The Discovery of the Long-Lost Temple of Musasir
The Musasir temple was an important Araratian temple dedicated to Haldi, the supreme god of the kingdom of Urartu, an Iron Age kingdom centered on Lake Van in the Armenian Highlands, which extended out across what is now Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Armenia. The temple was built in the holy city of Ararat in 825 BC, but after Musasir fell to the Assyrians in the 8 th century BC, the ancient temple became lost to the pages of history, until very recently.
The temple of Musasir dates back to a time when the Urartians, Assyrians, and Scythians were at all at odds, trying to gain control over the area that is now known as northern Iraq. Ancient inscriptions have referred to Musasir as a "holy city founded in bedrock" and "the city of the raven", while the name Musasir itself means “exit of the serpent”. A depiction of the temple appears in an Assyrian bas-relief which adorned the palace of King Sargon II at Khorsapat, to commemorate his victory over "the seven kings of Ararat" in 714 BC.
Bas-relief of Musasir Temple at the place of King Sargon II at Khorsapat. ( Wikipedia)
Over the years, numerous studies and excavations have been launched to try to locate the ancient temple of Musasir. In 1959, a dig was conducted in the Yerznka area, west of Karin. While the excavations revealed an Araratian temple, it was not Musasir. In 2005, archaeologists found a 3,000-year-old temple at a site called Rabat Tepe in Iran, however, it also could not be inextricably linked to Musasir.
In July, 2014, an exciting announcement was made – the long-lost temple of Musasir had been found . Located in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, the findings included life-sized human sculptures and column bases from a temple dedicated to the god Haldi, all dating back to the period in which the temple of Musasir was built.
After the initial discovery, which was made by local villagers who stumbled upon the ruins accidentally, Dlshad Marf Zamua, from Leiden University in the Netherlands, viewed the uncovered archaeological finds. He analyzed the pieces to get a better sense of what they represented, and to try to unlock some of the mysteries to which they may be the key.
The column base that was discovered is considered to be a significant find. Marf Zamua has said "[o]ne of the best results of my fieldwork is the uncovered column bases of the long-lost temple of the city of Musasir, which was dedicated to the god Haldi.”
Column bases found at the archaeological site in Kurdistan, Iraq. Credit: Dlshad Marf Zamua
Haldi was the supreme god of the kingdom of Urartu. It is said that the temple of Haldi is so important, then when the Assyrians looted it in 714 BC, the Urartu king Rusa ripped the crown off of his head before killing himself. He "threw himself on the ground, tore his clothes, and his arms hung limp. He ripped off his headband, pulled out his hair, pounded his chest with both hands, and threw himself flat on his face …" reads one ancient account (translation by Marc Van De Mieroop).
Depiction of the Araratian god Haldi. Erebouni Fortress Museum: Yerevan, Armenia ( Wikipedia)
The human statues were considered to be an extraordinary find. The life-sized statues are up to 2.3 meters tall, and are made of limestone, basalt or sandstone. Some of them have been partially broken over the past 2,800 years. Each of the statues is a bearded male. Some of them are holding a cup in their right hand with their left hand on their belly. One holds an axe, and another a dagger. The statues all have a “sad moment” posture, showing a ritual that was used when chieftains were buried. Most of the statues date back to the sixth or seventh century B.C., after Musasir fell to the Assyrians.
Several life-sized statues were discovered at Kurdistan. Credit: Dlshad Marf Zamua
Unfortunately, conflicts in the area of the site, including the most recent conflicts associated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (commonly known as ISIL, or ISIS), make it dangerous and difficult to continue any excavation or exploration. The discovery of the lost temple of Musasir represents a find that could answer many questions about the historical events in the area. However, until the conflicts resolve and it becomes safe to continue operations, it is unknown how much discovery and analysis can continue. For now this remains an astonishing find which is expected to yield much, much more.
Featured image: Landscape of Iraqi Kurdistan. ( Wikimedia)
Musasir Temple – Wikipedia. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musasir_temple.
Remains of Long-Lost Temple Discovered in Musasir – Live Science. Available from: http://www.livescience.com/46674-remains-of-long-lost-temple-discovered-in-iraq.html.
Iraqi Villagers Accidentally Find Iron Age 'Long-Lost Temple of Musasir' Dedicated to Urartian God – International Business Times. Available from: http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/iraqi-villagers-accidentally-find-iron-age-long-lost-temple-musasir-dedicated-urartian-god-1455807.
Long-Lost Iron Age Temple Unearthed in Iraq – Discovery. Available from: http://news.discovery.com/history/archaeology/long-lost-iron-age-temple-unearthed-in-iraq-140708.htm.
Remains Of Long-Lost Temple Discovered In Iraq – Huffington Post. Available from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/08/remains-temple-discovered-iraq_n_5567638.html.
By M R Reese