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All visitors and their bags are thoroughly checked every time they enter.Within the museum, the same zealous attention applies.After roughly one hour of commuting, I reach the square around eight a.m.
Once I gain access to the Reading Room, I take my place on one of the long old wooden tables.
In front of me, there is always a small black mat, a lamp, and a large upholstered wooden tray labelled with my name.
For all of us, it was the first time that we went to Iran; and for most of us, it was the first time that we saw cuneiform inscriptions “in the wild,” rather than in some European museum. I mean, you can read about a monument, you can look up the pictures in a dusty book or a scholarly article, but there’s nothing like actually standing in the cold and peering at a frustratingly invisible relief to make you understand an inscription and the place it occupies in the surrounding landscape.
Being there, standing there, walking around and taking everything in, gives you a level of historical understanding that reading a published text on your couch back home just cannot.
Additionally, because the inscription was written in three languages – Elamite, Old Persian and Babylonian – it was of essential importance to the decipherment of cuneiform in the nineteenth century.
One often hears that it was the “Rosetta Stone” of the field of Assyriology.That is not to say that the latter is inferior to the former (as a historian who loves to read texts on her couch, I’d be the last one to claim that).Rather, both are elements of one inseparable whole.I am standing, after all, below one of my favorite rock reliefs from the entire ancient Near East: the monumental Bisitun inscription.The Bisitun inscription was created by one of the first kings of the Achaemenid Empire – Darius I – to commemorate his seizure of the throne in 522 BC.Thankfully, the Reading Room staff has been equally zealous in solving the situation.It will surely be solved from November onwards, once the new exhibition opens its doors.So, as a Ph D student in the field of Achaemenid Empire studies, I was dying to see the inscription with my own eyes.The Bisitun inscription was just one of the many marvels that I saw on our trip to Iran, however – a trip from which we have only just returned (dates: 19 April – 6 May).But Iraq – the cradle of the discipline – continues to be a country that few universities feel safe to send their students to. One thing I do know is that I will not wait for that change. Being a suburban boy, I quite enjoyed the neighbourhood. These are all excellent green oases in the heart of this Babylon-on-Thames.If I cannot go to (southern) Iraq, or to (parts of) Syria, then I’ll just visit all of the other countries. It is a country with so many splendid monuments, mountains, deserts and cities that one trip does not even begin to exhaust what it has on offer. And to be completely honest, I’m already planning my next trip… It is so peaceful and quiet that foxes cross the streets during the day just as freely as they do at night [Fig. I was able to visit a few of the many public parks London has to offer: Greenwich [Fig. And yet, I confess that I liked the smaller and unknown Russia Dock Woodland park and its Stave Hill [Fig.