Category Archives: IRAQ

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.

3000-year-old Nimrud lens could rewrite the history of science

3000-year-old Nimrud lens could rewrite the history of science

The lens of Nimrud is a rock crystal object, 3000 years old, which Sir John Layard found in 1850 at the Assyrian Nimrud Palace in modern Iraq.

The Nimrud lens is kept at the British Museum.

Since its discovery over a century ago, scientists and archaeologists have been discussing how the lens has been used as part of a telescope by one famous Italian professor who believed that the ancient Assyrians knew so much about astronomy.

The Nimrud lens (also referred to as the Layard lens), dated between 750 and 710 BC, is made of natural rock crystal and is a slightly oval in form. It was roughly ground, perhaps on a lapidary wheel. It has a focal point about 11 centimeters from the flat side and a focal length of about 12 cm.  

This would make it equivalent to a 3× magnifying glass (combined with another lens, it could achieve much greater magnification). The surface of the lens has twelve cavities that were opened during grinding, which would have contained naptha or some other fluid trapped in the raw crystal. The lens is said to be able to focus sunlight although the focus is far from perfect.  

There has been much debate over the original use of the Nimrud lens.  Some speculate that it was used as a magnifying glass, or as a burning-glass to start fires by concentrating sunlight, while others have proposed that the lens was part of a telescope. 

However, if we are to believe the British Museum’s description, the Nimrud lens “would have been of little or no practical use”, and while they acknowledge that “this piece of rock crystal has been carefully ground and polished, and undoubtedly has optical properties”, they reach the unusual conclusion that the optical properties were “probably accidental”.  

I wonder if the British Museum also maintains that the hundreds of other carefully crafted and polished lenses found throughout the ancient world were also “accidental”?

The British Museum finished by saying that: “There is no evidence that the Assyrians used lenses, either for magnification or for making fire, and it is much more likely that this is a piece of inlay, perhaps for furniture.” However, many disagree with this claim.

Sir John Layard suggested that Assyrian craftsmen used the lens as a magnifying glass to make intricate and minuscule engravings, such as those that have been found on seals and on clay tablets using a wedge-shaped script. But experts on Assyrian archaeology are unconvinced. They say that the lens is of such low quality that it would have been a poor aid to vision.

An example of the minuscule text engraved on clay tablets

Another hypothesis is that the lens was used as a burning-glass to start a fire. Burning-glasses were known in the ancient world. Aristophanes refers to “the beautiful, transparent stone with which they light fires” in his play The Clouds (424 BC). Pliny the Elder (23-79AD) describes how glass balls filled with water could set clothes on fire when placed in line with the sun. However, there is no clear evidence to support the theory that this was the purpose for which the Nimrud lens was created.

Italian scientist Giovanni Pettinato of the University of Rome has proposed that the lens was used by the ancient Assyrians as part of a telescope.  According to conventional perspectives, the telescope was invented by Dutch spectacle maker, Hans Lippershey in 1608 AD, and Galileo was the first to point it to the sky and use it to study the cosmos. But even Galileo himself noted that the ‘ancients’ were aware of telescopes.

While lenses were around before the Nimrud lens, Pettinato believes this was one of the first to be used in a telescope.  The earliest lenses identified date back around 4,500 years ago to the 4 th and 5 th Dynasties of Ancient Egypt (e.g., the superb `Le Scribe Accroupi’ and `the Kai’ in the Louvre), where it appears they were used as schematic eye structures (iris/pupil inserts) associated with funerary statues.

Latter examples have been found in Knossos dated to around 3,500-years-old.  In total, there are several hundred reported lenses now on record from around the ancient world, so it appears that the ancients knew a lot more about lenses than some, like the British Museum, give them credit for. 

One of the reasons Pettinato believed that the Assyrians used the Nimrud lens as part of a telescope is that some of their knowledge about astronomy seems impossible to have acquired without a telescope. 

For example, the ancient Assyrians saw the planet Saturn as a god surrounded by a ring of serpents, which Pettinato suggests was their interpretation of Saturn’s rings as seen through a telescope.

However, other experts say that serpents occur frequently in Assyrian mythology, and note that there is no mention of a telescope in any of the many surviving Assyrian astronomical writings.

