Category Archives: IRAQ

5,500-Year-Old Sumerian Star Map Recorded the Impact of a Massive Asteroid

5,500-Year-Old Sumerian Star Map Recorded the Impact of a Massive Asteroid

For more than 150 years scientists have tried to solve the mystery of a notorious cuneiform clay tablet that reveals that in the past the impact case of so-called Köfel was detected. The circular stone-cast tablet was discovered in the late 1800s from the 650 BC King Ashurbanipal‘s underground library in Nineveh, Iraq.

Data processing, which was long believed to be an Assyrian tablet, mirrored the sky over Mesopotamia in 3,300 BC and proved to be much more ancient Sumerian origin. The tablet is the first astronomical instrument, the “Astrolabe.”  It consists of a segmented, disk-shaped star chart with marked units of angle measure inscribed upon the rim.

Unfortunately, considerable parts of the planisphere on this tablet are missing (approximately 40%), damage which dates to the sacking of Nineveh. The reverse of the tablet is not inscribed.

Still, under study by modern scholars, the cuneiform tablet in the British Museum collection No K8538 (known as “the Planisphere”) provides extraordinary proof for the existence of sophisticated Sumerian astronomy. In 2008 two authors, Alan Bond and Mark Hempsell published a book about the tablet called “A Sumerian Observation of the Kofels’ Impact Event”.

Raising a storm in archaeological circles, they re-translated the cuneiform text and assert the tablet records an ancient asteroid strike, the Köfels’ Impact, which struck Austria sometime around 3,100 BC. The giant landslide centered at Köfels in Austria is 500m thick and five kilometers in diameter and has long been a mystery since geologists first looked at it in the 19th century.

The conclusion drawn by research in the middle 20th century was that it must be due to a very large meteor impact because of the evidence of crushing pressures and explosions. But this view lost favor as a much better understanding of impact sites developed in the late 20th century.

In the case of Köfels there is no crater, so to modern eyes it does not look as an impact site should look. However, the evidence that puzzled the earlier researchers remains unexplained by the view that it is just another landslide.

So what is the connection between the sophisticated Sumerian star chart discovered in the underground library in Nineveh and mysterious impact that took place in Austria?

Examination of the clay tablet reveals that it is an astronomical work as it has drawings of constellations on it and the text has known constellation names. It has attracted a lot of attention but in over a hundred years nobody has come up with a convincing explanation as to what it is.

With modern computer programs that can simulate trajectories and reconstruct the night sky thousands of years ago, the researchers have established what the Planisphere tablet refers to. It is a copy of the night notebook of a Sumerian astronomer as he records the events in the sky before dawn on the 29 June 3,123 BC (Julian calendar).

Half the tablet records planet positions and cloud cover, the same as any other night, but the other half of the tablet records an object large enough for its shape to be noted even though it is still in space.

The astronomers made an accurate note of its trajectory relative to the stars, which to an error better than one degree is consistent with an impact at Köfels.

The observation suggests the asteroid is over a kilometer in diameter and the original orbit about the Sun was an Aten type, a class of asteroid that orbit close to the earth, that is resonant with the Earth’s orbit.

This trajectory explains why there is no crater at Köfels. The in coming angle was very low (six degrees) and means the asteroid clipped a mountain called Gamskogel above the town of Längenfeld, 11 kilometers from Köfels, and this caused the asteroid to explode before it reached its final impact point. As it traveled down the valley it became a fireball, around five kilometers in diameter (the size of the landslide).

Around 700 BC an Assyrian scribe in the Royal Place at Nineveh made a copy of one of the most important documents in the royal collection. Two and a half thousand years later it was found by Henry Layard in the remains of the palace library. It ended up in the British Museum’s cuneiform clay tablet collection as catalogue No. K8538 (also called “the Planisphere”), where it has puzzled scholars for over a hundred and fifty years.

In this monograph, Bond and Hempsell provide the first comprehensive translation of the tablet, showing it to be a contemporary Sumerian observation of an Aten asteroid over a kilometer in diameter that impacted Köfels in Austria in the early morning of 29th June 3123 BC.

When it hit Köfels it created enormous pressures that pulverized the rock and caused the landslide but because it was no longer a solid object it did not create a classic impact crater.

Mark Hempsell, discussing the Köfels event, said: “Another conclusion can be made from the trajectory. The back plume from the explosion (the mushroom cloud) would be bent over the Mediterranean Sea re-entering the atmosphere over the Levant, Sinai, and Northern Egypt.

