Monday, May 02, 2011

News: Ancient Persian Treasures in American Courts

 Ancient Persian Treasures in American Courts


02 May 2011 23:40

Legal dispute over Persepolis tablets threatens international lending of cultural assets.

In 1930, archaeologist Ernst Herzfeld came across 30,000 clay tablets on a dig in the ancient city of Persepolis, near modern-day Shiraz. Now these same Persepolis tablets are embroiled in a legal battle involving the Islamic Republic of Iran, the University of Chicago, and a pedestrian mall bombing in Jerusalem. 

After they were unearthed in the 1930s, the inscribed and sealed tablets have been on loan to the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago for study, where many still remain. They have become a treasure trove in revealing the inner administrative workings and social structure of ancient Persia during the reign of Darius I around the time of 500 BCE. 

Among many facts, they hold the records of the different rations apportioned to women and men, receipt and taxation, redistribution to priests and artisans, means of travel and communication, storage of food and livestock. Not least of all, they have proven to be a valuable asset in the study of ancient languages such as Elamite, which died off with the invasion of Alexander the Great, and Old Persian, a language which the tablets show was surprisingly used more often than expected by everyday Persians.
The tablets hold a further value: What is known about this era historically comes from Greek and Arabic sources, and the Aramaic and Hebrew versions of the Old Testament. For the first time, scholars had the day-to-day story of the Persians, by the Persians, and for the world. 

In 2002, the Persepolis Fortification Archive at the Oriental Institute began state-of-the-art 3D imaging of the tablets that had not already been returned to the government of Iran. Though the primary purpose of the Fortification Archive is to store digitally the clay tablets for future scholars who happen to find the daily administrative routine of the Persian Empire titillating reading, there was a more immediate motivation for initiating the process. 

Only one year before the Oriental Institute began the 3D imaging, five American victims of a 1997 Hamas suicide bombing that occurred on Jerusalem's Ben Yehuda Street sued the government of Iran in a U.S. court for its support of the Palestinian organization...

Persepolis in Pleiades