay tablets from ancient Persepolis, or Takht-e-Jamshid, in Iran are a window into the past. Produced by Lori Wark for NGM Mission Project

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Persepolis Fortification Archive page at the Oriental Institute

The Oriental Institute has published a web-presence for the Persepolis Fortification Archive Project.

The Persepolis Fortification Archive Project is a new phase in recording and distributing the information that brings about these changes, using electronic equipment and media alongside the conventional tool-kits of philology and scholarship. In its early phases, the PFA Project has:

  • Captured and edited conventional digital images of almost a thousand Elamite Fortification tablets, accelerating work that has been under way since 2002;
  • Started to capture and edit very high resolution digital images of hundreds Aramaic Fortification tablets and their seal impressions, as well as uninscribed, sealed Fortification tablets, using large-format scanning backs and Polynomial Texture Mapping apparatus built specifically for the project;
  • Started to explore advanced technologies for recording and conservation of Fortification tablets and fragments (3D scanning, subsurface laser scanning, CT scanning, laser cleaning and others);
  • Formed a team of editors to prepare editions of Elamite and Aramaic Fortification tablets and studies of seal impressions, both those accompanying texts and those on uninscribed tablets, to be distributed on a real-time rolling basis along with images of the tablets;
  • Catalogued, assessed and sorted about a third of the thousands of tablets and fragments that remain to be recorded, to identify priorities for conservation, study and presentation;
  • Set up data structures for recording, linking, analyzing and presenting images and documents in the On-Line Cultural Heritage Environment (OCHRE);
  • Entered co-operative agreements with projects at the Collège de France, the University of Southern California, and UCLA. which will lead to distribution of PFA data through at least three other on-line sources;
  • Established a weblog to collect news reports on the status of the PFA as well as on-line images, articles, and books connected with Persepolis and the Persepolis tablets.

The PFA Project Team:
  • Annalisa Azzoni (Vanderbilt University: Aramaic texts);
  • Elspeth R. M. Dusinberre (University of Colorado: seal impressions on Aramaic texts);
  • Mark B. Garrison (Trinity University: seal impressions on all items);
  • Gene Gragg (Oriental Institute: electronic analysis of Elamite texts);
    Wouter F. M. Henkelman (Collège de France: final edition of Elamite texts from the papers of the late Richard T. Hallock);
  • Charles E. Jones (American School of Classical Studies in Athens: new Elamite texts, weblog);
  • Matthew W. Stolper (Oriental Institute: catalogue, new Elamite texts, project oversight).

Technical Support:
  • Laura d’Alessandro (Oriental Institute: conservation);
  • Marilyn Lundberg (University of Southern California: high-quality imaging of Aramaic and uninscribed tablets);
  • Lec Maj (Humanities Research Computing, University of Chicago: advanced technology application, IT support and liaison);
  • John Sanders (Oriental Institute: IT support);
  • Sandra Schloen (Oriental Institute: OCHRE development and support);
  • Bruce Zuckerman (USC: high-quality imaging of Aramaic and uninscribed tablets).

Student Workers and Volunteers (2006–07):
  • Dennis Campbell (post-doc, NELC);
  • Ivan Cangemi (undergraduate, Classics);
  • Elizabeth Davidson (undergraduate, Classics);
  • Irene Glasner (volunteer, OI);
  • Louise Golland (volunteer, OI);
  • Jennifer Gregory (graduate, NELC);
  • Elise Macarthur (graduate, NELC);
  • Clinton Moyer (graduate, Cornell University);
  • John Nielsen (graduate, NELC);
  • Miller Prosser (graduate, NELC)
  • Foy Scalf (graduate: NELC)

Support for some phases of the PFA Project has been received from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; the Chaire d’Histoire et civilisation du monde achéménide et de l’empire d’Alexandre of the Collège de France; the National Geographic Society Committee for Research and Exploration; the PARSA Community Foundation; the University of Chicago Provost’s Program on Academic Technology Innovation; the University of Chicago Women’s Board. Proposals to other agencies and donors are pending or in preparation.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Persepolis Fortification Archive Project blog is a year old

In the year this blog has been operational we have had 18,182 visits from 11,175 Unique Visitors. 1,433 visitors have returned more than once.

Do you have thoughts on how we can improve this tool? Please contact us, or leave a comment!

