Iraqi archaeologists discover carved slabs from Assyrian Empire

Excavation taking place at Mashki Gate in Mosul, which endured destruction by ISIS militants in 2016

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An Iraqi-American excavation team has unearthed a monumental rock-carving relief in a major archaeological site in the northern city of Mosul.

The carvings were found at Mashki Gate, or Al Maska in Arabic, one of the monumental gates for the old city of Nineveh, the imperial capital and most populous city of the Assyrian Empire.

The reliefs date back to the era of the Assyrian King Sinharib who reigned from 705 to 681 BC, Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage director Dr Laith Majid Hussein said on Monday.

The eight marble relics show war scenes as well as palm, grape, pomegranate and fig trees, said Ali Shalgham, head of the excavation team.

The Mashki Gate is one of several set up at the nearly 12km stone and mud brick wall of the archaeological site of Nineveh in the heart of Mosul.

The “water carriers' gate” is believed to have been used to lead livestock to nearby Tigris River or to bring water to the city.

It was bulldozed along with the other gates during the city’s occupation by ISIS in 2016, with the destruction shared widely online.

The continuing excavations are meant to prepare the ground for preserving the walls and foundations of the gate as part of the restoration process.

The Mashki Gate restoration project is being conducted in co-operation with Aliph Foundation, an international alliance for the protection of heritage in conflict areas.

The $1.1 million-project, which started in 2021 and is scheduled to end in 2023, is being led by the University of Pennsylvania.

The gate, discovered in 1968 by Iraqi archaeologists, leads to a big hall through a corridor.

The Assyrian civilisation arose about 4,500 years ago and at one point extended from the Mediterranean to Iran.

Their ancient buried cities, palaces and temples, packed with monumental art, are scattered across what is now northern Iraq and parts of neighbouring countries.

Thousands of its artefacts are displayed in the Iraqi National Museums as well as others across the world. Many are found for sale at auction houses.

One of the Assyrians’ major artefacts is the limestone bull, known as Lamassu, which bears a human head and bull's body. Some examples have the horns and ears of a bull and wings.

Destroyed by ISIS

When ISIS took over Mosul and other major cities in northern and western Iraq, its militants demolished some artefacts to uproot what they see as heresy.

They also profited from them, hacking relics off palace walls or digging them out to sell on the international black market to finance their “caliphate”.

Lamassu was in the headlines in 2015 when ISIS released a video showing extremists using sledgehammers and rotary hammer drills to smash it and other ancient artefacts in Mosul.

Among the most important sites that were under ISIS control and endured destruction and pillaging in and around Mosul are the four main ancient cities of Nineveh, Kalhu, Dur Sharrukin and Ashur, which were at different times the capital of the mighty Assyrian Empire.

Updated: October 18, 2022, 10:30 AM