Category Archives: IRAQ

Why ISIS Hates Archaeology and Blew Up Ancient Iraqi Palace

Why ISIS Hates Archaeology and Blew Up Ancient Iraqi Palace

The broken remains of Nimrud tell numerous people different things. To Sheikh Abdullah Saleh, a custodian of the ancient site until he was chased away by Islamic State extremists two years ago, they represent nothing but destruction and loss.

The hulking piles of rock are a big jigsaw riddle for Iraqi archeologist Layla Salih, from which one of the world’s most significant ancient sites might be slowly rebuilt.

Both the sheikh and the scholar have stood in the rubble of Nimrud in the week since the Iraqi military reclaimed what remained of it.

Sheikh Abdullah Saleh in the pulverized ruins of Nimrud in Iraq.

Salih was at the site picking out inscriptions from cracked stone and, in her mind’s eye, reassembling the giant winged buffaloes, known as lamassus, which Isis had laid to ruin among dozens of other priceless artifacts that had been there for almost 4,000 years.

“There are fragments that can be repaired,” she said. “The winged buffaloes in particular. It is not all lost. It was a really sad vision, but what can we do? We expected it. The good thing is we can put it back together.”

Sheikh Saleh points out pieces of a broken statue.

The view looked very different to Sheikh Saleh days after he returned from a year-long exile at the hands of the marauders who had chased him from town for trying to protect what, to him, was both a national treasure and a personal livelihood.

“This has been here for thousands of years, before Jesus,” he said amid piles of rock that had once formed the heart of the city known to the ancient Assyrians as Kalhu. People used to visit from all over the world, especially before 1991. “It used to generate money for our village. Many of our people worked here,” he said.

“Then one-day last year, they came around the village with a truck and loudspeakers. They told us to open our windows because there would be a big explosion. It was so big that our houses were covered in rocks.”

Iraq’s deputy antiquities minister, Qais Rasheed, estimates that as much as 70% of Nimrud has been destroyed by Isis. The scale of the site’s ransacking suggests his estimate might be conservative but Salih said a trained archaeological eye could pick out enough scattered remnants across the landscape to suggest that all might not be lost.

“There were pieces that I could put together in my mind,” she said. “Small things and big things. I hope we can make this happen.”

A screengrab from a video on an Isis-supporting website shows smoke billowing from Nimrud after it was wired with explosives and detonated.

There are some encouraging signs. Salih said a meeting with Unesco and the governor of Nineveh province to yielded a commitment to divert funding from a long-stalled archaeological project into rebuilding Nimrud. “It’s a substantial figure,” she said. “It will get us started. Initially, we will document the losses and protect the site. We hope to start this from the beginning in the coming year.

Sheikh Saleh said the site needed to be protected by guards to stop the pillage of what remains of Nimrud. “We need to put guards there right away,” he said, warning that a failure to lock it down could lead to a repeat of the looting that followed the US invasion of Baghdad in 2003, after which the Iraqi National Museum was pillaged by Iraqi civilians and US forces.

Thirteen years later, many of those stolen artifacts remain unaccounted for and continue to fetch high prices on a lucrative black market for stolen antiquities. Other sites around Iraq have also been looted in the instability that has plagued the country since the US invasion.

The Mosul Museum, where Salih was a curator until 2009, has been largely emptied by Isis since it took the city in mid-2014 and started a rampage to erase anything that pre-dated the Islamic era.

The Nineveh plains, on which Nimrud stands, is one of the world’s cradles of civilisation and is a heartland of Assyrian cities and Christian communities. As well as laying ancient cities to ruin, Isis rampaged over modern towns and villages in the area until the fight to reclaim them began by Iraqi forces and Kurdish peshmerga.

Remains of wall panels and colossal statues of winged bulls destroyed by Isis in Nimrud.

From his vantage point, Sheikh Saleh is sceptical about how the military might that is being brought to the battlefield could do so little to stop Isis as it methodically worked through Nimrud with dynamite and sledgehammers.

“They try to save the oil companies, but they do not try to save Iraq’s history,” he said of the fighter jets that buzz overhead. What [Isis] was doing was so obvious. They do not want to leave intact anything connected to Iraqi civilisation.

This is one of the very few places in Iraq where our history was on the show, how our civilization was organized. Now our history has been destroyed. We have nothing to show the world now and we will miss that.”

