Heritage Hunters

Trying to cash in on what Darius and Xerxes left us!?


Heritage Hunters
by Ari Siletz

In 2010 James Dolan, chief executive officer of Cablevision got paid about $13 million, or about 400 time the wages of an ordinary you and me. By comparison the manager of the royal household of the Achaemenid king Darius the Great was paid 700 sheep, 600 loads of flour, and 32000 liters of beer and wine. This is about 100 times the wage of an ordinary Achaemenid postal worker (courier). Never mind how much Darius got paid—the king was a national symbol, and therefore beyond labor pricing--but when it comes to income disparity Achaemenids seem to have the U.S. beaten four to one in terms of social justice. How do we know how much workers and top administrators got paid during the Achaemenids?

The information comes from deciphering a fraction of the 12000+ clay tablet “file cabinet” found at Persepolis circa 1930, and now stored mostly in the U.S. These are the famous Persepolis tablets now facing death by lawsuit in the U.S. legal system. The U.S. says the IRI is a state sponsor of terrorism and therefore U.S. citizens can sue Iran for injury resulting from IRI sponsored terrorist activity. For example, if Hamas hurts an American citizen during a terrorist attack, the injured person can sue Iran for supporting Hamas’ act. In fact many plaintiffs have already won large damages against Iran; the only problem was how to collect the court awarded money. After some hunting around in law books, they found out that a loophole in the 2002 Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) allows them to auction off the Persepolis tablets housed in U.S. universities. That should raise a few million, they thought.

But just last week the NIAC news email brought good tidings that some of the tablets have been rescued, apparently through clever use of a legal technicality. Lawyers defending the tablets in Massachusetts successfully argued that the plaintiffs couldn’t prove that the items actually belong to the IRI. To get more detail on the temporarily good news I talked on the phone with NIAC president Trita Parsi. NIAC has been involved in the tablet rescue efforts, leading where it can and assisting where it can. When I asked what would happen to the tablets if they were auctioned, Parsi’s typically measured interview voice became troubled:

“When you have a lot of artifacts--as we see in this case--the relative market value of each item drops. And as has happened before, the business owners destroy many of the items in order to increase the value of the remaining ones. We have seen this happen with Egyptian artifacts in the past. There’s a significant risk. It may actually happen that there will be a deliberate effort to destroy the stocks to make sure that the remaining 500 out of the 12000 fetch the best price! Then this part of our history and heritage will be destroyed.”

This is simply barbarism, committed in the name of 21st century justice. From a perfectly reasonable angle these tablets are just as important as the Darius Behistun inscriptions or even the Cyrus Cylinder. Why? Because archeological sites and museums are full of self-descriptions by rulers of what kick-ass heroes they were and how justly they ruled. Bein e khodemoon, “Cyrus Cylinder” kings were a dime a dozen. Even today, Kayhan is a daily Cyrus Cylinder made out of paper. To give substance to our past we need more than the words of Cyrus and Darius; we need to audit their receipts. And this is precisely what these tablets are: receipts, invoices, pay stubs, wage tables, reimbursement, how much food and wine the priests of different religions got to offer their gods, etc. sampling several periods of Achaemenid rule. So far the tablets reveal an empire buzzing with a complex economy, an active society and run by an intricately structured administrative system. There’s an astonishing amount of detail about Achaemenid life in these tablets, beyond what we could have reasonably hoped; their discovery is a cultural windfall for Iranians. Ironically if it hadn’t been for another barbaric act—Alexander’s--more than two millennia ago, these tablets may have been scattered centuries ago. The quick collapse of the Persepolis building hid the tablets and made them inaccessible.

