Philanthropists help bring ancient artifact to Asian Art Museum in San Francisco | September 4, 2013 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Arts & Entertainment - September 4, 2013

Philanthropists help bring ancient artifact to Asian Art Museum in San Francisco

by Renee Batti

A small ancient artifact that some historians call "the first bill of human rights" is now on exhibit at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, with critical support by the Iranian American community and a prominent Atherton couple.

The Cyrus Cylinder, part of the British Museum's collection, will be on display along with 16 rare artworks from ancient Persia, now Iran, until Sept. 22.

The exhibit is sponsored by Atherton philanthropists Bita Daryabari and Dr. Reza Malek, who are married, and Tina and Hamid Moghadam, in collaboration with the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans.

Only 9 inches in length, the clay cylinder is inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform script on orders of Persian King Cyrus the Great, according to the museum. It dates to 539 BCE, and was unearthed in 1879 during a British Museum excavation in Babylon, which is now Iraq.

The inscription chronicles how Cyrus conquered Babylon, restored shrines dedicated to various gods, allowed freedom of religious practice, and allowed deported people to return to their homelands, according to a museum press release.

"The importance of this cylinder lies in the text inscribed on its surface," says Ms. Daryabari, a native of Iran and founder of the nonprofit Pars Equality Center in Menlo Park, which supports the Persian immigrant community.

"It's a message of peace, freedom of religion, and freeing slaves," she says. "Therefore, it is the earliest and oldest declaration of human rights, (originating) in an empire that at the time was the largest the world had ever seen."

Ms. Daryabari says she hopes that "every child and adult, all politicians" and all members of Congress view the cylinder as it tours the country. "The more people learn about Iran and its history and culture, the less there will be talk about sanctions, war and bombs," she says.

The exhibition, "The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: A New Beginning," includes other Persian art from the Achaemenid period (550-330 BCE), "providing a context for understanding the cylinder's cultural and historical significance," according to the museum.

From San Francisco, the exhibition will travel to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Southern California.

Go to to learn more about the exhibition.


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