The Remaining Signs of Past Centuries

The Investiture of Ali at Ghadir Khumm (MS Arab 161, fol. 162r).
Muhammad prohibiting Nasīʾ (sura 9:36f.), fol. 5v. of the 17th century copy (MS Arabe 1489), corresponding to fol. 6v of the Edinburgh codex.

The Remaining Signs of Past Centuries (Arabic: کتاب الآثار الباقية عن القرون الخاليةKitāb al-āthār al-bāqiyah `an al-qurūn al-khāliyah, also known as Chronology of Ancient Nations or Vestiges of the Past, after the translation published by Eduard Sachau in 1879) by Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī, is a comparative study of calendars of different cultures and civilizations, interlaced with mathematical, astronomical, and historical information, exploring the customs and religions of different peoples.

Completed in 1000 AD (AH 390/1), it is Al-Biruni's first major work, compiled in Gorgan, at the court of Qabus, when he was in his late twenties.[1]

Overview

The text survives in an early 14th-century Ilkhanid manuscript by Ibn al-Kutbi (the "Edinburgh codex", AH 707 / AD 1307–8, 179 folios, Northwestern Iran or northern Iraq,[2] kept at the Edinburgh University Library, MS Arab 161). The manuscript contains 25 paintings and survives also in an exact 17th-century Ottoman copy (MS Arabe 1489, kept in the Bibliothèque nationale de France).

Hillenbrand (2000) interprets the choice and placement of illustrations throughout the text as a cycle which emphasizes the interest of the Ilkhanids in religions other than the predominant Islam, many illustrations showing specific episodes related to Manichaeism, Buddhism, Judaism, and Christianity. Other illustrations show a keen interest in topics of history and science. The account of the birth of Julius Caesar is illustrated with a realistic rendition of a cesarean section.

The Shi`ite inclination of those responsible for the production is particularly evident from the two concluding images, the largest and most accomplished in the manuscript, which illustrate two episodes in the life of Muhammad, both centrally involving `Ali, Hasan, and Husayn: The Day of Cursing (fol. 161r) and The Investiture of `Ali at Ghadir Khumm (fol. 162r). The manuscript has a total of five images depicting Muhammad, including the first miniature which shows the Prophet as he prohibits Nasīʾ (fol. 6v).[3]

The style of the images is kept in a hybrid style between that of pre-Mongol period Persia and the Chinese style introduced with the Mongol invasions.