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Oriental Institute archives ancient Persian tablets with support of the Mellon Foundation

Two newly recorded final administrative records in Elamite cuneiform, after conservation. Image courtesy of the Oriental Institute.

Two newly recorded final administrative records in Elamite cuneiform, after conservation. Image courtesy of the Oriental Institute.

In 2007, with a substantial grant from the Mellon Foundation, researchers at the Oriental Institute began digitally archiving thousands of ancient Persian tablets that tell a detailed story of life in that region in 500 B.C. Now, with a second grant from the Mellon Foundation, the work will continue until 2010, when the researchers hope to have 10,000 tablets and fragments recorded.

Gil Stein, Director of the Oriental Institute, where the tablets are kept, is principal investigator along with Matthew Stolper, John A. Wilson Professor in the Oriental Institute. Other team members and co-principal investigators are Annalisa Azzoni at Vanderbilt University, Elspeth Dusinberre at the University of Colorado, Mark Garrison at Trinity University, Wouter Henkelman at the Free University of Amsterdam, and Bruce Zuckerman and members of the West Semitic Research Project at the University of Southern California. The team collaborates in person and electronically.

The tablets being digitized come from the Persepolis Fortification Archive, some 30,000 administrative tablets and fragments that Oriental Institute archaeologists recovered in 1933 at Persepolis, the ruined palaces where the kings of the ancient Persian Empire held court. Since 1936 they have been on loan from Iran to the Oriental Institute for analysis and recording. The tablets, some impressed with cuneiform characters, some inked in Aramaic, nearly all with seal impressions, are being recorded and distributed with digital processes that will allow scholars and viewers across the world to examine them as if they had picked them up and rotated under a light.

For more information, see the full University of Chicago press release.

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