Astonishing 2,700-Year-Old Assyrian Winged Deity Unearthed in Iraq
In a landmark discovery, archaeologists have re-excavated a magnificent lamassu at the ancient city of Khursbad, Iraq. The monumental sculpture, an embodiment of an Assyrian protective deity, is generally depicted with a human-like head, wings like a bird, and a body resembling either a bull or lion.
This intricate piece of Assyrian craftsmanship, which was commissioned by Assyrian King Sargon II in 721 BC to guard the capital city of Khursbad, has recently been unveiled to the world for the first time in three decades. The lamassu was originally discovered in 1992 by an Iraqi archaeological team at the 6th gate of Khursbad. However, shortly after its discovery, its head was pilfered in 1995, only to be recovered later and safeguarded in the Iraqi Museum. The primary body of the statue was subsequently reburied to conserve the remnants amid the chaos of the Gulf War. This protective action probably preserved the lamassu from obliteration, especially considering the subsequent destruction of much of Khursbad by ISIS in 2015.
In a press announcement, The General Authority for Antiquities and Heritage reported that a joint Iraqi/French mission, captained by Professor Dr. Ahmed Fakak Al-Badrani, embarked on the re-excavation of this historic artifact. The team was thrilled with the find. According to Dr. Layth Majid Hussein, Chairman of the General Body for Archaeology and Heritage, assessments are currently underway to determine the future conservation efforts for the lamassu.
The Monumental Winged Sculpture
The breathtaking alabaster sculpture, weighing an impressive 19 tons and stretching approximately 12 and a half feet in length, has drawn international attention. Pascal Butterlin, the French archaeologist and professor of Middle East archaeology at the University of Paris I Pantheon-Sorbonne, expressed his amazement: “I’ve never unearthed anything this big in my life before…Normally, it’s only in Egypt or Cambodia that you find pieces this big.” [via France 24]
Khursbad, also recognized as Dur-Sharrukin, was envisioned as a new capital by Sargon II after his ascension to the throne. However, the city's destiny was altered after the demise of Sargon II’s son, Sennacherib, who transferred the capital to Nineveh, leaving the construction of Khursbad unfinished.
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A dig in northern Iraq has unearthed a 2,700-year-old alabaster sculpture of the winged Assyrian deity Lamassu, which was found largely intact despite its large dimensions. (Zaid AL-Obeidi / AFP)
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Lamassus are iconic figures from ancient Assyrian mythology, often manifesting as colossal statues that stood guard at the entrances of major cities and palaces. These protective deities are typically portrayed with a human head, wings of a bird, and the body of a bull or lion. Serving both a symbolic and decorative purpose, they were believed to ward off evil and protect the city or palace from external threats. Beyond their spiritual significance, the artistry of lamassus also demonstrates the sophisticated craftsmanship of the Assyrians, as these sculptures often exhibited intricate detailing and a unique dual perspective—appearing stationary when viewed head-on but in motion when seen from the side.
Two lamassus guard the entrance to Persepolis, the ancient capital of the Persian Empire. Source: Alexeiy / Adobe Stock.
The latest excavation revelations underscore the rich historical and cultural significance of the region. The SBAH (Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage) has reported that despite the sculpture's age, it has survived the millennia with relatively minimal damage. Furthermore, discussions are in progress regarding the reunion of the head of the lamassu, currently in the Iraqi Museum, with its body.
This monumental discovery highlights the resilient spirit of Iraq's cultural heritage and the importance of preserving and celebrating such invaluable historical treasures. The lamassu reflects the brilliance of ancient Assyrian art and the enduring legacy of a civilization that continues to captivate the world.
Top image: The Lamassu that has been re-excavated in Iraq. Image Credit : Mustafa Yahya