>An article published in The Guardian describes the controversy between the British Museum and Iran over the status of the Cyrus Cylinder. The following is an excerpt from the article:
The discovery of fragments of ancient cuneiform tablets – hidden in a British Museum storeroom since 1881 – has sparked a diplomatic row between the UK and Iran. In dispute is a proposed loan of the Cyrus cylinder, one of the most important objects in the museum’s collection, and regarded by some historians as the world’s first human rights charter.
The Iranian government has threatened to “sever all cultural relations” with Britain unless the artefact is sent to Tehran immediately. Museum director Neil MacGregor has been accused by an Iranian vice-president of “wasting time” and “making excuses” not to make the loan of the 2,500-year-old clay object, as was agreed last year.
The museum says that two newly discovered clay fragments hold the key to an important new understanding of the cylinder and need to be studied in London for at least six months.
The pieces of clay, inscribed in the world’s oldest written language, look like “nothing more than dog biscuits”, says MacGregor. Since being discovered at the end of last year, they have revealed verbatim copies of the proclamation made by Persian king Cyrus the Great, as recorded on the cylinder. The artefact itself was broken when it was excavated from the remains of Babylon in 1879. Curators say the new fragments are the missing pieces of an ancient jigsaw puzzle.
Irving Finkel, curator in the museum’s ancient near east department, said he “nearly had a coronary” when he realised what he had in his hands. “We always thought the Cyrus cylinder was unique,” he said. “No one had even imagined that copies of the text might have been made, let alone that bits of it have been here all along.”
Finkel must now trawl through 130,000 objects, housed in hundreds of floor-to ceiling shelving units. His task is to locate other fragments inscribed with Cyrus’s words. The aim is to complete the missing sections of one of history’s most important political documents.
Read the story in its entirety by visiting The Guardian online.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary