Sassanian Inscription Unearthed in Ancient Iran Necropolis Being Deciphered

The article Sassanian Inscription Unearthed In Ancient Iran Necropolis Being Deciphered” was posted on Radio Farda (as reported by British-Iranian journalist Maryam Sinaiee) on March 28, 2020.

Kindly note that the version printed below has been edited with two of the images (and accompanying captions) not appearing in the original Radio Farda report.

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Experts are working to decipher a newly discovered inscription unearthed in an ancient necropolis near Persepolis, an official of the Cultural Heritage Organization of Iran, said on Monday. The inscription which dates from the Sassanian period (224-651 CE) was found in Naqsh-e Rostam and is written in Pahlavi language (also known as Middle Persian) which was the official language of the Sassanian Empire.

Tomb of Darius the Great in Naqsh-e Rustam an ancient necropolis located about 12 km northwest of Persepolis, in Fars Province, Iran (Source: Radio Farda).

Naqsh-e Rostam, the site where the inscription was found, was a necropolis and religious center about 12 km northwest of Persepolis, the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire (550-300 BCE). However, some of the relics on the cliffs may date as far back as the Pre-Iranian Elamite Period (2700-539 BCE).

Four huge tombs from the Achaemenid era (550-300 BCE), including the tomb of King Darius the Great (550-486 BCE) hewn into the cliff face and a square-shaped building made with stone blocks from the Sassanian which may also have had a significance in burial rites are among the most important relics of the necropolis.

Several inscriptions and reliefs of Sassanian kings including a rock relief showing the Sassanian king Shapur I on horseback, with the Roman Emperor Valerian bowing to him in submission, are among the other significant surviving relics of Naqsh-e Rostam.

Emperor Valerian surrenders to Shapur I (241-272 CE) and Sassanian nobility at Edessa in 260 CE (Source: Kaveh Farrokh, 2005, Elite Sassanian Cavalry).

Despite the huge importance of the ancient necropolis, unlike Persepolis and Pasargadae, the capital of the Achaemenid Empire (550-300 BCE) under Cyrus the Great (559-530 BCE), Iran has not been able to list it as a UNESCO Heritage Site due to the failure to meet the requirements of UNESCO as to measures taken for the preservation of the site and documentation.

Officials say the inscription is being deciphered. But reading Pahlavi language texts is no easy task.

Inscription in Pahlavi from Pāikūlī (Image Source: Shapour Suren-Pahlav). The above Pāikūlī block appears as D3 in the academic publication by Dr. Helmut Humbach and Dr. Prods O. Skjaervo (The Sassanian Inscription of Paikuli: Restored text and Translation. Reichert Verlag, 1983). Note that five of the above lines are intact with the sixth line damaged. ... For more on this Click Here …

An Aramaic-derived alphabet was used for writing in Pahlavi. The script is very difficult to read due to the use of heterograms. The heterograms were words written in Aramaic but read as their Middle Persian equivalent. It is similar to writing eg in English and reading it “for example”.

In addition to the use of heterograms, the variations of the alphabet between the ordinary script used on parchment and the version used in inscriptions make reading Pahlavi inscriptions which are often badly damaged by exposure to the elements even more complex.

In the past couple of decades, the decline of groundwater tables which has resulted in sinking ground has seriously damaged the relics in  Naqsh-e Rostam or put them in danger of further deterioration. Critics of the Islamic Republic say the government does not put enough effort into the preservation of pre-Islamic relics.