Shock Find! Assyrian Palace from 600 BC Discovered Under Demolished Shrine in Iraq
Archaeologists working at a demolished shrine in Mosul, Iraq have stumbled upon a discovery of a previously unknown palace from about 600 BC. It has been declared that the monumental find may provide new insight on the Assyrian Empire, however, archaeologists are also worried that many important artifacts were destroyed by the ISIL militants who uncovered it.
The Telegraph reports that Iraqi archaeologists were examining the damage of the Tomb of the Prophet Jonah, also known as the Nebi Yunus shrine (blown up in 2014), when they found tunnels had been dug under the holy site. This is the first evidence of ISIL tunneling in their search for ancient artifacts.
Minaret of the Mosque of the Prophet Yunus, Nineveh, Mosul in 1999. (CC BY SA 3.0)
When the archaeologists entered a tunnel, they found an important artifact hinting at more interesting finds. This key relic is a marble cuneiform inscription which they believe dates to 672 BC. The writing on the slab links it to the Assyrian king Esarhaddon, who is best remembered for rebuilding Babylon after his father Sennacherib had it destroyed. Regina Leader Post says that this is a rare find – few cuneiforms from this period have been recovered to date.
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The discovered cuneiform inscription of King Esarhaddon thought to date back to the Assyrian empire in 672 BC. (Jérémy André)
Other artifacts of interest are Assyrian stone sculptures depicting a demi-goddess said to be sprinkling the water of life – meant to protect people in her care. Professor Eleanor Robson, chair of the British Institute for the Study of Iraq, has suggested that the sculptures may have been used to decorate the women's quarter at the palace.
An Assyrian stone sculpture of a demi-goddess found at the site. She is depicted sprinkling the “water of life” to protect humans. (Jérémy André)
As Robson told The Telegraph:
“The objects don’t match descriptions of what we thought was down there, so Isil’s destruction has actually led us to a fantastic find. There’s a huge amount of history down there, not just ornamental stones. It is an opportunity to finally map the treasure-house of the world’s first great empire, from the period of its greatest success.”
It also seems that the recently unearthed palace can be connected to a few important Assyrian kings: it was apparently built for King Sennacherib, renovated and expanded by Esarhaddon (681-669 BC), and then renovated again by Ashurbanipal (669-627 BC).
King Esarhaddon, detail from his victory stele. (Public Domain)
Despite these intriguing finds, archaeologist and former curator of the Mosul museum Layla Salih also wonders and laments over what relics may have been lost, as she told The Telegraph:
“I can only imagine how much Daesh discovered down there before we got here. We believe they took many of the artefacts, such as pottery and smaller pieces, away to sell. But what they left will be studied and will add a lot to our knowledge of the period."
Salih, who is also supervising a five-man team in the emergency documentation at the site, believes that hundreds of artifacts could have been plundered by ISIL before Iraqi forces had recaptured the eastern side of the city.
This is just one of the latest examples of important historical sites ISIL has damaged or destroyed. The militant group asserts that the monuments should be destroyed, claiming that shrines should not be worshipped. However, they have also accumulated millions of dollars by looting the ancient sites and then illicitly selling whatever relics they find. Estimates suggest that they’ve made about $200 million a year profit from selling the artifacts.
At least 100 sacred places have met their demise since ISIL began their wave of destruction on ancient sites.
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Now the archaeologists are racing against time to recover what artifacts they may from the poorly dug tunnel. Layla Salih has said that the hastily built tunnels may collapse within weeks – crushing any objects still held within them.
An entrance to one of the ISIL tunnels. (Tom Westcott/MEE)
International teams of archaeologists, such as experts from the British Institute for the Study of Iraq, have joined in the efforts to help secure and document the site. The Times of Israel reports that Iraqi officials and international experts met in Paris last week and agreed to collaborate in the project of restoring Iraq’s cultural treasures.
UNESCO has also planned for another meeting at the end of this month to see who will be sent to the help with securing and documenting the recently discovered palace.
Hopefully they’ll get there in time.
Top Image: Ruins of the Nibi Younis mosque, Mosul, Iraq. An Assyrian palace from 600 BC has been found in a tunnel under this destroyed sacred site. Source: Tom Westcott/MEE