Why ISIS Hates Archaeology

While using the destruction of cultural heritage to demonstrate their “piety” and stoke division within local populations, ISIS also sees the practice of archaeology as a foreign import that fans Iraqi nationalism and impedes their ultimate goal, in which modern nations of the Middle East are subsumed into a wider caliphate encompassing the entire Muslim world.

An article on the destruction at the Mosul museum in a recent issue of Dabiq, the online magazine of the Islamic State, makes its position clear: “The kuffār [unbelievers] had unearthed these statues and ruins in recent generations and attempted to portray them as part of cultural heritage and identity that the Muslims of Iraq should embrace and be proud of.”

Archaeologists find a treasure trove of Assyrian kings discovered in ISIS excavated tunnels

Archaeologists find a treasure trove of Assyrian kings discovered in ISIS excavated tunnels

The historically hidden Palace of the Assyrian Kings was revealed when the terrorist group blew up the tomb of the prophet Jonah for ideological reasons.

Two months were spent investigating the tunnels dug by ISIS under the destroyed tomb. The tunnels were found to lead to the military palace founded by Assyrian King Sennacherib in the 7th century BC.

The archeologist who led research on the site, Prof. Peter Miglus, said that Sennacherib’s gold may have been discovered by ISIS.

He said: “We can presume many very valuable objects must now be on the black market.”

The archaeologists found gold objects littered within the tunnels that were discarded by ISIS.

Within this rabbit warren of tunnels dug by the terrorists, the German scientists discovered archaeological treasures, including a 2,000-year-old, 55 meter (180 ft.) long, “throne room”, which was associated with the military palace.

The temple and its carvings date to the final period of the once vast Assyrian empire which dominated Mesopotamia. The great city of Nineveh was once the largest in the world.

This 40 ton statue was one of a two flanking the entrance to the throne room of King Sargon II. A protective spirit known as a lamassu, it is shown as a composite being with the head of a human, the body and ears of a bull, and the wings of a bird.

A 2018 article in The Guardian said the initial discovery was “a rare piece of good news in the context of so much deliberate destruction and looting by Isis of pre-Islamic archaeology.”

British Museum archaeologists worked with Iraq archaeologist, Saleh Noman, who was in the first group of Iraqi archaeologists trained in London to survey and rescue war damaged archaeology.

Stairs to the podium in the throne room of the palace.

The Iraq Museum’s Iraq Emergency Heritage Management Training Scheme began in 2015 to help combat the many threats to the country’s archaeology, and Sebastien Rey, lead archaeologist at the Iraq Emergency Heritage Management Programme at the British Museum, told The Guardian that the “reliefs are unique with features which we have not seen anywhere else.”

What’s more, he said the archaeologists are incredibly brave working in “extreme danger”, with the mudbrick in danger of collapse at any time.

Wall panel with a palace inscription of the Assyrian king Asarhaddon (680-669 BC).

In December 2016, a U.S. led coalition backed thousands of Iraqi and Kurdish troops in a massive military operation to take back Mosul, the country’s second-largest city, and government forces eventually drove ISIS militants from the area around the Nebi Yunus shrine.

The first local archaeologists on the scene reported that ISIS had dug tunnels deep beneath the holy site searching for treasures and artifacts to sell on the black market.

Then they discovered the treasure tunnels led straight to a previously undiscovered and untouched palace.

In 2018 archaeologist Layla Salih told  The Telegraph she could only “imagine how much Daesh [Arabic term for ISIS] discovered down there before we got here.”

At first sight, it does appear extreme to blow up a mosque and to tunnel hundreds of meters into stone, it is certainly not acceptable, but consider the numbers: in 2017 The Middle-East Observer reported that at The Unesco conference in Paris the deputy Iraqi culture minister, Qais Rashid, said, “in the Mosul region alone at least 66 archaeological sites had been destroyed by ISIS,” and that Muslim and Christian places of worship had suffered “massive destruction”, and thousands of manuscripts had been looted.

Mr. Rashid’s analysis suggested ISIS was funding its acts by smuggling oil (up to $1.645m a day), kidnapping (at least $20m last year), people trafficking, extortion, robbery and last – but not least – “the sale of antiquities.” For example, the sale of looted items from al-Nabuk, west of Damascus, is reported to have earned ISIS $36m.

