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...