(ORDO NEWS) — As part of a project to classify and document objects in the storerooms of the Persepolis Museum, scientists discovered a fragment of an Elamite inscription. It repeats an earlier Old Persian text.
Clay tablets inscribed mostly in Elamite are artifacts that have been studied for almost a century. A large number of such tablets were discovered by an expedition of archaeologists from the University of Chicago in the 30s of the last century during excavations of the ruins of Persepolis, an ancient Persian city located in southwestern Iran and included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The artifacts went to the US but returned to Iran in 2019 as part of increased contacts between scientists from the two countries.
Now, Iranian archaeologist Sokheli Delshad said he found a fragment in the Elamite language on one of the tablets. Its text largely follows the Old Persian inscription of the Achaemenid king Darius I on either side of the entrance to the tomb at Nagshe Rostam, an ancient necropolis of Persian kings located two kilometers from Persepolis.
The Elamite language is an extinct language spoken by the inhabitants of the ancient country of Elam, which included the region from the Mesopotamian Plain to the Iranian Highlands.
The earliest objects found date back to the 3rd millennium BC, the so-called Elamite period. Then the rulers of the Achaemenid kingdom (550-330 BC) were buried here. The latest finds date back to the period of the Sassanid state (221-656 AD).
The inscription carved at the entrance to the tomb is one of the first Achaemenid inscriptions studied and published by Iranian scholars. The original text dates back to the reign of Darius I (522-486 BC), while its Elamite copy refers to the period when the Achaemenid state was headed by Xerxes the Great (486-465 BC).
Today it is believed that ancient Persian writing is one of the oldest. It is logical that the earlier inscription was made in Old Persian, and the later in Elamite. But Xerxes the Great was the son of Darius I and succeeded him on the royal throne – that is, not so much time passed for the language to change. Apparently, this change happened before.
By that time, the state of Elam itself had not existed for a long time: the Assyrian ruler Ashurbanipal had finished with it. But the language continued to be used on a par with Old Persian.
Then, around the time of the reign of Darius, Elamite begins to displace Old Persian – at least, this state of affairs was reflected in the sources, those same clay tablets. Most of them are filled with inscriptions in Elamite.
These records are basically the usual bureaucratic documentation: payrolls, orders, diplomatic correspondence.
That is, the Elamite language was understandable to most residents of the Achaemenid state. Some tablets contain, for example, instructions for the leaders of the construction of the lower level of Persepolis. In other words, any worker spoke or at least read the Elamite language.
Based on this, scientists have suggested that the Elamite language, by the time of the reign of Darius, and then his son Xerxes, actually supplanted Old Persian from everyday use. But, judging by the inscription at the entrance to the tomb, the latter remained a sacred language, the language of rites and rituals.
The considered clay tablets are divided into two groups according to the place of discovery and content. The first were found in the area of military fortifications in the northeast of Persepolis, hence their name – “Persepolis Fortification Tablets”.
The find consisted of more than 30 thousand tablets, whole or fragmentary, of which 2120 texts have already been read, and the rest remain undeciphered. These documents are dated 509-494 BC. Although they were all in Persepolis, many came there from other parts of the empire, such as Susa.
The second group of clay tablets was found in the treasury of Xerxes, which is why they are conventionally called the “Tables of the Treasury of Persepolis”. They are dated 492-458 BC (that is, from the end of the reign of Darius until the accession to the throne of his grandson Artaxerxes I).
A total of 753 tablets and fragments have been found, of which 128 have been deciphered to date. Many of the fragments are too worn or broken to form a coherent text.
The tablets of the first group include many records of transactions (mainly related to the distribution of food, the management of herds, the provision of workers and travelers) on the outskirts of the empire.
Cases drawn up in the provinces were sent to the central, as we would now say, administration in the capital. The second group contains mainly texts relating to the life of Persepolis himself.
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