A battery around 200 BC found by  the German Archaeologist in 1938 

A battery around 200 BC found by the German Archaeologist in 1938.

It was in 1938, while working in Khujut Rabu, just outside Baghdad in modern-day Iraq, that German archaeologist Wilhelm Konig unearthed a five-inch-long (13 cm) clay jar containing a copper cylinder that encased an iron rod.

The vessel showed signs of corrosion, and early tests revealed that an acidic agent, such as vinegar or wine had been present. 

They are commonly considered to have been intentionally designed to produce an electric charge.

“They are a one-off. As far as we know, nobody else has found anything like these. They are odd things; they are one of life’s enigmas.”

Form and Function:

Railway construction in Baghdad in 1936, uncovered a copper cylinder with a rod of iron amongst other finds from the Parthian period. In 1938, these were identified as primitive electric cells by Dr. Wilhelm Konig, then the director of the Baghdad museum laboratory, who related the discovery to other similar finds (Iraqi cylinders, rods and asphalt stoppers, all corroded as if by some acid, and a few slender Iron and Bronze rods found with them). He concluded that their purpose was for electroplating gold and Silver jewellery.

The ancient battery in the Baghdad Museum

The Object he first found (left), was a 6-inch high pot of bright yellow clay containing a cylinder of sheet-copper 5 inches by 1.5 inches. The edge of the copper cylinder was soldered with a lead-tin alloy comparable to today’s solder.  The bottom of the cylinder was capped with a crimped-in copper disc and sealed with bitumen or asphalt. Another insulating layer of Asphalt sealed the top and also held in place an iron rod suspended into the centre of the copper cylinder.

Batteries dated to around 200 BC Could have been used in gilding

Two separate experiments with replicas of the cells have produced a 0.5-Volt current for as long as 18 days from each battery, using an electrolyte 5% solution of Vinegar, wine or copper-sulfate, sulphuric acid, and citric acid, all available at the time. (One replica produced 0.87-Volts).

From the BBC News Article

Most sources date the batteries to around 200 BC – in the Parthian era, circa 250 BC to AD 225. Skilled warriors, the Parthians were not noted for their scientific achievements.

“Although this collection of objects is usually dated as Parthian, the grounds for this are unclear,” says Dr St John Simpson, also from the department of the ancient Near East at the British Museum.

“The pot itself is Sassanian. This discrepancy presumably lies either in a misidentification of the age of the ceramic vessel, or the site at which they were found.” 

From the same Article, these prophetic words of wisdom:

‘War can destroy more than people, an army or a leader. Culture, tradition, and history also lie in the firing line. Iraq has a rich national heritage. The Garden of Eden and the Tower of Babel are said to have been sited in this ancient land. In any war, there is a chance that priceless treasures will be lost forever, articles such as the “ancient battery” that resides defenseless in the museum of Baghdad’.

Unfortunately, the Baghdad batteries are now lost to us following the looting of the Baghdad museum in 2003.

This article appeared in the Guardian: Thursday, April 22 2004.

The situation in Iraq makes the fate of the 8,000 or so artefacts still missing from the National Museum of Baghdad ever more uncertain. Among them is an unassuming looking, 13cm long clay jar that represents one of archaeology’s greatest puzzles – the Baghdad battery. The enigmatic vessel was unearthed by the German archaeologist Wilhelm Koenig in the late 1930s, either in the National Museum or in a grave at Khujut Rabu, a Parthian site near Baghdad (accounts differ). The corroded earthenware jar contained a copper cylinder, which itself encased an iron rod, all sealed with asphalt. Koenig recognised it as a battery and identified several more specimens from fragments found in the region.

He theorised that several batteries would have been strung together, to increase their output, and used to electroplate precious objects. Koenig’s ideas were rejected by his peers and, with the onset of the second world war, subsequently forgotten.

Following the war, the fresh analysis revealed signs of corrosion by an acidic substance, perhaps vinegar or wine. An American engineer, Willard Gray, filled a replica jar with grape juice and was able to produce 1.5-2 volts of power. Then, in the late 1970s, a German team used a string of replica batteries successfully to electroplate a thin layer of silver.

About a dozen such jars were held in Baghdad’s National Museum. Although their exact age is uncertain, they’re thought to date from the Sassanian period, approximately AD 225-640. While it’s now largely accepted that the jars are indeed batteries, their purpose remains unknown. What were our ancestors doing with (admittedly, tiny) electric charges, 1,000 years before the first twitchings of our modern electrical age?

