Disputed Persian artifacts one step closer to home

February 24, 2018

TEHRAN –Following years of ups and downs, the fate of some ancient Persian artifacts, on loan from Iran to the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago since the 1930s, was left in the hands of an international court, this time in favor of Iran.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that American citizens injured in a 1997 suicide bombing in Jerusalem cannot seize the artifacts to satisfy a $71.5 million court judgment against Iran, as compensation, Reuters reported.

The artifacts, including at least 30,000 clay tablets and fragments, are kept at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History and the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute.

Archaeologists affiliated with the University of Chicago discovered the tablets in 1930s while excavating in Persepolis, the ceremonial capital of the Persian Empire. However, the institute has resumed work in collaboration with colleagues in Iran, and the return of the tablets is part of a broadening of contacts between scholars in the two countries, said Gil Stein, director of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago.

What these tablets tell us is the economic, social and religious history of the ancient Achaemenid Empire (550-330 BC) and the larger Near Eastern region in the fifth century BC.

The tablets have been difficult to read because information about the Persian Empire had been largely limited to non-Persian sources. That non-Persian information came from Greek writers such as Herodotus and Latin authors, and mostly concerns encounters between the Persian Empire and Greek states, encounters of warfare, and diplomacy. Information from the tablets provided one of the first opportunities to gather data on the empire from Persian sources.

The Persian Empire was the largest and most durable empire of its time. The empire stretched from Ethiopia, through Egypt, to Greece, to Anatolia (modern Turkey), Central Asia and to India.

PHOTO: An Achaemenid-era clay tablet

AFM/MG

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