Despite the recent victory in Massachusetts, the bulk of the tablets in Chicago and elsewhere in the U.S. are still very much in danger. NIAC’s main effort has been to participate in legislative efforts to help close the loophole in the law. Museums, libraries and universities are unhappy with TRIA language that allows cultural artifacts to be legally regarded as commercial goods. Already some countries are refusing to loan artifacts to U.S. cultural and educational institutions because of the risk of their being confiscated through lawsuits and auctioned. And already there are indications that the U.S. may face treatment in kind from other countries. These are the cultural dangers of trying to run foreign policy through domestic laws. Since NIAC’s area of expertise is in dealing with Washington, the organization is a natural fit for the Iranian-American contribution to amending the poorly phrased TRIA language. Here, paraphrased, is the amendment NIAC is supporting:

The property of a foreign state or of an agency or instrumentality of a foreign state shall be immune from attachment and from execution if the property—

1. is cultural property.

2. is in the possession, custody, or control of any museum or library, or institution of higher education.

As another effort NIAC also helps with the defense in court cases. Since NIAC is neither the defendant nor the plaintiff in such cases, it can only act as an interested third party to educate the judges with “friend of the court” briefings. Here’s a link to a 15 page NIAC “friend of the court briefing.” Besides citing various court cases and international precedents regarding the immune status of cultural property, the brief explains why the organization is interested in the case:

“These artifacts have substantial historical importance and have value to both scholars and ordinary citizens seeking to understand Iranian history and culture. Even to the extent that the artifacts are legally owned by the Government of Iran, they do not fully belong just to it. They are part of the cultural heritage of all persons of Iranian descent.”

Parsi mentioned a third approach which at first sight seems softer, but on deeper thought is the biggest battle in rescuing our heritage. NIAC has been an active participant in the cultural events of other organizations--such as the Parsa foundation--to promote a higher understanding of the preciousness of our culture. Without a community awakened to its own worth, judicial and legislative efforts are meaningless. The Iranian-American public has to care, or these tablets are just what they look like: old clay that is somehow worth millions to “crazy foreigners.”

Quite aside from fear of losing a valuable part of humanity’s heritage, as an Iranian-American confident of Iran’s historic and cultural worth, I am angry and indignant at this insult of U.S. law to the heritage of other nations, in particular Iran. How dare they try to cash in on what Darius and Xerxes left us!?

I wonder how many other Iranian-Americans are just as displeased.


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more from Ari Siletz
Oon Yaroo

Soosan Khanoom, Talk is cheap! Why don't you and the rest of

by Oon Yaroo on

the gang here file a lawsuit against Israel on behalf of the oppressed PLO folks? No sarcasm implied here!

Sang moft & gonjeeshk moft!

Soosan Khanoom

The entire thing is

by Soosan Khanoom on

The entire thing is unbelievable ...  Israel stole a land and a nation and has been indiscriminately killing its original occupants. Not only no one sues Israel but also they veto anything slightly against it ... 

and here they are accuisng ( hint accusing ) Iran of a crime done by another nation and since they have already got anything that poor nation had now they want to get Iranians historical treasures .  Am I right here? Or am i missing something?  Please enlighten me 

Is it not time to say to they and their supporters on this site that Enough is Enough ?

Anyway, Thanks Ari for the blog ..

Ari Siletz


by Ari Siletz on

Since the lawsuits, efforts to hi-rez image, 3D scan and CT-scan the tablets have been redoubled. The University of Chicago's Persepolis Fortification Archive Project site gives a lot of detail on the Persepolis archive project. The site mentions 30,000 tablets and fragment of which 8000 pieces have been so far scanned. In citing numbers it looks like they're distinguishing between the number of tablets and the total number of tablet pieces including fragments.By the way, I was happy to see this IC article posted on their site.

Regarding the dilemma of contact or no contact and other tough choices --by NIAC or any other activist organization--activism naturally steps on toes and generates opinion and controversy. The more dust opponents raise, the more members know progress is being made. Routine, realy!






Veiled Prophet of Khorasan

Dear Ari

by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


Thank you for your great article and very fine analysis. It is the good and practical work of people like you that saves our heritage. I have a question and an observation.

Do we have imprints and copies made of all the tablets? In the event of auction or a disaster they should be preserved. Obviously a replica is not as good as the real one. But it will safeguard the information on them. I hope this is already done.