More of the Oriental Institite's Iranian Expedition Publications are now Online

Bowman, Raymond A. Aramaic Ritual Texts from Persepolis
Cameron, George G. Persepolis Treasury Tablets
Herzfeld, Ernst E. A New Inscription of Xerxes from Persepolis
Langsdorff, Alexander and Donald E. McCown. Tall-i-Bakun A: Season of 1932
Schmidt, Erich F. Flights Over Ancient Cities of Iran
Schmidt, Erich F. The Treasury of Persepolis and Other Discoveries in the Homeland of the Achaemenians
Schmidt, Erich F., with a contribution by F. R. Matson. Persepolis I: Structures, Reliefs, Inscriptions
Schmidt, Erich F., with contributions by Sydney P. Noe et al., Frederick R. Matson, Lawrence J. Howell, and Louisa Bellinger. Persepolis II: Contents of the Treasury and Other Discoveries
Schmidt, Erich F., with contributions by Sydney P. Noe et al., Frederick R. Matson, Lawrence J. Howell, and Louisa Bellinger. Persepolis III: The Royal Tombs and Other Monuments

Monday, October 29, 2007

Die Keilinschriften der Achämeniden

A facsimile of Franz Heinrich Weissbach's classic Die Keilinschriften der Achämeniden is now available online free of charge as a part of the ETANA Core Text project. The scan was made available as part of a USAID grant to assist Iraqi universities rebuild their archaeology programs and collections. Prof. Elizabeth Stone was the Principal Investigator for this grant, administered at Stony Brook University in New York State. See also the SBL Forum entry "ETANA Expands its Core Texts"

Monday, July 23, 2007

Findspot of the Persepolis Fortification Archive

[Updated July 24, 2007]
Click on each image for higher sesolution photographs

Google Earth images continue to improve. The first is of Persepolis in its immediate environmental context:

The second is the most detailed image currently available on Google Earth:

It is interesting to compare it with the Schmidt photograph taken while the project was underway:

The Fortification Archive was discovered in a room in the Northern Fortifications, the structure visible in the upper left corner of the Terrace as seen in this photograph from Erich Schmidt's Aerial Survey. The area was being prepared for the construction of a road to allow vehicles to enter the Terrace when the archive was discovered at the beginning of March, 1933. Garrison and Root publish Herzfeld's sketch plan of the building in the context of their discussion of the findspot, on page 25 of the Introduction to their Seals on the Persepolis Fortification Tablets, Volume 1.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


One of the very few publications to exploit the Persepolis Fortification Tablets in Aramaic is David Nasgowitz's 1966 University of Chicago A. M. Thesis: THE RISE OF ARAMEAN SCRIPT IN MESOPOTAMIA AND ITS ENVIRONS (IRAQ). Nasgowitz was a student of Raymond Bowman's and had access to Bowman and his notes. To the best of my knowlege this thesis is available only in the University of Chicago Library (Regenstein), and in the Oriental Institute's Research Archives.

It is in fact available for sale from UMI/ProQuest.

[Between the time I originally posted this on November 28, 2006 and today, this title became available at ProQuest in a downloadable pdf form. Those of you whose institutions subscribe to ProQuest can now acquire this book free of charge]

Friday, July 20, 2007

Mapping Persepolis in wikis

One of the benefits as well as problems with wikis is the potential complexity and obscurity of their cross-references. A new tool, WikiMindMap allows you to visually unfold the network.

Choose your wiki (Wikipedia - sadly we can't yet try it out on the CDLI wiki), and then type in your topic (case matters!). For example, I started with Persepolis, which was reasonably complex, but with links in odd and possibly unexpected directions. Elamite and Achaemenid are very simple, Old Persian is more complex, Cuneiform is simple, but Mesopotamia is not. Curiously Phrygian is more complex than Aramaic. It is perhaps telling that Bible displays about the same level of complexity as Paris Hilton.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007


[This article appeared in The Oriental Institute News & Notes, No. 194 (Summer 2007), and is reproduced here with the kind permission of the Oriental Institute. News & Notes is a quarterly publication, printed for members as one of the privileges of membership in the Oriental Institute]


by Mark B. Garrison

Presented at the Oriental Institute, in honor of the retirement of Raymond D. Tindel (March 26, 2007)

Archives of clay tablets have been found at a wide variety of sites across the great sweep of what we today call the ancient Near East, or ancient Western Asia. Archives are highly prized owing to the rich textual evidence that they provide on various matters social,political, economic, religious, etc. What is perhaps less well known about archives of clay tablets is that they are often conveyers of visual imagery. In many instances part of the protocols involved in administrative activity was the application of one or more seals across various surfaces of the tablets. These seal impressions functioned administratively on a variety of levels, acting as markers of witnesses to the transactions,identifiers of personnel/offices involved,tokens of authority and security, etc. Some “archives” consist in fact solely of uninscribed clay artifacts that carry seal impressions.

