June 2, 2011
The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, which is the recipient of two previous PARSA CF grants, has been awarded a $200,000 grant for their important work on capturing, recording, and distributing the information from the famous tablets of the Persepolis Fortification Archive (PFA). The archive is comprised of some 30,000 clay tablets and fragments found in 1933 by the Oriental Institute archeologists, examining and clearing the ruins of Persepolis palaces of kings Darius and Xerxes and their successors, near Shiraz. The tablets contain close to 20,000 original texts in cuneiform and Elamite language, Aramaic script and language, and seal impressions, and are currently on loan from Iran at the Oriental Institute.
PFA is the largest and most consequential single source of information on the Achaemenid Persian Empire at its zenith. It provides a very important portal into the languages, art, society, administration, history, geography and religion in the heart of the Persian Empire in the time of Darius I, around 500 BC. It has fundamentally transformed every aspect of modern research on Achaemenid history and culture.
The PFA Project at the Oriental Institute is responsible for carefully cleaning these important ancient tablets, taking high resolution digital imagery of the texts on the tablets, exploring various technologies for the best imaging of the tablets such as 3D, laser, and CT scanning), and recording the texts and impressions. An editorial team within the group reviews and prepares editions of the texts, and all of the tablets, texts and impressions are carefully cataloged for publication and archiving. At this point more than 8000 tablets are completed, resulting in almost 40 Terabytes of data, and the team expects to grow the collection to approximately 11,000 over the next two years.
The tablets have been subject to a long legal battle where plaintiffs suing the Iranian government are asking for the ancient tablets as compensation. With the fate of the archive hanging in balance, the PFA Project has been under pressure to clean, scan, and record as many tablets as possible and as fast as possible. The grant from PARSA CF helped the PFA Project during an urgent time, since the project was in critical need for servers and other resources. An appellate court ruling a while later at the end of March came out with favorable result for the PFA, although the battle still continues.
The PFA project has received support from many other organizations besides PARSA CF, including the Andrew Melon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Iran Heritage Foundation is also working closely with the PFA project, and supports and promotes their work.
"After almost eighty years, the Persepolis Fortification Archive is producing a growing stream of new information, deeper understanding, and surprising discoveries. Making sure that this stream continues to flow repays the trust and hope that Iran's loan of the Archive to the Oriental Institute entailed, magnifies the cultural heritage of which these tablets are the humble vessels, and lays that heritage before its cultural heirs and before the civilized world" said Matthew W. Stolper, Director, Persepolis Fortification Archive Project.