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Hercules' Head Awaits Planned Museum


Perching for ages on a wind-swept mountain top in Behistun near the bas-relief of Dariush I, a stone statue named Hercules's Head is restored and would be kept in warehouses until a planned museum is built in Kermanshah, west of Iran, Iranian Cultural Heritage News Agency reported.

The sculpture had been chiseled out of the Behistun mountain face during the reign of the Seleucids and was discovered in 1958 by British workers who had been constructing a road between Hamadan and Kermanshah, but their machineries inadvertently decapitated the statue, making it the most flamboyant part of the work.

"Right now its restoration project has finished and it has been stacked in the warehouses of the Iranian Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization (CHTO)," said Fathollah Biniaz, an expert with the project.

A replica of the sculpture has also been made and would likely be attached to the bust in near future, he added. Its color is rather darker to indicate the head is not as old as the bust.

In 1958 after some initial restoration the Hercules' Head was fixed in its original place and was soon robbed, but the smugglers were nabbed before escaping the country. It returned home in 1991, though artifact hunters stole it yet again. This time it was, unfortunately, split into two halves.

The Behistun inscription is approximately 15 meters high by 25 meters wide, and 100 meters up a cliff from an ancient road connecting the capitals of Babylonia and Media (Babylon and Ecbatana). It is extremely inaccessible as the mountainside was removed to make the inscription more visible after its completion. The text itself is a statement by Darius I of Persia, written three times in three different scripts and languages: two languages side by side, Old Persian and Elamite, and Akkadian above them.

King Darius ruled the Persian Empire from 521 to 486 BC. Some time around 515 BC, he arranged for the inscription of a long ode of his accession in the face of the usurper Smerdis of Persia (and Darius' subsequent successful wars and suppressions of rebellion) to be inscribed into a cliff near the modern town of Bisistun, in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains of Iran, just as one reaches them from the Kermanshah Plain. The inscription was illustrated by a life-sized bas-relief of Darius, two servants, and ten one-meter figures representing conquered peoples; the god Ahura Mazda floats above, giving his blessing to the king. One figure appears to have been added after the others were completed, as was (oddly enough) Darius' beard, which is a separate block of stone attached with iron pins and lead.

The first historical mention of the inscription is by the Greek Ctesias of Cnidus, who noted its existence some time around 400 BC. Also Tacitus mentions it and includes a description of some of the long-lost ancillary monuments at the base of the cliff, where a spring is located. What has been recovered of them is consistent with his description. Diodorus also writes of "Bagistanon" and claims it was inscribed by Queen Semiramis of Babylon.

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