Certainly, the batteries would have been highly-valued objects: several were needed to provide even a small amount of power. The electroplating theory remains a strong contender, while a medical function has also been suggested – the Ancient Greeks, for example, are known to have used electric eels to numb pain.

Of particular interest in relation to the Baghdad Batteries is the suggestion that they were used in order to electroplate Copper Vases with silver, which were also once to be found in the Baghdad museum. They had been excavated from Sumerian sites in southern Iraq, dating 2,500 -2,000 BC.

Paul T. Keyser of the University of Alberta in Canada has come up with an alternative suggestion. Writing in the prestigious archaeological Journal of Near Eastern Studies, he claims that these batteries were used as an analgesic. He points out that there is evidence that electric eels were used to numb an area of pain or to anaesthetize it for medical treatment. The electric battery could have provided a less messy and more readily available method of analgesic.

Of course, the 1.5 volts that would have been generated by such a device would not do much to deaden a patch of skin, so the next conclusion was that these ancient people must have discovered how to link up several batteries in series to produce a higher voltage. 

‘The Chinese had developed acupuncture by this time, and still use acupuncture combined with an electric current. This may explain the presence of needle-like objects found with some of the batteries’

Ritual Site Dedicated to Mesopotamian War God Discovered in Iraq

Ritual Site Dedicated to Mesopotamian War God Discovered in Iraq

At the site of Girsu (also known as Tello) in Iraq, archeologists recently uncovered a 5,000-year-old cultic region that hosted fiery feasts, animal sacrifices and ritual processions dedicated to Ningirsu, a Mesopotamian warrior-god.

Archeologists excavated over 300 broken ceremonial ceramic cups, bowls, pots, and spouted vessels along with a large number of animal bones in an area of Girsu known as the Uruku (a name which means “the sacred city”).

The sacred plaza, seen here, was at the heart of Girsu. A cultic area that had over 300 broken ceremonial objects was recently uncovered near its entrance.

The items were within or near a “favissa” (ritual pit) that was 8.2 feet (2.5 meters) deep, said Sebastien Rey, director of the British Museum’s Tello/Ancient Girsu Project, and Tina Greenfield, a zooarchaeologist at the University of Saskatchewan who works on the project.

Greenfield presented the team’s findings at the American Schools of Oriental Research annual meeting held in San Diego in November 2019. 

One of the most striking objects the archaeologists found was a bronze figurine shaped like a duck, with eyes made out of the shell.

The object may have been dedicated to Nanshe, a goddess associated with water, marshlands and aquatic birds, Rey and Greenfield told Live Science in an email. The researchers also uncovered a fragment of a vase that has an inscription dedicated to Ningirsu.

Rey and Greenfield said that the cups and goblets they found were probably used in a religious feast before being ritually discarded in the pit, while the bones — which were from sheep, cow, deer, gazelle, fish, goat, pig and birds — were likely the remains of animals that were either consumed or killed for ritual sacrifices. 

The area has a thick layer of ash that was likely leftover from large ritual fires. The team also found eight ash-filled oval structures that were likely the remains of lanterns or floor lamps. 

Archaeologists believe that the cultic area was in use during a time period called the “early dynastic,” which lasted between 2950-2350 B.C. 

Details of the favissa and its objects and animal bones can be seen in this picture. The cultic area that it’s in dates back almost 5,000 years.

Festivals and processions

A large number of ceremonial ceramics, as well as the burnt floors and a favissa strongly, connects the recently uncovered cultic area to the place “where according to the cuneiform texts religious festivals took place and where the population of Girsu gathered to feast and honour their gods,” Rey and Greenfield said in the email.

Cuneiform tablets found at Girsu in the late 19th and early 20th century describe the religious feasting and processions that the cultic area was used for.

The tablets say that a religious feast in honor of Ningirsu was carried out twice a year and lasted for three or four days, Rey and Greenfield said. 

During the festival, a religious procession began at the center of Girsu and crossed the city’s territory before arriving at the “Gu’edena,” an area that may have been located just outside Girsu — and then turned back and ended at Girsu’s center. 

Archaeological work is ongoing at Girsu, and the researchers will continue to publish new findings in the future.