Persepolis Fortification tablets in situ

Seals in ancient Western Asia consisted of two types, cylinders and stamps. Since their invention in the late fourth millennium B.C., cylinder seals were by far the preferred medium in ancient Iran and Iraq. In the first millennium B.C., stamp seals re-appeared and were used contemporaneously with cylinder seals. When cylinder and stamps were applied to the still-moist tablets, the imagery, carved on the reverse in the actual seal matrix, would appear in the positive on the surfaces of those tablets. One of the interesting aspects about seals is that the seal user created imagery through the application of his/her carved glyptic artifact. While some seal users may have understood that imagery in a very practical manner, i.e., a signature, it is clear that many seal users prized the often virtuosic carving and must have delighted in the potential imagery that lay literally at their fingertips.

The importance of glyptic imagery has long been recognized. Indeed, seals are the most commonly occurring artifact that carries visual imagery in the archaeological record of the ancient Near East, surviving by the tens of thousands. As such, seal images have been studied since the beginnings of modern archaeological expeditions in the nineteenth century.

It is a curious aspect of glyptic imagery that it survives in two distinct forms: as an actual seal artifact (usually of stone,but sometimes of clay, bone, metal, shell, etc.), and as an impression in clay. It is exceptionally rare to have both an ancient seal and an ancient impression of it. This may be simply the result of archaeological serendipity, or it may reflect real patterns of human behavior. That is, seals that were used as administrative markers may have been different from those that were used as items of personal adornment and/or amulets; thus, the two types of seals may survive in the archaeological record differently owing to different patterns of use and deposition.

Cylinder seal with modern impression. OIM A25308

Cylinder seals can be manipulated in various ways to provide oftentimes strikingly beautiful modern impressions. Indeed, these seals have to be impressed in some type of modern sealing medium in order for us to study their visual imagery since the carved surface of the cylindrical piece of stone is often difficult, if not impossible, to read. By contrast, seal impressions almost never preserve the full scene and are often difficult to see. In many archives a seal will be applied to more than one clay artifact, meaning that all impressions of that seal must be surveyed and then a collated composite image generated. For these reasons, even today, surveys of the glyptic arts focus almost exclusively on modern impressions of ancient seals, rather than impressions of seals from archives.

It is a sad fact that the great bulk of these seals do not have an excavated provenance. Because of their small size and often beautiful carving, seals have long been highly prized by collectors. The resulting loss of contextual information is a devastating blow to our research endeavors. While the images on these unprovenanced seals may be beautiful, they float in time and space; serious questions of authenticity are often part of the calculus, especially with a seal image that does not fit the canon as traditionally defined. A traditional venue of the publication of glyptic imagery in fact is the catalogue of seals now found in museum and private collections. The scale of the problem of provenance may be seen in the recently published volume six of the British Museum series (Catalogue of the Western Asiatic Seals in the British Museum: Cylinder Seals 6: Pre-Achaemenid and Achaemenid Periods, by Parvine H. Merrillees). Of the ninety-two seals in volume six, only three seals have an excavated provenance.

Aerial photograph of the Persepolis terrace; the Fortification archive was discovered in chambers of the fortification wall visible at upper left in the photograph, where the wall abuts the mountain

By contrast, seals preserved as impressions on clay artifacts within the context of archives have less often attracted the attention of collectors (there are, nevertheless, thousands of clay tablets of unknown archaeological provenance in museum and private collections around the world). We are especially fortunate to have many large archives of sealed tablets discovered through controlled archaeological excavations. When we have a seal preserved as an impression on a tablet, we are seeing the imagery in its functional context. That functional context (i.e., the surface of a tablet) is enhanced by the fact that the tablet is related to other tablets via the archival context. The seal impression is thus related via function to other seal impressions in that archive. That archive, moreover, can almost always be specifically located in time and space. Seal images preserved as impressions in archives thus constitute one of the more remarkable contexts for the study of the visual imagery of the ancient world.

