The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
(CAIS) -- An Iranian archaeologist believes that
more studies are needed to prove the authenticity of alleged extracts from the
Cyrus Cylinder carved on two bone fragments found in China.
“We should wait patiently for in-depth
studies by experts on ancient languages and other laboratory research to confirm
the genuineness of the objects,” Kamyar Abdi told the Persian service of CHN
“If the objects are proven authentic,
the discovery will begin to transform our knowledge about relations between the
Near East, especially the Achaemenid Dynastic Empire (550-330 BCE), and China
during the first millennium, in particular during the Eastern Zhou Dynasty
(770-221 BCE),” he added
The discovery will also extend back the
history of relations between China and Iran. Until the discovery, it was
believed that political relations between Iran and China dated back to the Han
Dynasty (206 BC-221 CE) in China and the Parthian Dynasty (248 BCE-224 CE) in
“The Cyrus Cylinder had undoubtedly been
important for the people living under the Achaemenid Empire, but, if the objects
are proved authentic, the first question would be how the Cyrus the Great’
text had been transferred to China and why the text was important enough for the
Chinese to copy it,” he stated.
Considered the world’s first declaration
of human rights, the Cyrus Cylinder is a document issued by the Persian emperor
Cyrus the Great in the form of a clay cylinder inscribed in Akkadian cuneiform
The cylinder was created following the
Persian conquest of Babylon in 539 BCE, when Cyrus the Great overthrew the
Babylonian king Nabonidus, ending the Neo-Babylonian Kingdom.
of the cylinder denounces Nabonidus as impious and portrays the victorious
Cyrus the Great as pleasing to the chief Babylonian god Marduk.
It goes on to describe how Cyrus the Great
had improved the lives of the citizens of Babylonia, repatriated displaced
peoples and restored temples and cult sanctuaries.
The cylinder was discovered in 1879 by the
Assyro-British archaeologist Hormuz Rassam in the foundations of the Esagila,
the main temple of Babylon. Today, it is kept in the British Museum in London.
Two fossilized horse bones bearing
cuneiform inscriptions, which are extracts from the text of the Cyrus Cylinder,
have recently been discovered in China, the London-based Art Newspaper reported
The objects seem to be genuine based on
research by British Museum specialist Irving Finkel.
The texts inexplicably have fewer than one
in every 20 of the Cyrus text’s cuneiform signs transcribed, although they are
in the correct order, Finkel said.
The bones had been donated to the Beijing
Palace Museum in 1985 by deceased Chinese traditional doctor Xue Shenwei, who
bought the artefacts in 1935 and 1940.
Two years after the donation of the
objects, specialist Wu Yuhong realized that the text of the first bone came from
the Cyrus proclamation, but the text of the second was not yet identified.
In January 2010, two fragments of a clay
tablet with inscriptions of part of the text of the Cyrus proclamation were
found in the British Museum’s collection.
Afterwards, experts hypothesized that the
Cyrus proclamation might have been widely copied during ancient times.
Thus, Finkel conducted an in-depth study
on the pair of Chinese bones to determine whether they might be authentic.
Based on existing photographs, he learned
that the text on the second bone was also from the Cyrus proclamation, and
requested more information from Beijing.
Chinese Assyriologist Yushu Gong provided
a much better image of the text and took the photos to the British Museum for a
workshop that was held on June 23-24.
“The text used by the copier on the
bones was not the Cyrus Cylinder, but another version, probably originally
written in Persia, rather than Babylon,” Finkel said.
He surmised that it could have been a
version carved on stone, written with ink on leather, or inscribed on a clay
tablet. Most likely, the original object was sent during the reign of Cyrus to
the far east of his empire, in the west of present-day China.
There was some skepticism among the
scholars attending the workshop, but Finkel believes that the evidence is
He is convinced that the bones have been copied from an authentic version of the Cyrus proclamation, although it is unclear at what point in the past 2,500 years the copying was done.
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