“Three hundred clay tablets that were on loan to the University of Chicago‘s Oriental Institute since 1937 have arrived here today,” Muhammad Reza Kargar said on Saturday.
The repatriation of the antiques marks the first such handover by US scientists since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Kargar added: “They were given to the institute based on a framework of cooperation and now they are returning home within the same understanding, and the head of the institute Dr. Gil Stein is here to hand over the tablets.”
The clay tablets record administrative details of the Persian Empire from about 500 BC.
“They were among a group of tens of thousands of tablets and tablet fragments unearthed by University of Chicago archeologists at an excavation site in Persepolis, the capital of the Persian Empire, in 1933,” Kargar said.
The tablets record the workings of the Persian administration – including details such as the daily food rations given to workers – but perhaps more importantly they provide one of the few Persian sources of information on the Persian Empire.
“These tablets function much like credit card receipts. They provide an incredibly rich amount of information”
Much of what is known about the empire – which sprawled from Ethiopia to Egypt, Greece, modern-day Turkey, Central Asia and India – has been gathered from Greek and Latin texts, according to the experts at the Oriental Institute.
“These tablets function much like credit card receipts,” said Charles Jones, a researcher with the Oriental Institute. “They provide an incredibly rich amount of information.”
The basic daily ration for an adult male worker was about one and a half quarts of barley and a half-quart of beer or wine, according to translations of the tablets.
“Singly, these tablets are almost worthless as historical information,” Matthew Stolper, an expert on Iran, told the Chicago Tribune.
“But when you begin to compile the contents of thousands of them, you begin to see this broad picture of how the empire was organised and run.”
University of Chicago scholars have published volumes of the translations of the Elamite scripts, which were written in cuneiform writing on clay tablets.
They have also produced digital images of them and are hoping to create an electronic database of the tablets that can be expanded as scholars complete the task of transcribing the remaining artifacts.