The richness of this evidence and its potential for providing unique insights into the lived human experience/interac-tion with images may be glimpsed in a large archive of administrative documents currently at the Oriental Institute on loan from the Iranian government. This archive is known as the Persepolis Fortification archive. The Persepolis Fortification archive was found in chambers of the northern fortification at Persepolis (whence the name of the archive) in 1933 by a team from the Oriental Institute. The particulars of the archive and its importance were well articulated by M. W. Stolper in the Winter 2007 edition of News & Notes. In brief, the archive represents the administration of a food rationing system that covered an amorphous area consisting of the environs of Persepolis (Parsha), Pasargadae (Batrakatsh), and Shiraz (Tirazzish) and a broad(?) expanse to the northwest along the royal road to Susa. Date formulae preserved in many texts date the archive to years 13–28 (509–493 B.C.), in the reign of Darius I. There are three major components of the archive: tablets that carry Achaemenid Elamite inscriptions in cuneiform and, very often but not always,impressions of seals; tablets that carry Aramaic inscriptions in ink (and/or incised) and, very often but not always, seal impressions; and tablets that carry only seal impressions (what are designated as the uninscribed tablets). The exact number of tablets and fragments is not known, but recent work by Stolper places the tablet count at approximately 15,000–18,000 distinct documents in toto. That is a huge number of artifacts, constituting one of the largest archives to have survived from ancient Western Asia.

The seal images are the only aspect of this administrative system that can be documented across all three components of the archive: Elamite tablets, Aramaic tablets, and uninscribed tablets. The seals applied to the tablets represent the officials and offices delivering and receiving commodities,and the officials and offices responsible for overarching administrative accounting and oversight. Just as there are many tablets, so, too, there are many seals preserved in the archive. On the 2,087 Elamite tablets published by R. T. Hallock in 1969, approximately1,148 different seals can be recognized (we distinguish seals preserved on the Elamite tablets with the siglum PFS). The first volume of the publication of the seal s preserved on the PF tablets has now been published: M. B. Garrison and M. C. Root, Seals on the Persepolis Fortification Tablets, Volume 1: Images of Heroic Encounter (Oriental Institute Publications 117; Chicago: The Oriental Institute, 2001). From preliminary research by E. Dusinberre on the seals applied to the Aramaic documents and by the author on the unpublished Elamite tablets and the uninscribed tablets, there are probably at a minimum another 1,000–1,500 seals.

We have thus preserved in the Fortification archive one of the most densely concentrated collections of visual imagery from the whole of ancient Western Asia and the Mediterranean worlds. Thinking for a moment about the multi-layered contexts, this imagery is closely circumscribed in place (the environs of Persepolis and an area extending to the north and west), time (509–493 B.C.) and function (all the images are being used by officials/offices to seal tablets in the archive). Each of these some 2,000 images is thus linked to all other images in a most intimate and direct way. These images are also objects actively in use by administrators, thus linked to a specific type of activity by specific people. Those individuals, moreover, run the social gamut from lowly workers to the imperial family. The social position and administrative rank of many of these individuals are, furthermore, fairly well known. These images are also linked in time and place with the massive construction activities associated with the building and ornamenting of Persepolis and rock-cut tomb of Darius at Naqsh-e Rustam. Finally, this particular time and place happen to be exceptionally critical, marking the initiation of administrative, political, social, and ideological programs associated with Darius’ consolidation of an empire the scale of which the world had never seen.

Photo of PFS 9*. Drawing and photo by Mark Garrison

By examining, for example, how individuals select and use imagery, we may pursue in these seal images a social history of art that in most other times and places would be an impossibility. One way that we may explore the richness of the multilayered contexts of the Persepolitan seal images is via a phenomenon that I have called “replacement seals.” In numerous instances we are able to track an individual’s replacement of one seal by another. Tracking this type of phenomenon in and of itself would of course be next to impossible with any glyptic artifact found outside of an archival context. Most of the time at Persepolis the adoption of a new seal goes unmentioned in the textual record. In one now-famous case involving the chief administrator of the archive, Parnaka, probably the uncle of Darius, two Elamite texts (PF 2067 and PF 2068) specifically note the replacement of the earlier seal, PFS 9* (Cat.No. 288) with the new seal, PFS 16* (Cat.No. 22): “also, the seal that formerly (was) mine has been replaced — now this seal (is) mine that has been applied to this tablet” (PF 2067).