“The ground heating though very short would be enough to ignite any flammable material – including human hair and clothes. It is probable more people died under the plume than in the Alps due to the impact blast.”

In other words, the remarkable ancient star map shows that the Sumerians made an observation of an Aten asteroid over a kilometer in diameter that impacted Köfels in Austria in the early morning of 29th June 3123 BC.

The Great Death Pit of Ur: Mass Human Sacrifice in Ancient Mesopotamia

The Great Death Pit of Ur: Mass Human Sacrifice in Ancient Mesopotamia

As Sir Charles Leonard Woolley excavated at Ur between 1922 and 1934, every burial without a grave chamber was called the “death pit” (known also as ‘grave pits’).

Woolley and his team excavated the PG 1237, which Woolley called ‘ The Great Death Pit, ‘ due to the number of bodies that were found in it. These bodies were arranged neatly in rows and were richly dressed.

They are generally believed to be sacrificial victim who accompanied their master / mistress in the afterlife. It is unclear, however, if they had done so voluntarily.

PG 1237 – The Most Famous Pit of Death at Ur

During Woolley’s archaeological excavations at Ur, a total of six burials were assigned as ‘death pits’. Generally speaking, these were tombs and sunken courtyards connected to the surface by a shaft. These ‘death pits’ were thought to have been built around or adjacent to the tomb of a primary individual.

This hypothesis, however, has been challenged in recent times. In any case, the ‘death pits’ discovered by Woolley and his team were filled with the remains of retainers belonging to an important individual.

‘Ram in a Thicket’ found in PG 1237.

The most impressive of Woolley’s ‘death pits’ is PG 1237, which was named by Woolley as the ‘Great Death Pit’. In this ‘death pit’, Woolley and his team identified a total of 74 individuals, six of whom were male and the rest female.

The bodies of the six men were found near the entrance of the ‘death pit’ and were equipped with a helmet and weapons. It is thought that these men played the role of guards and were responsible for protecting the tomb from potential grave robbers.

As for the women, the majority of them were arranged in four rows in the northwestern corner of the tomb, whilst six were under a canopy in the southern corner and another six near three layers near the tomb’s southeastern wall.   

The site map of the Great Death Pit.

Woolley was of the opinion that all the individuals in the ‘Great Death Pit’ were the retainers of an important personage whose tomb chamber had been destroyed sometime in the past. This view, however, has been challenged in more recent times.

In Aubrey Baadsgaard’s 2008 doctoral dissertation on fashion in Early Dynastic Mesopotamia, the author suggested that the person for whom the ‘Great Death Pit’ was built was buried in that tomb, and that Woolley may have missed her.

Body 61

Baadsgaard pointed out that one individual, dubbed Body 61, was more richly adorned than the rest of the female attendants. Unlike the other women, who wore simple headdresses of gold, silver, and lapis lazuli, the headdress worn by Body 61 was much more elaborate.

The only other woman known to possess a similarly ornate headdress is Puabi, who is generally regarded to have been a queen. The jewelry ensemble of Body 61 is also found to have resembled that of Puabi and the unknown royal woman in PG 1054, hence leading to the conclusion that Body 61 is the owner of the ‘Great Death Pit’.

Sumerian necklaces and headgear discovered in the royal (and individual) graves, showing the way they may have been worn. British Museum.

Other questions regarding the ‘Great Death Pit’, however, still remain. The most intriguing of which is perhaps that pertaining to the way the attendants died.

Based on the organization of the bodies, Woolley proposed that these individuals had voluntarily accompanied their mistress into the afterlife. Woolley also suggested that they had taken some kind of poison, which either killed them or made them unconscious.

Questions Remaining

A study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology on the skulls of a woman and a soldier, however, found signs of pre-mortem fractures caused by a blunt instrument.

One of the theories emerging from this finding is that the dosage of poison consumed by some of the attendants was not enough to kill them, and therefore they were struck on their heads to prevent them from being buried alive.

Reconstruction of the headdress and jewelry worn by one of Queen Pu-Abi’s attendants who was sacrificed to serve her in the afterlife.

Alternatively, it has been suggested that the victims were first given a sedative and then clubbed to death when they were unconscious.

This seems unlikely, however, as it would have been messier than was necessary, and, if it were true, then all the skulls would have displayed signs of pre-mortem fracture as seen in the two skulls that were studied. In short, this question is still an open one, and further research is needed to solve it.

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.

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