Bloomberg: The British Museum, which faces demands from Iran to lend an ancient artifact known as the Cyrus Cylinder, said it would delay sending the object there after making a discovery. By Farah Nayeri
Jan. 11 (Bloomberg) — The British Museum, which faces demands from Iran to lend an ancient artifact known as the Cyrus Cylinder, said it would delay sending the object there after making a discovery.
On Jan. 5, inscriptions similar to the Cylinder’s were found on two pieces of cuneiform tablets from Babylonia in the museum’s collections. The pieces will be studied to shed light on the Cylinder’s “missing” or “obscure” passages, the museum said, and presented at a London workshop involving Iranian colleagues.
After that, “it is intended that the two new pieces should be exhibited for the first time in Tehran, together with the Cylinder itself,” the museum said in an e-mailed release.
“The agreement has been made with our colleagues in Iran that we’ll postpone the loan to investigate this exciting discovery with them,” said Hannah Boulton, head of press and marketing at the British Museum. “That’s the reason for the postponement.”
The Cylinder, a 539-530 B.C. artifact dating back to the reign of Cyrus the Great, is inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform, and has been described as the world’s earliest charter of human rights. Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicraft and Tourism Organization said in October that it would sever all ties with the British Museum unless a promise to send the Cylinder to the National Museum of Iran was honored.
The British Museum promised to loan the Cylinder to Iran after its 2005-6 exhibition, “Forgotten Empire: The World of Ancient Persia.” Yet in October, the museum said it was monitoring the Iranian political situation to make sure the loan was made in the best possible conditions.
That’s after Iranians took to the streets in the tens of thousands as of mid-June to protest the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, alleging that the poll was rigged.
Another set of protests broke out Dec. 21 after a dissident cleric died. In subsequent marches on Dec. 27, at least eight people were killed in clashes with the security forces.
Boulton said the latest postponement had no link to recent events. “They made this discovery last Tuesday,” she said. “We wanted to have discussions with our colleagues in Iran in terms of what we should do.”
Asked why it took so long for the two tablets to be found, she said, “There are 200,000 cuneiform tablets in our collection, and only a limited number of scholars who can understand and translate cuneiform.”