Regarding NIAC I find one thing strange about its opponents. They want NIAC to influence IRI to protect Persepolis; human rights; etc. At the same time they object to any contact NIAC has with IRI officials. You really hit the nail on the head. In order for NIAC to have any influence it needs to have contacts. But if it were to follow the advise of its critics it will not have any contact. You made the perfect observation: without contact there will be no influence.


Preserving "IRI elite"

by Fred on

NIAC Lobby is all for the “grand bargain” with the Islamist Rapist Republic.

NIAC lobby is against meaningful sanctions which would break the back of the Islamist Rapist Republic.

NIAC lobby is against putting the terrorist arm of the Islamist Rapist Republic, the Pasdaran, on the terrorist list.

It seems to me with that sort of agenda, NIAC lobby is into preserving the “IRI elite” which would eliminate the payee for the 33 years worth of terrorist activities by all the Islamist Rapists which include Mousavi, Karubi, Khatami and every single IRR big shot.

Ari Siletz

Some replies

by Ari Siletz on

Fred: The victims deserve the compensation US courts awarded them. As would any innocent victim of state violence--and the list is long. The compensation has to come from those who participated in committing the crime.  Once the IRI elite are defeated and their wealth confiscated a certain portion should be allocated to paying off the awarded damges to the victims--or to their estates.

James D: Good point. If the collection is auctioned its parts will be scattered or destroyed (same thing, really, from an archeologist-historian point of view) and no reasonable effort can restore it. 

VPK: Thanks for the energy you are putting into defending our heritage.

HG: The concept of price elasticity in economics is basic. If halving the supply quadruples the price of each item, the seller makes twice as much money by actually removing half his inventory from the market. This is why farmers sometimes destroy a part of their crop. Precious metals and stones, are stored, however, as they are useful in tempering economic fluctuations. For example, if the price of gold climbs so high (as we are seeing today) that it reflects a dramatic lowering of confidence in currencies,  then more gold will be released into the market. There is no telling what motives may exist for the choice of storing or destroying items such as the Persepolis tablets, considering that sellers could end up at the bottom of a lake if they fail to follow up on a promise to destroy inventory.

MM: Thanks for the info regarding the $110,000 NIAC fundraising for the tablets. For the reader, here are some pics of the event.

Anahid: I too find the contents of these tablets fascinating. Bit geeky of me, perhaps, but somehow an Achaemenid receipt or tax document interests me more than how many endorsements Darius received from the sky.

Vildemose: As MM points out, the IRI has had almost no role in the tablet rescue effort. They participated only in their endangerment.


AO: As an American institution representing a group of citizens, NIAC has some influence (hopefully growing) with the U.S. government. As VPK points out, NIAC has no pull with the IRI. To have pull with a government, you have to have solid contact with meaningful give and take. This does not seem to be what Iranian-Americans want with the IRI. Speaking for myself though, I feel limited access to the technocratic ranks holding up Iran's day-to-day infrastrucre would give NIAC more leverage in its dealing with U.S.officials when it comes to Iranian-American interests. To clarify where I'm coming from, recently I  have been studying what's being done about the drying of Lake Urmia. Where else can I get info except from these technocrats--yes, salaried by the regime? It is what it is!

COP: You state, "Most Iranians do not know, or care, about their heritage. This is
obvious by the lack of respect and value most show for their national
"  Yes, we can do much better. First step is not rely on any particular regime to safeguard our culture. I see nothing impractical about citizens organizing to rotate volunteers at Persepolis to monitor against vandalism.

Faramarz: Absolutely right! This issue is non-partisan. It involves all of us. If any other organization wants to jump in the fray--without bad mouthing or undermining other groups who are helping--it would be a delight. LOL on the micturition rites you et al. performed at the Mormon temple. If I see a "la'nat bar..." sign on those beautiful temple walls, I know who to blame.

HFB: Thanks! "hargezam nagsh e to az lowh e del o jaan naravad..." Great, but only if someone doesnt autcion the lowh!