Whatever its purpose, as an ornament, as a magnifying lens, a burning glass, or part of a telescope, the Nimrud lens certainly appears to be more than an “accident”.  But exactly how it was used, we may never know.

Ancient rock carvings that escaped the wrath of ISIS discovered in Iraq

Ancient rock carvings that escaped the wrath of ISIS discovered in Iraq

After being attacked by ISIS, ancient carvings of an Assyrian king honoring the gods and surrounded by mythical beasts were safely uncovered in Iraq.

In 2014, ISIS captured Mosul city and archaeologists were forced to leave Faida’s archeological site, as the militant group was just 15 miles away. The ten rock reliefs were found in the Kurdistan region of Iraq and are believed to be the first of their kind discovered in 150 years.

In 2012, the site was surveyed by archeologists and it was not until late last year, with the self-proclaimed caliphate overthrown, that archaeologists were able to return and excavate the treasures left behind. 

Ancient carvings menaced by the advance of ISIS have finally been revealed after the terror group’s defeat, in the first discovery of its kind for more than 150 years
The ten rock reliefs depict Assyrian gods riding mythical creatures in procession with the king (pictured)

Ancient carvings menaced by the advance of ISIS have finally been revealed after the terror group’s defeat, in the first discovery of its kind for more than 150 years. Italian and Iraqi archaeologists uncovered the reliefs 12 miles (20km) south of the Kurdistani city of Duhok.  Expedition leader, Daniele Morandi Bonacossi of the University of Udine in Italy, said nothing like the carvings had been found since 1845. 

‘Assyrian rock reliefs are extremely rare,’ he said. 

‘There is no other Assyrian rock art complex that can be compared with this one, with the only exception being Khinis, in the north-eastern part of the region.’ ISIS, or Islamic State, was remorseless in destroying antiquities it felt were idolatrous, though it also looted artifacts to sell. At the height of its powers, its fighters were only 15 miles from the dig site.  But even now, with ISIS defeated, the rock carvings face fresh threats. 

‘The most serious threats are vandalism, illegal excavations and the activities of the nearby village that are literally besieging the site,’ said Professor Bonacossi. 

‘One of the reliefs was illegally excavated and thereby damaged in May 2019, and the owner of one farmstead has partly destroyed one of the reliefs in order to expand his cow stable.

‘The only way to protect the site is to fence it off and guarantee a constant security service controlling the area. 

‘The Duhok Governorate is committed to guaranteeing the protection of the reliefs.’ 

Archaeologists surveyed the site in 2012 and it was only late last year, with the self-proclaimed caliphate overthrown, that archaeologists were able to return and excavate the treasures left behind
The reliefs (pictured) once decorated the banks of the Faida irrigation canal, which was part of a vast network that brought water to the Assyrian capital, Nineveh. The canal was likely built during the reign of Sargon II
Among the deities depicted is Ashur, the main Assyrian god, his wife Mullissu, the moon god Sin and the sun-god Shamash. They are shown astride mythical beasts including dragons and horned lions (pictured)

The reliefs once decorated the banks of the Faida irrigation canal, which was part of a vast network that brought water to the Assyrian capital, Nineveh.   The canal was likely built during the reign of Sargon II, whose successor, Sennacherib, is believed to have incorporated it into the wider network.

Both kings are named in the Bible for their military exploits, with the former conquering the Kingdom of Israel. The figures on the panels are shown in profile, facing left, in the direction the water would have flowed.  Among the deities depicted is Ashur, the main Assyrian god, his wife Mullissu, the moon god Sin and the sun-god Shamash.  They are shown astride mythical beasts including dragons and horned lions. 

‘The reliefs tell us that the construction of this local irrigation system was celebrated by royal power through the carving of rock reliefs,’ said Professor Bonacossi. The excavation of impressive irrigation systems across the core region of the Assyrian empire changed the economic foundation of the regions involved.

‘It transformed them from extensive dry-farming regions into highly-productive irrigation agriculture areas. 

‘But it also profoundly modified the space and settlement patterns in the core of the Assyrian empire.’  

