Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
& CULTURAL NEWS©
Back in Modern Iran to Again Study Ancient Persia
After an absence of a quarter-century, Western
archaeologists are trickling back into Iran, encouraged by local
officials seeking wider scientific contacts with foreigners.
In the last three years, a few American and European
archaeologists have quietly resumed excavations primarily at
ruins of the ancient Persian empire, which flourished 2,500
years ago. Their numbers are expected to swell in coming months
as a result of a new openness toward foreign scholars,
proclaimed by Iranian cultural leaders last August at a
conference in Tehran. "We were told that Western
researchers are welcome to Iran," Dr. Gil Stein, director
of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, said in
a telephone interview. "Part of Iran at least is very
interested in improving relations with the West, and believes
that scholarship and research play an integral role in
As a gesture of good faith, the institute announced yesterday
that it was returning a set of 300 ancient Persian clay tablets
to the Iranian Cultural Heritage Organization, the national
antiquities department. They were described as the first
archaeological items to be shipped back since the 1979
revolution that overthrew the shah. The tablets, inscribed with
cuneiform writing from about 500 B. C., were among tens of
thousands of such items discovered by Chicago archaeologists
that were loaned to the institute in 1937 for translation and
study. Thousands of tablet fragments were returned to Iran in
Reformers in the Iranian government have sought to reassure
foreigners that their projects will be given a high priority. In
the current issue of Archaeology magazine, a publication of the
Archaeological Institute of America, Dr. Jhalil Golshan of the
Iranian cultural organization was quoted as saying, "We are
ready to collaborate."
Dr. Stein said in the interview that "the main concern of
the Iranians is that the new relationship be a partnership of
equals, rather than an asymmetrical kind" as in the past.
This meant that Iran wanted its own researchers more involved in
both excavations and the analysis of findings. A Chicago team,
led by Dr. Abbas Alizadeh, is already surveying ancient
irrigation in the Khuzestan region near the Iraq border. Dr.
Holly Pittman, an archaeologist at Pennsylvania State
University, is investigating Bronze Age remains in central Iran.
A team from Dartmouth and the State University of New York at
Binghamton is digging at a prehistoric site near Persepolis, the
old Persian capital.
Work has also been started or planned by archaeologists from
Australia, Britain, France, Germany and Japan. The Germans are
excavating ancient copper production sites on the Iranian
Plateau. The French are digging at a site associated with the
Persian ruler Cyrus I. The hardened clay tablets being
repatriated date from the middle of the reign of Darius I, 509
B. C. to 494 B. C. Although the inscribed writing is cuneiform,
a script developed more than 5,000 years ago by the Sumerians in
what is now Iraq, the words are Elamite, an early language of
what is now Iran. Dr. Matthew Stolper, a Chicago professor and
specialist on ancient Iran, said that most of the tablets were
no larger than a modern credit card, each one recording a single
transaction. Dr. Stein and other Chicago officials are to fly to
Tehran at the end of the week with their cargo in hand.
: New York Times
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British Institute of Persian Studies