Hafez for Beginners

Excellent and Timely Article

by Hafez for Beginners on

Thank you!


Speaking of Destroying National Treasures!

by Faramarz on

A few years ago, I was traveling through the western US with one of my buddies. We arrived in Salt Lake City in mid morning and decided to visit the Mormon Temple there. By the time we got to the temple, both of us were in great need of a visit to the restrooms!

As we got inside the temple, a priest came towards us and asked what we were doing. We told him that we are visitors from out of state and wanted to take a look. He said that only members were allowed inside the temple and asked us to leave. We tried to argue with him saying that the temple is God’s house and we had every right to be there. But we were not successful and left.

So we went outside and around the corner, opened our zippers and had the most rewarding religious experience on the beautiful marble walls of the Mormon Temple!

Veiled Prophet of Khorasan

hamsade ghadimi

by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


I don't know if the collectors will destroy them or not. Maybe it would make sense as you say to stash them away. Or donate them to a Museum. That way the "available" ones will be rare without having to destroy the others.

I am a collector of ancient artifacts myself and know many others. The mentality of a collector is not to destroy them. In fact it is painful for a collector to destroy an artifact. We do not get them for money rather for love of history. The only ones who may destroy them are "dealers" who are interested in a fast buck. If they go for sale there are two ways to deal with it:

  • Rush out there an buy them. We got around a million Iranian Americans if each 100 of us bought one we could have them all. Then open an Iranian history Museum in America and donate them to it.
  • Shame the buyers. Put out full page advertisements. Make it clear they are buying "stolen goods". For all practical purpose these will be stolen goods. Then suggest the only thing to do it to put them in a museum.

As for the tiles I guess it is too late. I am not kidding if IRI wants to haul away  treasure as trash I buy it. Why not? They get some money and we get some treasure. Maybe the tiles you know about are gone. But there will be more right.



by MM on

The IRI has not paid any attention to this travesty.  My guess is that they do not want to be involved in losing this battle and count on the US to save their a$$.  NIAC has been involved in supporting the court case as well as legislative support and talking with the White House from time that the victims tried to go after the tablets.  Last year, I heard that the IRI lawyers made a show appearance in the court.  Although the IRI would have been involved, crying foul, if these were Islamic relics!

Fighting court cases is very expensive and NIAC raised $110K at a fund-raiser in the tri-state area alone, and that is when we met professor M. Stopler, the curator of the Persepolis fortification at the U. of Chicago.  And, BTW, you do not need to have visited Persepolis to appreciate the tablets.  Several folks who had never been to Iran contributed money at the above fund-raiser.


Good Job Ari and Trita

by Faramarz on

Artifacts belong to the museums, not private homes.

This is a good example of how the interests of Iranian-Americans can be served without getting into Neocon/AIPAC/Likud/Zion/Grand Bargain and other side-shows.

hamsade ghadimi

vpk, sorry for not getting

by hamsade ghadimi on

vpk, sorry for not getting back to you promptly.  the tiles in question (in my comment) were being hauled as trash.  i don't understand how i could buy them from iri. if you have any connections for other artifacts, let me know.

i wonder if the people who destroy artifacts to fetch a higher price for remaining artifacts document their destruction so that the potential buyer knows that what he's buying is rarer.  otherwise, wouldn't the wise businessman just hide the extra artifacts for a long long time?  the things that they don't teach in econ classes just amazes me.  i wonder if diamond miners do the same.

Veiled Prophet of Khorasan


by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


Agreed IRI mistreats Iranian treasure. But it has nothing to do with the tablets. By the way the Western soldiers used Persepolis for target practice. It is only recently that West has started to show respect for its own treasure.

This is the reasoning I see:

  • IRI is not caring for Iranian pre-Islamic and some post-Islamic treasures.
  • Therefore we should not care what happens to Persepolis tablets.
  • Therefore NIAC is wasting its time and is "evil".

No problem let the tablets be sold. Who cares anyway. As long as Fred gets to blame NIAC all is well. God forbid NIAC gets a success. How are we gonna blame them!

