January 21, 1999
Vol. 18 No. 8

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    Inscriptions of Persian kings have moved from Persepolis to new Web home page

    By William Harms
    News Office

    Photographs taken at an archeological dig site in the 1930s, which show monuments and inscriptions from the time of Darius the Great and other Persian kings, are going up on a Web site at the Oriental Institute.

    The Web site provides scholars an opportunity to link textual and visual material in a way not previously possible and holds the promise of moving scholarship in the area into a new dimension.

    “This technology has the potential for making these records from ancient, Middle Eastern civilizations as readily accessible to scholars as are ancient Greek texts, which are virtually all now on CD,” said Matthew Stolper, Professor of Assyriology at the Oriental Institute.

    “Once researchers are able to read these texts easily, they will probably begin seeing connections between the various languages of the texts, between the texts and the buildings and among the texts that weren’t otherwise obvious,” Stolper added.

    The Oriental Institute’s Web site is based on records of excavations undertaken by the institute between 1931 and 1939 at Persepolis, one of the capitals of the Persian empire.

    The Achaemenid kings of the era––who ruled an area stretching from Afghanistan in the east, to Ethiopia in the south, to Libya in the west and Macedonia to the north––reigned during the sixth through fourth centuries B.C. over an empire that was without parallel until the formation of the Roman Empire.

    The texts and reliefs at Persepolis provide lists of conquered lands and other information about the empire, the kings and the palaces. The information was written in three unrelated languages and is therefore of great interest to scholars who study those languages: Old Persian, the language of the rulers; Elamite, the pre-Iranian language from the part of Iran the Persians had made their homeland; and Akkadian, the language of the Assyrians and Babylonians who had ruled much of western Asia before the Achaemenids.

    Archaeologists interested in the Persian empire frequently visit the Web site to see the photographs of Persepolis, said Charles Jones, a research archivist who worked on the project. “What this site does is make material available to people who otherwise would have had to have a table full of books. Typically when material is published, 500 books are produced and if you don’t have access to an exceptionally good library, you have trouble doing work in this field.”

    The Web site, which was developed with the help of John Sanders, head of the institute’s computer lab, is one of a small but growing number in the world that have been developed to make ancient texts available on the World Wide Web in a form that makes searching, analyzing and comparing the texts possible.

    Gene Gragg, Director of the Oriental Institute, has also worked on the site and said that a more powerful Internet markup language, Extensible Markup Language or XML, for which tools are now being developed, will help scholars expand their ability to publish electronically. The language will facilitate systematic and uniform presentation of material on the site related to Persepolis and other sites with similar material.

    Because this form of publication has the potential to grow rapidly, the Oriental Institute has scheduled a conference for October, when scholars from around the world will come to Chicago to decide how to further use the XML technology when publishing ancient, Near Eastern texts.

    “We have received quite a bit of interest in this conference,” Gragg said. “We think the time has come for there to be some standards established for this field, and it is appropriate that the Oriental Institute lead in setting those standards.”