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mythical Griffin - Iran

Ancient Persian artefact of mythical Griffin returned to Iran

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The US government has returned a precious Persian silver chalice dating back 2,700 years to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani during his rare visit to New York to attend the 68th Session of the United Nations General Assembly. While the gesture may be just a tiny step in diplomatic relations between the two countries, it is a big victory for archaeology.

The artefact is a ceremonial drinking vessel depicting a Griffin – a so-called mythical creature with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle, found in the legends and myths of many cultures around the world.  As the lion was traditionally considered the king of the beasts and the eagle was the king of the birds, the griffin was thought to be an especially powerful and majestic creature. Early references to griffins are found in ancient Persian and Egyptian mythology dating back as far as 3,300 BC and were often used as statues in Persian palaces. 

The ancient artefact of the Griffin was made around 700 BC during the pre-Achaemenid period before the founding of the first Persian Empire by Cyrus the Great in the 6 th century BC. It was stolen by looters from the Kalmakarra Cave , known as the Western Cave, halfway up a cliff in the western highlands of Iran sometime between 1989 and 1992 and sold to a private buyer.  The item was seized by US custom officials from a smuggler in 2003 and has sat in a customs warehouse ever since, held up by bad diplomatic relations between the US and Iran.

Iranian authorities have worked since 1989 on finding and seizing hundreds of artefacts which were stolen from the Kalmakarra cave, many of which have been found in museums, collections, retail galleries and auction houses in the United States, France, England, Switzerland, Turkey and Japan. Recovered artefacts are now on display in several Iranian museums and it is believed that the Griffin chalice may join one of these collections. 

The artefact is said to be very precious to the Iranian nation as a symbol of the ancient civilization of the country.  The US has made a positive step for archaeology in returning a valued historical item to its origin; let’s hope that others will follow.

By April Holloway

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