Iran Says Archaeological Agreements are Under Threat in British Museum Cyrus Cylinder Row

A week after Egypt announced it was suspending archaeological cooperation with The Louvre in Paris in an argument over the return of fragments of a Theban Tomb, Iran has threatened to sever archaeological relations with Britain unless an agreement by the British Museum in London to loan out the Cyrus Cylinder is honoured within the next two months.

The artefact a 6th century BC Babylonian cuneiform-inscribed clay cylinder, which has been described as the first charter of human rights was due to arrive in Iran in September. But the British Museum have cited the political situation in post-election Iran which they say they are monitoring as the reason for the delay.

This has outraged the Iranians, who have laid down their ultimatum after questioning what domestic political developments have to do with cultural heritage. An irate Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi is quoted by Reuters as saying: The British party did not honor its pledge on illogical, illegal and unethical grounds. He later adds: If within this period this pledge is not honored then all agreements in archaeological research, trade fairs and so on with Britain might be harmed.

Hamid Baqaei, vice president of Irans Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, reinforced the Iranian position in an interview with the state-run Fars news agency. If the British Museum fails to send the Cyrus Cylinder in the next two months to be shown in Iran, said Baqaei, as quoted by Bloomberg, we will cease any mutual activities with them, including archaeological cooperation and holding cultural heritage exhibitions in the UK.

“As ever with any kind of loan wed want to be assured that the situation in the country was suitable.

Hannah Boulton, head of press at the British Museum, played down the row when she spoke to Bloomberg. We certainly have committed to lending the Cyrus Cylinder to Iran, and it is fully our intention to do that, she said. We hope that well be able to honor that commitment as soon as possible. As ever with any kind of loan wed want to be assured that the situation in the country was suitable.

The British Museum is, of course, no stranger to controversy. The Greeks continue to forcefully demand from them the return of The Elgin Marbles, which were removed to Britain from the Parthenon in Athens on dubious grounds by Sir Thomas Bruce between 1801 and 1812. Recently, the debate over the 12th century Lewis Chessmen the majority of which are kept by the British Museum, despite being discovered on an island in Scotland in 1831 has resulted in a loan agreement, but the Scottish Government continues to call for their permanent repatriation.

The Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, meanwhile, continues to demand the return of the Rosetta Stone from the British Museum, as well as other stolen Egyptian antiquities abroad such as the Bust of Nefertiti, which will this weekend take pride of place at the opening of Berlins Neues Museum.

Picture by M. Ignacio Monge Garca. Some rights reserved.