Anonymous Observer

This court case started when Mr. Parsi's BFF & confidant

by Anonymous Observer on

Javad Zarif was IR's ambassador to the UN.  The IR was served with the lawsuit (which was pretty flimsy) and decided not to defend it.  The Plaintiffs obtained Judgment by default (because the government of Iran did not appear and defend the case).  This is the damages phase where they are trying to collect on that Judgment.  Had they appeared and defended the case, the Plaintiffs, in all likelihood, would have lost the case.  But then again, defending the case would have meant that the IR would have had to make available its goons (officials), including its UN ambassador,  for depositions and provided other discovery, which would have showed their ties to terrorist activities around the world.  

So, once again, the IR put the interest of itself and its terrorist mafia over the interests of the Iranian people.

Now, did Mr Parsi ever try to pursuade his buddy, Mr. zarif to defend the case so that we don't get to where we are today?  Or was he too busy trying to pimp him around Washington? 

Veiled Prophet of Khorasan

hamsade ghadimi

by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


Another pointless jab at NIAC. You know and I know NIAC has no power in Iran. Why don't you stop being cute and do something if really worried. You could go and buy the tiles yourself. I am sure IRI will be willing to sell them for $$.




by Cost-of-Progress on

1. Unfortunately, the regime cares more about the door knobs on a stinking emmamzaade than pre islamic tresures.  The mullahs and their goons are directly responsible for whatever happens to these treasures.

2. Most Iranians do not know, or care, about their heritage. This is obvious by the lack of respect and value most show for their national treasures.

I agree with HG, by the way on the way people treat Persepolis. The regime has a responsibility to protect, but the people are so ignorant that combined with the indifference exhibited by the regime, the damage is two-fold.

For those who have not been, try to find out how the Europeans, say the Brits, treat their national treasures (Castles, etc.) and how they cherish the relics of their previous glory.

We Iranians have a long way to go, if we ever get there.




hamsade ghadimi

ari, good read. i have a

by hamsade ghadimi on

ari, good read.

i have a good artifact story.  although, the artifacts in my story are not as old as the ones in your article.  when i was visiting shiraz on a trip, i visited arg-e karim khan zand.  it's a very beautiful structure with a little garden and reflecting pool in the middle of the walled-in property.  there are many unusual and beautiful details that are wooden (unlike the more ancient sites outside the city); especially, the wooden columns and windows stand out. some of the rooms around the courtyard have detailed mosaic work.  i saw construction material outside of one of these rooms and thought there's probably a perservation project.  i peeked inside and saw couple of amalehs stripping all the tile work with long-handled hand scrapers.  the tiles were crashing on the floor and most were in pieces.  i was there with a native shirazi and we were both watching it in horror as we had enjoyed the grounds for an hour before we stumbled on the workers.  i asked them what they're doing.  one of them said "we're renovating, the tiles were falling off."  (nosaazi mikonim).  i reached into my backpack and gave them a large bottle of cold water i was carrying and asked them if i could have couple of the tiles.  they laughed and said "you can haul as much as you want."  very sad.  do you think i should contact niac and return the tiles.  btw, i'm not planning on selling them.


 what is the government of

by vildemose on

 what is the government of Iran so called IRI is doing about this travesty? Are they concerned whatsoever to portect the Iranian heritage??

Reform requires the consent of the corrupt

Veiled Prophet of Khorasan

hamsade ghadimi

by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


This is not about how IRI is treating Persepolis. I agree it is not taking care of it. But how is it a justification for auctioning the tablets?  I don't mind if they were kept in some Museum in America like MFA of Boston. Safe and secure until IRI goes. But private auction is outrageous. Do you not see the difference? 

