Mosul, 2700-year-old Assyrian carvings found near gate destroyed by Isis
Exceptional find by a group of US and Iraqi archaeologists near al-Masqa, demolished by jihadists. Eight rock carvings with war scenes from the time of King Sennacherib, who led the people between 750 and 681 BC, have been found. Cultural heritage Iraq's real 'black gold', more than oil.
Mosul (AsiaNews) - A team of Iraqi and US archaeologists has made an exceptional discovery, bringing to light eight valuable rock carvings over 2700 years old containing war scenes dating back to the time of the Assyrian kings. The mission is operating in the Nineveh governorate and has started an excavation and restoration project near the famous al-Masqa gate, demolished by the Islamic State (IS, formerly Isis) between 2014 and 2017, during the period when the jihadist group controlled the northern Iraqi metropolis.
According to Director General of the Department of Investigation and Excavation Ali Shalgham, the unearthed antiquities 'fall within the second season of excavations and contain scenes of war'. Analysing the cuneiform engravings, he adds, 'it was discovered that they belong to the time of King Sennacherib', who led his people between 750 and 681 BC.
The discovery consists of eight marble (alabaster) slabs, which bear carvings featuring Assyrian soldiers, one of whom is intent on shooting an arrow, as well as palm trees, grapes, pomegranates and figs that were located inside King Sennacherib's palace. Following the discovery, experts from the University of Pennsylvania will maintain the sculptures to prevent their deterioration due to the climate, which is endangering the country's heritage.
The expert explains that the work is to prepare the ground for the maintenance of the foundations and walls of the al-Masqa gate, one of the oldest and located on the western side of Mosul. In a second stage there will be the most demanding intervention, with the restoration of the gate to its original condition before its demolition at the hands of the men of the self-styled 'caliphate' in 2016. This is a large-scale project that is supported by funding from the International Coalition for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas (Alef).
The restoration of cultural heritage is among the priorities emphasised by the Chaldean Church and the Patriarch, Card. Louis Raphael Sako, to "preserve the heritage and dismantle" the fundamentalist ideology that led to the destruction of monuments and treasures in Nimrod, Hatra and Mosul. Since his time as archbishop of Kirkuk, the cardinal has denounced the dangers posed by what he calls a "universal heritage" to be safeguarded such as archaeology, which alone is worth "more than oil". This is a task that is incumbent on all Iraqis, not just Christians, and one that he also recalled in 2016, during the "International Conference for the Safeguarding of Cultural Heritage in Conflict-Theatre Areas" in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (Eau).
This includes the restoration work on the famous clock church (the Church of Al-Saa, Our Lady of the Hour), also in Mosul, which is proceeding thanks to a joint project involving the Emirates and Unesco and also includes the al-Nouri mosque. The place of worship belonging to the Dominican fathers dates back to the late 19th century and was famous for its bell tower with a clock, a gift from Napoleon III's wife Eugenie of France. Before blowing it up with explosives, Isis militiamen ransacked the building, plundering goods of historical and cultural value inside.