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Iranian & U.S. Experts to Excavate Jondishapur, the Oldest Academic City in the World


12 June 2005



Experts of the Archaeological Research Center of Iran’s Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization (CHTO) and the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago plan to conduct some excavations at the ancient academic city of Jondishapur next year, the director of the center announced on Sunday.


“Since a major part of Jondishapur has been damaged by farming over the years, we intend to save the ancient site through this project,” Dr. Masud Azarnush added.


Located near Dezful, Khuzestan Province in southwestern Iran, Jondishapur was founded in 271 CE by the Sasanian dynasty. It is home to the ruins of the oldest known teaching hospital and was an institution for philosophical and medical studies in ancient times. Mani, the founder of Manichaeism, was imprisoned and executed in Jondishapur.


“This project, which will begin in early 2006, aims to excavate the ruins buried under earth and to study the damage to the site, which is known as the most significant ancient academic city,” Azarnush said.


With the advent of Islam in Iran, many Sasanian texts were translated into Arabic and the city shared its scientific heritage with the Islamic world.


Farming has caused extensive damage to the main part of the 300-hectare city, which lies beneath the fields of crops. Dam and road construction projects have also harmed the site over the past few years.


The name Jondishapur comes from the Pahlavi (Middle Persian) language expression Gund-dez-i Shapur (the military fortress of Shapur). It has been argued that Jondishapur might have had a Parthian antecedent. But many scholars believe Shapur I, son of Emperor Ardeshir I, founded the city after defeating the Romans led by Valerian. Shapur II made Jundishapur his capital.


Jundishapur gained its claim to fame during the rule of Khosrow Anushiravan. It is written that the king had a keen interest in the sciences and thus gathered a large group of scholars in his city. It was by his decree that the famous physician Borzuyeh was sent off to India to gather the best minds and sources of knowledge of the day.


Borzuyeh is famous for having translated the ancient text Panchatantra from Sanskrit into Persian, naming it "Kelileh and Demneh". Thus, Jundishapur University as the first world academic and research center became an important center of science, philosophy, and medicine of the ancient world.


The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago had begun working on ancient Iranian sites such as Persepolis from the 1930s, but the collaboration was interrupted after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. The institute resumed occasional cooperation two years ago with the help of the Chicago-based Iranian professor Abbas Alizadeh.


The director of the institute, Gil Stein, has travelled to Iran twice in the past two years to discuss methods of cooperation with Iranian cultural officials.


Last year, the institute returned a set of 300 ancient Iranian tablets to the CHTO. The tablets, which provide details of the inner workings of the administration of the ancient Persian Empire, are among a group of tens of thousands of tablets and tablet fragments that were loaned to the institute in 1937.





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Keywords: Gondi Shapour, Gondi Shapur, Jondi Shapour, Jondishapur, Gondishapur, Gundeshapur, Khuzestan



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