In 1933, Oriental Institute archaeologists working at Persepolis, clearing the ruined palaces of Kings Darius, Xerxes, and their Achaemenid Persian successors, found clay tablets in two small rooms of a bastion in the fortification wall at the edge of the great stone terrace. There were tens of thousands of tablets and fragments, of four main kinds:

View the Persepolis Fortification Archive using the Online Cultural and Historical Research Environment (OCHRE)

 an example of a primary administrative record in Elamite cuneiform.  an example of a final administrative record in Elamite cuneiform.

Pieces with texts in cuneiform script and Elamite language, the remains of about 15,000–18,000 original documents

 an example of an Aramaic administrative record.  an example of an Aramaic administrative record.

Pieces with texts in Aramaic script and language, the remains of about 500–1000 original documents

 an example of an uninscribed, sealed administrative tablet.  an example of an uninscribed, sealed administrative tablet.

Pieces with no texts, but with seal impressions, the remains of about 5,000–6,000 original documents

 a unique discovery; the only known administrative tablet in Old Persian cuneiform.  a unique discovery; an Achaemenid administrative tablet in Greek.

And some oddities (a tablet in Greek, a tablet in Phrygian, a tablet in Old Persian, tablets marked with Greek or Persian coins in lieu of seals, and others).

These were records produced by the operations of a single administrative organization in the years around 500 BC, all strands of a single information system.

Most of the Fortification tablets came to the Oriental Institute in 1936, on loan for study and analysis. The results of long, painstaking work—especially the late Richard T. Hallock’s magisterial analysis of 2,087 Elamite texts—were far-reaching. Individually, the documents are mere records of storage and outlays of food, but as a whole, the Persepolis Fortification Archive shows a broader spectrum of Achaemenid Iranian society than any other source, from the lowliest workers to the king’s own family. The PFA has fundamentally changed every aspect of the study of Achaemenid Iranian languages, art, institutions and history.

The PFA Project

The Persepolis Fortification Archive Project is a new phase in recording and distributing the information that brings about these changes, using electronic equipment and media alongside the conventional tool-kits of philology and scholarship. In its early phases, the PFA Project has:

  •  the Polynomial Texture Mapping apparatus.Graduate student Jennifer Gregory photographs Elamite Fortification tablets.Captured and edited conventional digital images of almost two and a half thousand Elamite Fortification tablets, accelerating work that has been under way since 2002;
  • Captured and edited very high resolution digital images of more than six hundred Aramaic Fortification tablets and their seal impressions, as well as hundreds of uninscribed, sealed Fortification tablets, using large-format scanning backs and Polynomial Texture Mapping apparatus built specifically for the project;
  • Started to explore advanced technologies for recording and conservation of Fortification tablets and fragments (3D scanning, subsurface laser scanning, CT scanning, laser cleaning and others);
  •  Gene Gragg, Matthew Stolper.Formed a team of editors to prepare editions of Elamite and Aramaic Fortification tablets and studies of seal impressions, both those accompanying texts and those on uninscribed tablets, to be distributed on a real-time rolling basis along with images of the tablets;
  •  an example of unedited material being cataloged and recorded. Two newly recorded final administrative records in Elamite cuneiform, after conservation.Catalogued, assessed and sorted about a third of the thousands of tablets and fragments that remain to be recorded, to identify priorities for conservation, study and presentation;
  • Set up data structures for recording, linking, analyzing and presenting images and documents in the On-Line Cultural Heritage Environment (OCHRE);
  • Entered co-operative agreements with projects at the Collège de France, the University of Southern California, and UCLA. which will lead to distribution of PFA data through at least three other on-line sources;
  • Established a weblog to collect news reports on the status of the PFA as well as on-line images, articles, and books connected with Persepolis and the Persepolis tablets.

The PFA Project Team:


  • Annalisa Azzoni (Vanderbilt University: Aramaic texts)
  • Elspeth R. M. Dusinberre (University of Colorado: seal impressions on Aramaic texts)
  • Mark B. Garrison (Trinity University: seal impressions on all items)
  • Gene Gragg (Oriental Institute: electronic analysis of Elamite texts)
  • Wouter F. M. Henkelman (Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, and École Pratique des Hautes Études, Paris: final edition of Elamite texts from the papers of the late Richard T. Hallock)
  • Charles E. Jones (Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University: new Elamite texts, weblog)
  • Matthew W. Stolper (Oriental Institute: catalogue, new Elamite texts, project oversight).

Technical Support:

  • Laura d’Alessandro (Oriental Institute: conservation)
  • Monica Hudak (Oriental Institute; conservation) Jeanne Mandel (Oriental Institute; conservation)
  • Marilyn Lundberg (University of Southern California: high-quality imaging of Aramaic and uninscribed tablets)
  • Lec Maj (Humanities Research Computing, University of Chicago: advanced technology application, IT support and liaison)
  • Miller Prosser (Digital Studies, Humanities Division; OCHRE support)
  • Sandra Schloen (Digital Studies, Humanities Division; OCHRE support)
  • Bruce Zuckerman (USC: high-quality imaging of Aramaic and uninscribed tablets).

Post-Doctoral Research Collaborators:

  • Dennis Campbell (PhD, University of Chicago)
  • Sabrina Maras (PhD, University of California, Berkeley)
  • Clinton Moyer (PhD, Cornell University)
  • Wu Xin (PhD, University of Pennsylvania)

Student Workers and Volunteers (2007–09):

  • Lori Calabria (graduate, NELC)
  • Ivan Cangemi (BA [Anthropology & Classics], 2008)
  • Trevor Crowell (undergraduate, Classics)
  • Elizabeth Davidson (BA [Classics], 2008)
  • Andrew Dix (graduate, NELC)
  • Glenn Garabrant
  • Paul Gauthier (graduate, NELC)
  • Irene Glasner (volunteer, OI)
  • Louise Golland (volunteer, OI)
  • Jennifer Gregory (graduate, NELC)
  • Gregory Hebda (BA [History, Univ. of New Hampshire], 2008)
  • Fay Kelley (undergraduate, Classics)
  • William Kent (graduate, NELC)
  • Madison Krieger (undergraduate, Classics)
  • Joseph Lam (graduate, NELC)
  • Megaera Lorenz (graduate, NELC)
  • Elise MacArthur (graduate, NELC)
  • Wayne Munsch (graduate, History of Religions)
  • Titus Mikołajczak (graduate, NELC)
  • John Nielsen (PhD [NELC], 2008)
  • Miller Prosser (graduate, NELC)
  • Joseph Rosner (volunteer, OI)
  • Foy Scalf (graduate, NELC)
  • Lise Truex (graduate, NELC)
  • John Walton (graduate, NELC)
  • Siwei Wang (graduate, Computer Science)
  • Emily Wilson (graduate, Classics)
  • Seunghee Yie (graduate, NELC)


Support for some phases of the PFA Project has been received from:

Proposals to other agencies and donors are pending or in preparation.

Annual Reports