The National Museum of Iran located in the nation's capital Tehran is an institution dedicated to the history, culture, and art of Iran, from prehistoric to recent centuries. The museum, designed by French architects André Godard and Maxime Siroux was inspired by Sassanian architecture, and built by two Iranian masons; it was established in 1935, and officially inaugurated in 1937. Today, the museum houses collections of 300,000 historical artifacts, including sculptures, inscriptions, seals, potteries, metal objects, coins, textiles, and rare books, and together representing the culture of Iran and neighboring regions. The cuneiform collection, consisting of documents from the fourth millennium BC to the first century AD, is among the most comprehensive in the Middle East, containing clay tablets, bricks, and stone artifacts bearing ancient texts written in proto-Elamite, Elamite, Sumerian, Akkadian, Urartian, and Old Persian. The centerpieces of the collection stem from the French excavations conducted in the late 19th and the early 20th centuries in western Iran, notably Susa. Until 1927, the finds were divided between Iran and the Louvre Museum; thereafter, all finds remained in Iran. The collection is of great importance for understanding the development and use of writing in Iran, and cuneiform culture in general. The earliest examples of writing in the collection, from the 4th and early 3rd millennium BC, including such forerunners to writing as tokens and bullae, and later texts in the so-called proto-Elamite writing system, are among the most important of their kind worldwide.
The results of the French excavations, including reports of various sites of ancient Iran, publications of the cuneiform tablets as well as studies on the archaeological material excavated there appeared in the series entitled Mémoires de la Délégation en Perse, commonly abbreviated as MDP. The first epigrapher of the French team was Vincent Scheil. In the foreword to his first publication on 15 March 1899, he announced: "Here begins the history of Elam."
The work of transferring the cuneiform tablets from the various sections of the NMI into one place to facilitate the creation of a catalogue of all ancient text artifacts in the museum, was initially proposed by Firouz Bagherzade, head of the department of archaeology of Iran, and was completed in the period from 15 January to 17 February 1976. In March, November and December of 1978, François Vallat worked on the seals and coins in the collection. However, the project stopped in 1979, and was never completed. From this project, only some few of Vallat's hand-written notes in French have survived. Then, in 1998, following the formation of a research team, this collection and other cuneiform tablets, bricks and stones from ancient Iran were transferred to a space called "The New Hall of Inscriptions," in the lower floor of the Museum of Islamic Art. The original members of the project were Drs. Arfaee, Razmjou, Malayeri; and Mr. Jalilvand, Nikkhah and Kazemi. This research project continued until 2002. Due to the richness of the inscriptions in the National Museum of Iran, a proposal to create an independent and new department called the "Inscriptions Section" was made by the museum’s director, Mohammad Reza Kargar. To this end, a repository equipped with cabinets and shelves, CCTV and other security devices, was added to the space, and a curator was assigned under the supervision of the Ministry of Finance Registration System.
In August of 2016, with the implementation of a plan for the expansion of the museum's repositories by the head of the museum, Dr. Jebrael Nokandeh, the inscriptions collection was transferred to a larger repository at the entrance to the central treasury section in the museum.
Dariush Akbarzade was director of the Inscription Section from 2002-2011; Simin Piran has been Curator of the Inscription Section since 2001, and since 2015 its director.
Chronologically, the collection can be divided into the following groups:
Late Uruk texts (ca. 3350-3000 BC)
Proto-Elamite texts (ca. 3100-2900 BC)
Old Akkadian texts (ca. 2350-2200 BC)
Ur III texts (ca. 2100-2000 BC)
Old Babylonian texts (ca. 1900-1600 BC)
Middle Elamite texts (ca. 1300-1100 BC)
Neo-Assyrian texts (ca. 1000-600 BC)
Achaemenid texts (ca. 539-330 BC)
The "Digitization Project of the inscriptions of the National Museum of Iran" is a joint effort of the CDLI and the National Museum of Iran. The project was first proposed by Professor Jacob Dahl of the University of Oxford and Dr. Jebrael Nokande, director of the NMI, during a two-day Tehran workshop in May of 2016 focusing on the digitization of cuneiform tablets, followed by a proto-Elamite reading seminar led by Dr. Dahl. The project partners signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in 2017, and a first group of proto-Elamite tablets were captured and processed for web view in January 2018 by Oxford staff member Parsa Daneshmand, and with the cooperation of Simin Piran, director of the Inscriptions Section of the NMI. A formal announcement of the commencement of the project was made in May 2018.