U.S. Oriental Institute sends back ancient Iranian artifacts

April 23, 2015 - 0:0

TEHRAN -- The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago has sent back a collection of 108 ancient Iranian tablets and artifacts, which had been loaned to the university in 1962 for study.

The collection arrived at the Imam Khomeini International Airport on a Lufthansa flight in the early hours of Wednesday, Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Organization (CHTHO) announced in a press release.

Oriental Institute Director Gil Stein handed over the artifacts to Iranian officials, including CHTHO Deputy Director Mohammad-Hassan Talebian, at the airport.

A total 264 stone and clay tablets were excavated by Iranian archaeologists and some scholars from the Oriental Institute in 1937 on the Chogha Mish Mound, a prehistoric site located near the southwestern Iranian city of Dezful.

The administrative tablets bear proto-Elamite pictograph signs.

In 1962, Iran loaned the tablets and artifacts to the Oriental Institute for study. The institute sent back a number of the artifacts and tablets before the victory of Islamic Revolution in 1979.

However, the institute refused to return the rest. Iran filed a lawsuit against the institute in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, which ruled in favor of Iran.

“The recovery of the artifacts after all these challenges shows the rightful place of Iran and the successful cultural diplomacy of 'the government of prudence and hope' [a title that Hassan Rouhani used to describe his administration],” Talebian said at the airport after receiving the collection of artifacts.

The collection was transferred to the National Museum of Iran to put on display in an exhibition in the near future.

Iran is engaged in another legal battle with the Oriental Institute over a large number of Achaemenid tablets, which were loaned to the institute in 1937 for study.

The Oriental Institute holds 8000 to 10,000 intact and about 11,000 fragmented tablets, as estimated by Gil Stein.

The tablets were discovered by University of Chicago archaeologists in 1933 while they were excavating in Persepolis, the site of a major Oriental Institute excavation.

The artifacts bear cuneiform script explaining administrative details of the Achaemenid Empire from about 500 BC. They are among a group of tens of thousands of tablets and tablet fragments that were loaned to the university’s Oriental Institute in 1937 for study. A group of 179 complete tablets was returned in 1948, and another group of more than 37,000 tablet fragments was returned in 1951.

In spring 2006, U.S. District Court Judge Blanche Manning ruled that a group of people injured by a 1997 bombing in Israel could seize the 300 clay tablets loaned to the University of Chicago and the university could not protect Iran’s ownership rights to the artifacts.

Following Iranian officials’ protests against the ruling, the court was slated to reexamine the case on December 21, 2006, but the court session was postponed to January 19, 2007, allegedly due to the fact that Iran had not provided all the documents necessary to the court.

The court session was held on the abovementioned date, but no verdict was issued.

In March 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit rejected confiscation of the tablets. However it ruled that the case should be returned to the lower court for further argument.

In March 2014, a federal judge in Chicago ruled that the Persian artifacts at the Field Museum of Natural History and the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute cannot be seized to pay a $412 million judgment against the Iranian government.

Photo: Oriental Institute Director Gil Stein puts a fragment of an ancient Iranian tablet in a box at the National Museum of Iran in Tehran on April 22, 2015. (Jamejamonline/MAjid Azad)