Professor Bonacossi believes the site could hold more secrets still. 

‘During the excavation of one relief, we found another which was not visible at the surface,’ he said. 

‘This means that probably many other reliefs are still to be found and that this rock art complex is larger than we expected. 

‘This explains why the Faida archaeological site is so important.’ 

Archaeologists surveyed the site in 2012 (pictured), following up on an earlier British excavation in 1973, but the project ground to a halt when ISIS captured the nearby city of Mosul in 2014

A Stunning Neanderthal Skeleton Was Just Unearthed at a Famous Burial Site

A Stunning Neanderthal Skeleton Was Just Unearthed at a Famous Burial Site

A skeleton uncovered in an Iraqi cave already famous for fossils of these extinct cousins of Neanderthal species is providing fresh evidence that they buried their dead – and intriguing clues that flowers may have been used in such rituals.

The remains, consisting of a crushed but complete skull, upper thorax, and both hands, were recently unearthed at the Shanidar Cave site 500 miles north of Baghdad.

Scientists said on Tuesday they had discovered in Shanidar Cave in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq the well-preserved upper body skeleton of an adult Neanderthal who lived about 70,000 years ago. The individual – dubbed Shanidar Z – was perhaps in his or her 40s or 50s. The sex was undetermined.

On Tuesday scientists discovered in Shanidar Cave in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq the well-preserved upper body skeleton of an adult Neanderthal who lived about 70,000 years ago. The individual – dubbed Shanidar Z – was perhaps in his or her 40s or 50s. The sex was undetermined.

The cave was a pivotal site for mid-20th century archaeology. Remains of 10 Neanderthals – seven adults and three infants – were dug up there six decades ago, offering insight into the physical characteristics, behavior, and diet of this species.

Clusters of flower pollen were found at that time in soil samples associated with one of the skeletons, a discovery that prompted scientists involved in that research to propose that Neanderthals buried their dead and conducted funerary rites with flowers.

That hypothesis helped change the prevailing popular view at the time of Neanderthals as dimwitted and brutish, a notion increasingly discredited by new discoveries. Critics cast doubt, however, on the “flower burial,” arguing the pollen could have been modern contamination from people working and living in the cave or from burrowing rodents or insects.

But Shanidar Z’s bones, which appear to be the top half of a partial skeleton unearthed in 1960, were found in sediment containing ancient pollen and other mineralized plant remains, reviving the possibility of flower burials. The material is being examined to determine its age and the plants represented.

“So from initially being a skeptic based on many of the other published critiques of the flower-burial evidence, I am coming round to think this scenario is much more plausible and I am excited to see the full results of our new analyses,” said University of Cambridge osteologist and paleoanthropologist Emma Pomeroy, lead author of the research published in the journal Antiquity.

Scholars have argued for years about whether Neanderthals buried their dead with mortuary rituals much as our species does, part of the larger debate over their levels of cognitive sophistication.

Shanidar Z’s bones are believed to be the top half of a partial skeleton unearthed in 1960.

“What is key here is the intentionality behind the burial. You might bury a body for purely practical reasons, in order to avoid attracting dangerous scavengers and/or to reduce the smell. But when this goes beyond practical elements it is important because that indicates more complex, symbolic and abstract thinking, compassion and care for the dead, and perhaps feelings of mourning and loss,” Pomeroy said.

Shanidar Z appears to have been deliberately placed in an intentionally dug depression cut into the subsoil and part of a cluster of four individuals.

“Whether the Neanderthal group of dead placed around 70,000 years ago in the cave were a few years, a few decades or centuries – or even millennia – apart, it seems clear that Shanidar was a special place, with bodies being placed just in one part of a large cave,” said University of Cambridge archeologist and study co-author Graeme Barker.

Neanderthals – more robustly built than Homo sapiens and with larger brows – inhabited Eurasia from the Atlantic coast to the Ural Mountains from about 400,000 years ago until a bit after 40,000 years ago, disappearing after our species established itself in the region.

The two species interbred, with modern non-African human populations bearing residual Neanderthal DNA.

Shanidar Z was found to be reclining on his or her back, with the left arm tucked under the head and the right arm bent and sticking out to the side.