Preservation and digitisation of Zoroastrian historical documents and Avestan manuscripts (EAP1014)

Aims and objectives

The aim of this project is to digitise and preserve the collection of historical Zoroastrian documents and Avestan manuscripts in Arbab Mehraban Poulad’s Archive. This archival collection has remained in scattered locations until recently, and valuable seventeenth to nineteenth century documents have been kept under deteriorating conditions. This project will digitise approximately 20,000 pages and make them available to scholars and the public worldwide. The objective is to undertake a survey and to increase access to, and the visibility of, this most valuable and endangered component of Zoroastrian heritage. The Avestan manuscripts, which have been discovered recently in this collection, would support relevant developments in the history of the transmission, codicology, and genealogy of Iranian Avestan manuscripts. Two Videvdād manuscripts of this collection are of particular significance for Avestan studies. One of them seems to be the oldest discovered Videvdād until today, while another one is the only illuminated manuscript from the Marzbān family, a famous scribe family of Avestan manuscripts.

The material is located at an old house in the Priests’ Quarter in Yazd, Iran. Both the Avestan manuscripts and the historical documents are handwritten and critically endangered. The Avestan manuscripts are in very poor condition and seriously damaged by termites, rodents, and mould. The most serious threat for this collection is theft, which has already taken place several times in recent years.

The archival material includes 10 Avestan manuscripts (four Videvdāds, four Yasnās, one Vājyašt Gahanbār with Doruns and one Xorde Avesta), with a total of more than 8000 pages and more than 15,000 of dated historical, economic, and legal documents regarding the religious minority of Zoroastrians in Iran. The historical documents include communications in the form of letters between Arbāb Mehrabān Pulād and official institutions, and administrative circulars. Most of the documents are bookkeeping record books, legal contracts dealing with sales, leases, settlement of disputes, letters, and official actions. They provide us with relevant information about the structure and work flow of various institutions and organisations during the Qajar and Pahlavi periods in Iran.

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