Parnaka’s right-hand man, the second in command of the archive, Zishshawish, also replaced his earlier seal, PFS 83*, with a new seal, PFS 11*. Zishshawish is the Elamite form of the Old Persian name *Ciça-vahu- “of good lineage.” His two seals provide an especially interesting case of the replacement of seals concerning an individual at the very highest levels of the Persepolitan administration. As indicative of his high administrative rank, Zishshawish receives very high food rations, issues letter orders, employs scribes, and never needs a counterseal on his transactions.

Based on the preserved texts, Zishshawish can be documented using his first seal, PFS 83*, between May/June 507 B.C. and November/December 504 B.C. The seal is a unique and intriguing design. Two figural compositions constitute the major elements of the design field; a winged bovine with suckling calf, and a four-winged human headed-bull supporting a winged disc. An Aramaic inscription along with the lower three prongs of a star remain in the upper field.

If preserved as an unprovenanced artifact in a museum, this seal would probably be classified as an Assyrian product. Certainly, in comparison to the conventional understanding of how Achaemenid glyptic ought to appear, an understanding built almost exclusively upon unprovenanced artifacts, the imagery, iconography and style of carving of PFS 83* certainly do not seem “Achaemenid.” Several features of its design are traditionally associated with Assyrian art. For example, the cow and calf motif was especially popular in Assyrian and Syrian glyptic, ivory carving and metalwork of the early first millennium B.C. So, too, the bull-man in the form of an atlantid, often associated with a winged ring/disk or the half-figure in the winged ring/disk, was very popular in Assyrian glyptic. PFS 83* is not, however,an unprovenanced object. Embedded in a pool of imagery owing to its archival context, we can see that its carving style is completely at home within the seals from the Fortification archive.

PFS 16*. Drawing and photo by Mark Garrison

Lastly, the Aramaic inscription on PFS 83* is quite at home within a Persepolitan context. Only the first word in what appears to have been a one line inscription, enclosed in a panel, is preserved: HTM…, “Seal (of ) …”. The preservation of the vertical edge for a panel at left would seem to indicate that there may have been as many as four or five more letters in the line. One assumes that the missing section of the inscription contained a personal name. Inscribed seals are fairly rare in the archive, less than 10% of the seals carry inscriptions, and the majority of those inscriptions are in Elamite. There is, however, a substantial corpus of seals inscribed in Aramaic, and the formula “Seal of PN” is a common one among those seals. Indeed, it is interesting to note that Parnaka also uses Aramaic for the inscriptions on both of his seals.

PFS 83* thus may be related in style,imagery and inscription to other seals in the archive. In general, the seal takes its place as one example among hundreds of Persepolitan seals that exhibit archaizing imagery and style that are deeply indebted to Assyrian models. Nevertheless, it is clear that this seal is a very special one. The scene of the cow and calf is unique among the seals studied to date in the archive. The Aramaic inscription also marks the seal as special; the combination of the placement of the inscription in the upper field and its enclosure within a panel cannot be paralleled in any other seal studied to date in the archive. Several characteristics thus point to this seal being a commissioned piece. This ought not to surprise us, given the exceptionally high administrative rank of Zishshawish.

Photo of PFS 83*. Drawing and photo by Mark Garrison

On a tablet dated to December 503 B.c./January 502 B.C., Zishshawish for the first time uses his new seal, PFS 11*. He continued to use this seal until Febru-ary/March 496 B.C. Whether the approximately one year hiatus between his last use of PFS 83* and his first use of PFS 11* is real, or simply due to accident of record survival, cannot be determined.

PFS 11* is a magnificent seal, one of the great masterpieces of glyptic carving from the Fortification archive. The scene consists of a central “altar” above which floats a half-figure in a winged disk; to either side of the altar is disposed a crowned figure in Persian court dress. This central scene is then flanked by date palms followed by a paneled, trilingual (Old Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian) royal-name inscription in the terminal field.

Unlike PFS 83*, PFS 11* conforms to our conventional understanding of how Achaemenid glyptic ought to appear, in style, iconography, and composition. The figures wear the Persian court robe and the dentate crown that are so often associated with aspects of Achaemenid imperial imagery. The scene is relatively rare, but,nonetheless, one well known from unprovenanced glyptic examples.

