Archaeologists in northern Iraq have unearthed extraordinary rock carvings dating from some 2,700 years ago.
The grey stone carvings were found last week in the city of Mosul where American and Iraqi archaeologists have been working to reconstruct the ancient Mashki Gate, which was bulldozed by ISIL (ISIS) fighters when the armed group controlled the city.
They included eight finely made marble bas-relief carvings depicting war scenes from the rule of the Assyrian kings in the ancient city of Nineveh, a local Iraqi official said on Wednesday.
A statement from the Iraqi Council of Antiquities and Heritage said the carvings date to the rule of King Sennacherib, who was in power from 705-681 BC.
Sennacherib was responsible for expanding Nineveh as the Assyrians’ imperial capital and largest city that sat on a major crossroads between the Mediterranean and the Iranian plateau.
Fadel Mohammed Khodr, head of the Iraqi archaeological team working to restore the site, said the carvings were likely taken from Sennacherib’s magnificent palace and used as construction material for the gate.
“We believe that these carvings were moved from the palace of Sennacherib and reused by the grandson of the king to renovate the gate of Mashki and to enlarge the guard room”, Khodr said.
When they were used in the gate, the area of the carvings poking out above ground was erased.
“Only the part buried underground has retained its carvings,” Khodr said.
ALIPH, the Swiss-based International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas, said the Mashki Gate had been an “exceptional building”.
ISIL targeted the fortified gate, which had been restored in the 1970s, because it was an “iconic part of Mosul’s skyline, a symbol of the city’s long history”, it added.
ALIPH is supporting the reconstruction of the Mashki Gate by a team of archaeologists from Iraq’s Mosul University alongside US experts from the University of Pennsylvania.
The restoration project, which is being carried out in collaboration with Iraqi antiquities authorities, aims to turn the damaged monument into an educational centre on Nineveh’s history.
Iraq was the birthplace of some of the world’s earliest cities. It was also home to Sumerians and Babylonians and where some of humanity’s first examples of writing were found.
But in the past decades, Iraq has been the target of artefacts smuggling, including after the 2003 US-led invasion.
Then, between 2014 and 2017, ISIL seized large parts of Iraq and neighbouring Syria and demolished pre-Islamic treasures with bulldozers, pickaxes and explosives. The armed groups’ fighters also used smuggling to finance their operations.
Iraqi forces supported by an international coalition recaptured Mosul and other parts of the country in 2017.