Persepolis Beast

Mystery Hoofed Mammal of East Africa.

Physical description: Small, robust, giraffelike animal. Ears short and small. Maned neck longer than an okapi's but shorter than a giraffe's. Cloven hooves.

Significant sighting: A giraffelike animal is depicted in a bas-relief in the Apadana Palace of King Darius of Persia, erected around 500 B.C. in the city of Persepolis (Takht-e Jamsl d, near Marv Dasht, Iran). The carving is on the side of the eastern staircase. It shows an animal led on a tether by a delegation of Ethiopians paying tribute to the Persian king. Possible explanations:

(1) A Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis). The tail is right, and the horns are in the correct position, though they are short and pointed. In profile, the face is like a giraffe's. However, the body is too heavy, the limbs and neck are too short, the toes are too large, and the ears are small and short. The sculptor might never have seen a giraffe and perhaps was improvising; there was also a limited amount of space on the staircase to portray a long neck.

(2) An Okapi (Okapia johnstoni) was suggested by B. Patterson in 1953, though

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this elusive creature is extremely difficult to transport and maintain in captivity. Also, the neck is too long proportionately for an okapi.

(3) A Nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus), an indian antelope, matches many features (horns, ears, mane, tail) of the bas-relief. Raul Valdez and Robert Tuck suggest that the African delegates purchased a local Asian animal for tribute. Gunther Sehm notes that nilgai bones are known from Late Pleistocene middens in Jordan and that the Ethiopian delegation might actually have come from the Red Sea coast of Arabia, where the animals could have persisted until 2,500 years ago.

(4) A surviving Palaeotragus, a genus of okapi-like giraffids that lived in Turkey in the Late Miocene, 7 million years ago, suggested by Nikos Solunias.

Sources: Erich Friedrich Schmidt, Persepolis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953), vol. 1, p. 90; Ahmed Afshar, Werner Dutz, and Mark E. Taylor, "Giraffes at Persepolis," Archaeology 27 (April 1974): 114-117; Raul Valdez and Robert G. Tuck Jr., "on the Identification of the Animals Accompanying the 'Ethiopian' Delegation in the Bas-Reliefs of the Apadana at Persepolis," Iran 17 (1980): 156-157; Robert G. Tuck Jr. and Raul Valdez, "Persepolis: Nilgai, Not Okapi," Cryptozoology 8 (1989): 146-149; Gunter G. Sehm, "Persepolis Bluebuck out of the Blue," Cryptozoology 10 (1991): 121-124.

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