Like PFS 83*, PFS 11* is also a very special glyptic product. The seal is one of four seals from the archive that carry the standard royal-name inscription of Darius. None of these seals belonged to Darius; all were used by high-ranking officials/offices. Of course, without its archival context, we would have no idea that the seal in fact belongs to Zishshawish, and, I suspect, there would be speculation that this was in fact the personal seal of the king. The scene of two figures flanking an “altar” is rare in the archive; I know of only four other examples in the seals studied to date. So, too, the carving style, what I have called the “Court Style,” is rare in the Fortification archive. The scene, and aspects of its iconography, recall the famous tomb relief of Darius at Naqsh-e Rustam, but the relationship is not as close as one may think at first glance. In fact, in its mirror doubling of the royal figure and its static, idealized composition, PFS 11* provides in many ways a very different statement about the nature of Achaemenid kingship.

Owing to the rich archival context, we may offer some speculation on the nature of the relationships of the two seals of Zi‰‰awi‰ to each other, and what those relationships may say about Zishshawish himself. The two seals provide an in-depth view of patron taste/needs at the very highest levels of the imperial administration at the heart of the empire. The precise social/ad-ministrative/political dynamics that lead to Zishshawish’ initial selection of the imagery on PFS 83*, and then the replacement of that imagery with PFS 11*, are, of course, lost to us. Nevertheless, we may be able to infer some aspects to these processes owing to the rich archival contexts of both Zishshawish the administrator and the seals that he uses.

Both seals, as we have seen, are special artifacts, possessing iconographic, stylistic, and compositional traits that are either rare or unique. Both must be commissioned objects, as one may have expected for an individual of Zishshawish’s administrative rank, and, thus, we may infer that Zishshawish played some role in the selection of their style and imagery. PFS 83*, despite its unique features, takes its place first and foremost as one of many hundreds of examples of strongly Assyrianizing imagery in the seals from the Fortification archive. Rather than trying to decode the individual elements (and/or their combination) of the figural imagery, I suggest that the primary signification of the imagery lay in this Assyrianizing “flavor.” It is striking that many of these now very well-known administrators who have direct ties to the royal family seem to prefer seals executed in this archaizing manner. Zishshawish’s immediate superior, Parnaka exhibited the same predilection for Assyrianizing style and imagery in both of his seals, PFS 9* and PFS 16*. The royal woman Irtashduna, the daughter of Cyrus and favored wife of Darius (Herodotus 7.69.2), uses a seal, PFS 38, with such exceptionally strong Assyrianizing elements that several commentators have actually dated its carving to the Assyrian period. As far as we know,Zishshawish had no direct ties (by marriage or blood) to the royal family. Perhaps the imagery of his seal PFS 83* is an attempt to emulate the taste of his immediate superior and the royal family as a whole.

Photo of PFS 11*. Drawing and photo by Mark Garrison

The sudden appearance of PFS 11*,a seal bearing a royal-name inscription no less, must mark a critical point in the biography of Zishshawish the administrator and courtier. The seal appears, along with a handful of other beautifully executed Court Style seals, three of them also bearing royal-name inscriptions of Darius, in the last decade of the sixth century B.C. None of these seals belongs to members of the royal family. The very specific and consistent style and iconography of these seals articulate very clearly the new imperial message. The seals also would seem to act as foci of a dialogue between the king and his administrative elite. They communicate both the king’s recognition of these individuals as closely linked by loyalty (in lieu of blood and/or marriage) to the king/ royal family, and those individuals’ affirmation of membership/loyalty to the newly(re)constituted royal order. As such, the imagery and style of these seals convey a dialogue between king and administrative elite having more to do with personal relationships than abstracted concepts of imperial ideology. Images and image making,while dominant features of the physical and intellectual landscape of the Persepolis region in the late sixth century B.C., thus may have also played a critical role in the social and political lives of individuals.

[Following are the pages of this articles in the format in which it originally published in The Oriental Institute News and Notes]

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Richard T. Hallock: Articles online

The following articles by Richard T. Hallock relating to the Perspolis Tablets are available online. Most are available at JSTOR, and are limited to those who have access to JSTOR.

