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Iran Demands Return of the Ancient Clay Tablets from US


14 July 2006




LONDON, (CAIS) -- The 2,500-year-old Achaemenid tablets, which have been studied for decades at the University of Chicago, give a unique insight into the workings of the Achaemenid Empire.

Many tablets in the collection loaned to the university have already been sent back to Iran but those still under study are at the center of an Israeli compensation suit connected to a shooting in the West Bank blamed on an Iranian-backed group.

A U.S. court has unjustifiably ruled that Iran's assets can be seized, and last month a U.S. judge upheld the ruling, prompting a new campaign by Iran to secure the tablets' return, including an appeal to the U.N. cultural body, UNESCO.

"We should first exhaust diplomatic ways, cultural correspondence, administrative and friendly ways to take all of the property back," said Omid Ghanami, director of legal affairs at Iran' Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization.

He also said Iran could file a suit if the university did not return them and was taking legal advice, Iran's Fars news agency reported.

The compensation suit was brought by relatives of Yaron Ungar, killed in 1996 terrorist attack in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank. Four members of Palestinian group Hamas, responsible for the slaughter were convicted by an Israeli court.

The University of Chicago, which has been working on the tablets since the 1930s, says it opposes the U.S. court ruling.

"The Oriental Institute will do everything in its power to protect cultural patrimony and the character of the tablets as an irreplaceable scholarly data set," Gil Stein, director of the university's Oriental Institute, wrote to Iran's heritage body.

The collection of tablets, roughly the size of a postcard, numbered about 30,000 found in 1933-34 and 1936-38 Chicago University expedition in the ancient Iranian capital of Persepolis. They belonged to administrative records kept by agencies of the Achaemenid government during the reigns of Darius the Great, Xerxes and Artaxerxes I.

Many broke further when moved from site or shipped to Chicago where they were sent on loan for study, said Iranian archaeologist Shahrokh Razmjou.

“The tablets record payments inside the Achaemenid Empire from 509 to 494 BCE, around the height of Persian power at the time of Darius the Great,” he said. Such information is not found on royal texts carved in stone.

The Treasury Tablets are divided by their formularies into "letters" and "memoranda." The letters from various officials, addressed to the head of the treasury in Persepolis, order that a certain sum be paid to individuals who carry out specified work, while the memoranda record the nature and duration of the work performed, the official responsible, and the amount of silver or foodstuffs paid to workmen in various categories according to their qualifications.

Razmjou, who exhibited some previously returned tablets in Iran's National Museum, said it was not important if research continued in Chicago or elsewhere, even though the tablets belonged to Iran. But he said the artifacts should not be politicized or turned into a financial resource.

"They are a kind of memory of mankind. They are not a financial source to be used in courts," he said.

The tablets include a range of documents, including receipts for food and goods; receipts for money given to religious men ffor holding religious ceremonies; mothers’ salaries; workers’ salaries; receipts for money given for special trips or keeping animals; and accounting documents.

The tablets show that working Iranian women of the Achaemenid dynastic era received wages and salaries three times those of the men holding similar job positions. Those working for the government also received child benefits and other extra benefits. Studies furthermore show that people in general enjoyed high salaries and wages.


According to the clay records, the couriers who were to travel the roads of the Achaemenid Empire to transfer messages were paid by the government and this can be considered as the most ancient postal system of the world, founded by Darius the Great.

Most of the tablets, specially the accounting ones, include writings or marks which show that a copy of the document has been made to be kept in the Imperial Archive.

The U.S. District Judge Blanche Manning said Iran could have asserted immunity for its property during the case but did not.

Although priceless historical pieces, scholars say the tablets would have limited value in the art market.





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Source: CHN


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