Why should these victims be paid out of Iranian treasure. Go sue Rafsanjani. He has plenty of property in the West. Besides why should the families of "collateral damage" in Afghanistan not get the same damages for USA. Don't they matter. This is bullying buy American congress. The result is no nation will let its treasure to America. 



thanks Ari - great summary

by MM on

As far as I know, the writings on these tablets are the only evidence we have of the daily activities of the old Persians.  And, we learn more every day, thanks to the efforts of people like professor M. Stolper (U. of Chicago). I have also heard that many of these tablets may be destroyed to raise the value of the remaining batch.

Unlike what is said on a comment here, no one is trying to blame the victims, but trying to protect our heritage from being auctioned off on eBay. I would rather see these terrorism victims to go after the frozen assets of Iran rather than get their hands on these irreplaceable tablets.  What a shameful way to characterize the only Iranian-American organization who has been trying to save these aftifacts, by some commenters here.

Anahid Hojjati

Thanks Ari for a very interesting article.

by Anahid Hojjati on

It is great that these tablets are like pay stubs, invoices, etc for a government in Iran thousands of years ago.  I also think that the idea to auction these tablets to make money for those done wrong by IRI is a bad idea.

Veiled Prophet of Khorasan

Right Fred

by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on

The artifacts are property of the Iranians and are safe in US. when IRR is overthrown they will be returned to Iran.

If not for NIAC they would be on Ebay or some other auction house. Then if we are lucky in some private collection. More likely destroyed to show spite. What is not washing any more is the attacks on NIAC. The more people like you attack it the more I know they are doing the right thing. Also NIAC is a private organization with the right to have whomever it wants to president. So what if Parsi is its president. If you don't like it don't join. No one is forced to join ir. Or to remain if they want to go.

hamsade ghadimi

james d., i'm going on a

by hamsade ghadimi on

james d., i'm going on a limb and guessing that you've never visited perspolis (fyi, an important heritage site in iran).  whan you do, you'll see how the iranian government is taking care of one of iran's most eminent site for pre-islamic antiquities. btw, if you go and visit, please don't carve your initials on any stone.  thanks.

Veiled Prophet of Khorasan


by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


Fred's job is to attack NIAC. No matter what. It has nothing to do with Persepolis. It has to do with an agenda. I have been reading IC for years. In this time I noticed a number of people with a NIAC obsession. They have nothing else on their minds but attacking Trita Parsi and NIAC. I have my own theories as to why but rather keep them to myself. These "victims" have no rights to Iranian national treasures. They are represented by "Ambulance Chasing" lawyers for a buck.

If you used the same principle then Vietnam should sue America for Liberty Bell. How about the victims of the Iranian civilian jetliner 655 shot down by Americans. But you will never hear about them from Fred. Because they are not Israeli.

The one thing I will credit Fred with it not using a fake Iranian names. Unlike many others with the same agenda at least he gets that right.


NIAC lobby response team

by Fred on

Either this particular NIAC lobby response team member does not know, or is understandably sounding that way.

NIAC lobby is not “the only Iranians”, but to avert responding to the legitimate request asking from the lifetime president of NIAC lobby to pressure his IRR friends, it is a threadbare tactic to claim so.

James D.


by James D. on

Fred, as usual, you're missing the point. If we lose, these artifacts will be long gone before the IRI.  There won't be antiquities to return to Iran after that blessed day when the regime falls.  So you should stop attacking the only Iranians doing anything to protect these cultural items.

James D.

Not justice

by James D. on

So these guys are suing American museums and universities to try to seize Iranian artifacts that they can then auction off... I know the plaintiffs are victims and all, but don't these lawsuits just create more victims? (Iranians who value their culture, museums, universities, etc.) Who wins in this terrible plan?


Balming the victims

by Fred on

As long as the Islamist Rapist Republic is in control of Iran and Iranians, the entire historical treasures of Iran are in jeopardy.

What this lifetime president of the NIAC lobby who according to court documents has a friendly and cozy relationship with various high officials of IRR can do is to pressure his friends to stop their terrorist activists both domestically and internationally.

Blaming the victims does not cut it any more.

The artifacts are property of the Iranians and are safe in US. when IRR is overthrown they will be returned to Iran.