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Iran to Keep British Museum’s Cyrus Cylinder Three More Months

Cyrus Cylinder
The Cyrus Cylinder, an ancient Iranian artifact dated about 539-530 B.C. Source: British Museum via Bloomberg

The British Museum said it will prolong its loan to Iran of an ancient artifact for three more months, meeting a request by the Iranian authorities.

The Cyrus Cylinder, which went on show at the National Museum of Iran in September and was due back Jan. 16, will stay in Tehran until April 15 -- after late March celebrations of the Iranian New Year (Norouz), the museum’s press office said in an e-mailed statement.

“This decision has been taken in recognition of the fact that the exhibition has proved to be very popular to date,” the museum said, “and the extension will give an opportunity for people from the provinces including school groups to visit.”

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. In 2009, it sparked a dispute between the museum and Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicraft and Tourism Organization when its loan was postponed.

The British Museum had originally promised to loan the cylinder to Iran after its 2005-6 exhibition, “Forgotten Empire: The World of Ancient Persia.”

In October 2009, following widespread protests in June against the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the museum held back, saying it was monitoring the political situation to make sure conditions were suitable.

The loan was further delayed in January 2010 when the British Museum said it had discovered, in its own collections, inscriptions similar to the cylinder’s on two pieces of cuneiform tablets from Babylonia.

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