'Extremely rare’ Assyrian carvings discovered in Iraq

Stone reliefs more than 2,700 years old date to the reign of the mighty King Sargon II.


Ancient reliefs rarely found outside of palaces depict a procession of Assyrian gods, including the main deity Assur and his consort Mullissu, standing on lions, dragons, and other animals.

In the eighth century B.C., Assyrian King Sargon II ruled over a wealthy and powerful empire that included much of today’s Middle East and inspired fear among its neighbors. Now a team of Italian and Iraqi Kurdish archaeologists working in northern Iraq have uncovered ten stone reliefs that adorned a sophisticated canal system dug into bedrock. The surprising find of such beautifully crafted carvings—typically found only in royal palaces—sheds light on the impressive public works supported by a leader better known for his military prowess.

“Assyrian rock reliefs are extremely rare monuments,” said Daniele Morandi Bonacossi, an archaeologist at Italy’s University of Udine, who co-led the recent expedition. With one exception, no such panels have been found in their original location since 1845. “And it is highly probable that more reliefs, and perhaps also monumental celebratory cuneiform inscriptions, are still buried under the soil debris that filled the canal.”

The site near the town of Faydah, close to the border with Turkey, has been largely closed to researchers for a half century due to modern conflict. In 1973 a British team noted the tops of three stone panels, but tensions between Kurds and the Baathist regime in Baghdad prevented further work. An expedition led by Morandi Bonacossi returned in 2012 and found six more reliefs. The subsequent invasion by ISIS again halted research efforts; the battle line between the Islamic State and Kurdish forces lay less than 20 miles away until the Muslim fundamentalists were defeated in 2017. ( Here...

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