Selected Fortification Texts
Richard T. Hallock
Cahiers de la DAFI Vol. 8 (1978), pp. 109-136 [Added July 5, 2007]

The Pronominal Suffixes in Achaemenid Elamite
Richard T. Hallock
Journal of Near Eastern Studies Vol. 21, No. 1 (Jan., 1962), pp. 53-56

Darius I, the King of the Persepolis Tablets
Richard T. Hallock
Journal of Near Eastern Studies Vol. 1, No. 2 (Apr., 1942), pp. 230-232

The Verb Šara- in Achaemenid Elamite
Richard T. Hallock
Journal of Near Eastern Studies Vol. 24, No. 3, Erich F. Schmidt Memorial Issue. Part One (Jul., 1965), pp. 271-273

The "One Year" of Darius I
Richard T. Hallock
Journal of Near Eastern Studies Vol. 19, No. 1 (Jan., 1960), pp. 36-39

On the Old Persian Signs
Richard T. Hallock
Journal of Near Eastern Studies Vol. 29, No. 1 (Jan., 1970), pp. 52-55

On the Middle Elamite Verb
Richard T. Hallock
Journal of Near Eastern Studies Vol. 32, No. 1/2 (Jan., 1973), pp. 148-151

Notes on Achaemenid Elamite
Richard T. Hallock
Journal of Near Eastern Studies Vol. 17, No. 4 (Oct., 1958), pp. 256-262

A New Look at the Persepolis Treasury Tablets
Richard T. Hallock
Journal of Near Eastern Studies Vol. 19, No. 2 (Apr., 1960), pp. 90-100

New Light from Persepolis
Richard T. Hallock
Journal of Near Eastern Studies Vol. 9, No. 4 (Oct., 1950), pp. 237-252

The Finite Verb in Achaemenid Elamite
Richard T. Hallock
Journal of Near Eastern Studies Vol. 18, No. 1 (Jan., 1959), pp. 1-19

Review of: The Phonology and Morphology of Royal Achaemenid Elamite by Herbert H. Paper
Richard T. Hallock
Journal of the American Oriental Society Vol. 76, No. 1 (Jan., 1956), pp. 43-46

Friday, June 29, 2007

Biographical Sketch of Erich F. Schmidt

This brief biography of Erich F. Schmidt, Field Director of the Persepolis Expedition of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, from 1935 to 1939, was written by John Larson, Oriental Institute Museum Archivist.

Monday, June 18, 2007

An Old Persian text in the Persepolis Fortification Archive

Everyday text shows that Old Persian was probably more commonly used than previously thought

For the first time, a text has been found in Old Persian language that shows the written language in use for practical recording and not only for royal display. The text is inscribed on a damaged clay tablet from the Persepolis Fortification Archive, now at the Oriental Institute at The University of Chicago. The tablet is an administrative record of the payout of at least 600 quarts of an as-yet unidentified commodity at five villages near Persepolis in about 500 B.C.

“Now we can see that Persians living in Persia at the high point of the Persian Empire wrote down ordinary day-to-day matters in Persian language and Persian script,” said Gil Stein, Director of the Oriental Institute. “Odd as it seems, that comes as a surprise—a very big surprise.”

Old Persian writing was the first of the cuneiform scripts to be deciphered, between about 1800 and 1845. When the script was cracked, scholars saw that the Old Persian language was an ancestor of modern Persian and a relative of Sanskrit. Knowing that, they could understand the inscriptions of Darius, Xerxes and their successors, the kings of the Persian Empire founded by Cyrus the Great in the mid-sixth century B.C. and destroyed by Alexander the Great and his successors after 330 BC.

Until now, most scholars of Old Persian thought that Old Persian script and language were used only for the inscriptions of kings on cliff faces or palaces, or else to identify vessels of precious metals or other luxury goods that were connected with the kings and their palaces. To write records of administration or business, the Persians relied on languages and scripts—Aramaic, Babylonian, Elamite, and others—already in use at the advent of the Empire.

The Persepolis Fortification Archive, excavated in 1933 at the imperial palace complex of Persepolis, in southwestern Iran, and under study at the Oriental Institute since 1937, is a prime example. The Archive includes tens of thousands of clay tablets and fragments with texts in Elamite, an indigenous language already written in Iran for almost two thousand years before the Persian Empire was founded. It also includes hundreds of clay tablets and fragments with texts in Aramaic, a Semitic language already used for practical recording over much of the Near East since the days of the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires (ninth to sixth centuries BC). It also includes thousands of tablets with no texts at all, but with impressions of seals.

But over the years of study, a few extraordinary items have also been discovered among the Persepolis tablets: a text in Phrygian (a language of western Anatolia, in modern Turkey), a text in Greek, and now a text in Persian, the language of the Empire’s rulers.

