Against Gravity

Alexander Nagel and Carl Nylander

Full Paper
Reading Mason’s Marks and Building Technologies at Achaemenid Persepolis, Iran
With few exceptions, traditional approaches to the building structures constructed in the Achaemenid Persian Empire (c. 550-330 BCE) have focused on reconstructing finished buildings on paper, in architectural models, in reality, and more recently in virtual realities, neglecting the very process of construction itself. At the same time, leading theoretically minded scholars in ancient technology do not refer to the contributions of the craftsmen active in the Achaemenid Persian palaces towards technology cultures in the ancient world. Scholars have shown a general disinterest in attempting to reconstruct aspects of technologies, resulting in a long marginalization of technology in Achaemenid Persian scholarship. This is even more surprising, as many of those who worked on reconstructing sites like Susa and Persepolis in the 19th and 20th centuries were trained engineers or architects themselves (e.g., Marcel Dieulafoy, Jacques de Morgan, Roland de Mequenem, Ernst Herzfeld, Friedrich Krefter). This paper will introduce the first results of an ongoing collaborative project focusing on a rich as yet unpublished set of data available in the form of mason’s marks, craftsmen’s tools and other evidence from Persepolis. Excavated between 1934 and 1939, the roofs of the Treasury were once supported by more than 300 columns. Our paper describes approaches to restoring the process of construction in one of the largest units excavated on the Palace Terrace by focusing on mason’s marks and building technologies.