“Most of the scribes around Persepolis could speak and write more than one language, and this text might be just a quirky experiment done by one of them,” said Matthew W. Stolper, head of the Oriental Institute’s Persepolis Fortification Archive Project. “But it might also be the tip of an iceberg.” He explained that in 500 B.C., just as now, administrative records did not work as isolates, only as items in much larger files. Before 1933, there was only one known example of an Achaemenid administrative tablet written inin Elamite, but since the discovery of the Persepolis Fortification Archive there are thousands. Like that first Achaemenid Elamite tablet, this Old Persian tablet “could also be the first forerunner of something much bigger.”

Because there are no other such documents in Old Persian, interpreting this one depends on comparisons with the Elamite and Aramaic documents with which it was found. “The Old Persian tablet departs so much from expectations that its authenticity would have been questioned if it had not been found in the Fortification Archive,” Stolper said.

“This shows how important it is to keep the Persepolis Fortification texts together, to keep the Archive intact,” Stein said. “Unexpected discoveries are still being made, and the meaning and reliability of every piece depend on its connections with the whole information system of the entire Fortification Archive.”

Members of the Oriental Institute’s Persepolis Fortification Archive Project first announced the discovery of the Old Persian tablet in November, 2006, at a colloquium at the Collège de France and the University of Chicago’s Paris Center. They described the document in greater detail at a meeting of the American Oriental Society in March, 2007.

An article by Stolper and Jan Tavernier, of the University of Leuven (Belgium), with images and discussion of the tablet and the text is now published in the on-line journal ARTA:

Matthew W. Stolper & Jan Tavernier, From the Persepolis Fortification Archive Project, 1: An Old Persian Administrative Tablet from the Persepolis Fortification

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Rejecting Renvoi for Movable Cultural Property: The Islamic Republic of Iran V. Denyse Berend

Derek Fincham of Illicit Cultural Property, has just published a case note in the International Journal of Cultural Property "Rejecting Renvoi for Movable Cultural Property: The Islamic Republic of Iran V. Denyse Berend" 14 Int'l J. Cultural Prop. Issue 01, pp 111-120.

His Abstract:

"In Iran v. Berend, the High Court in London had occasion to revisit one of the most enduring problems of private international law and cultural property. Effective regulation of the illicit market in cultural property is extremely difficult, because many measures aimed at stemming the illicit trade actually contribute to the black market. Courts in both England and the United States have shown that they are prepared to use criminal laws to convict persons involved in the illegal trade in antiquities exported in violation of foreign patrimony laws. As a result, much cultural property policy debate in recent years has focused on the extent to which the criminal law can impact the illicit trade. The extent to which national ownership declarations can be used in civil disputes remains less clear."

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Job Announcement: Persepolis Fortification Archives - Research Project Professionals

Job Announcement

Persepolis Fortification Archives
Research Project Professionals

The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago seeks to appoint two new staff members to make digital images of Aramaic texts and of seal impressions on tablets from the Persepolis Fortification archive.

Knowledge of Aramaic epigraphy and/or Achaemenid glyptic and/or the Persepolis Fortification archive is highly desirable. Comfort with digital technology, familiarity with computers and a variety of computer programs is essential. Graduate work in some area of ancient Near Eastern studies is required. Applicants with these qualifications who have completed PhDs in areas pertinent to research on Achaemenid texts and art, as well as applicants admitted to PhD candidacy in these areas, are encouraged to apply.

The successful applicants will receive training in large-format very high-resolution digital scanning and Polynomial Texture Mapping and in making, processing, and uploading images. They will then capture images of Aramaic texts and of seal impressions on clay tablets from Persepolis, under the supervision of the Persepolis Fortification Archives project team, and process the scans for uploading and editing.

The work is to begin on July 1, 2007 and continue through December 31, 2008. Salary for each post is $22,000 (July-December 2007) + $44,000 (January-December 2008), with benefits.

Funding for these positions is assured from July, 2007 through December, 2008. There is a possibility that additional funding will be obtained and that the positions can be extended.

To apply for this position, please apply online at the University of Chicago’s job posting website at (requisition # 075728 or 075622 - Research Project Professional)

Applications must be received by May 15th, 2007.

For additional information, please contact:
Matthew Stolper
Oriental Institute
University of Chicago
1155 East 58th Street
Chicago, Il., 690093

The University of Chicago is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer.