Category Archives: IRAQ

5,000-year-old Iraqi city discovered under a 10 meter-deep mound

5,000-year-old Iraqi city discovered under a 10 meter-deep mound

In the Kurdistan province of northern Iraq, an ancient town called ‘Idu’ was discovered. Hidden under a mound of 32 feet (10 meters), it is believed that the city was an entertainment center between 3,300 and 2,900 years ago.

King inscriptions made for walls, tablets, and plinths of the stone show that once it was full of lavish palaces. It is thought the inscription was made by the local kings celebrating the construction of the royal palace.

Archaeologists at the University of Leipzig in Germany spent the next few years excavating the area. They believe the city of Idu spent much of its time under the control of the Assyrian Empire about 3,300 years ago.

The ancient city of Idu is now part of a Tell that rises about 32 feet (10 metres) above the surrounding plain. The modern day name of the site is Satu Qala and a village lies on top of the Tell
This cylinder seal dates back around 2,600 years, to a time after the Assyrians had re-conquered Idu. The seal would show a mythical scene if it was rolled on a piece of clay. It depicts a crouched bowman, who may be the god Ninurta, facing a griffon
The city is thought to have been a hub of activity between 3,300 and 2,900 years ago. The above image shows a living structure, with at least two rooms, that may date to around 2,000 years ago when the Parthian Empire controlled the area in Iraq

But archaeologists also found evidence that it was a fiercely independent city. Its people fought for and won, 140 years of independence before they were reconquered by the Assyrians.

Among the treasures found were artwork showing a bearded sphinx with a human head and the body of a winged lion. Above it was the words: ‘Palace of Ba’auri, king of the land of Idu, son of Edima, also king of the land of Idu.’

They also found a cylinder seal dating back roughly 2,600 years depicting a man crouching before a griffon.

‘We were lucky to be one of the first teams to begin excavations in Iraq after the 2003 war,’ archaeologists Cinzia Pappi told MailOnline.

‘The discovery of ancient Idu at Satu Qala revealed a multicultural capital and a crossroad between northern and southern Iraq and between Iraq and Western Iran in the second and first millennia BC.

‘Particularly the discovery of a local dynasty of kings fills a gap in what scholars had previously thought of as a dark age in the history of ancient Iraq.

‘Together these results have helped to redraw the political and historical map of the development of the Assyrian Empire.’ The city was hidden beneath a mound, called a tell, which is currently home to a village called Satu Qala.

‘For wide-scale excavations to continue, at least some of these houses will have to be removed,’ said archaeologists Cinzia Pappi.

‘Unfortunately, until a settlement is reached between the villagers and the Kurdistan regional government, further work is currently not possible.’

Archaeologists plan to continue excavating the site once they reach an agreement. In the meantime, a study on the materials from the site, now stored in the Erbil Museum of Antiquities, has just been completed in co-operation with the University of Pennsylvania.

Together, the researchers will explore the surrounding area to determine the extent of the kingdom of Idu in its regional context. The findings have been reported in the journal Anatolica.

The 2,600-year-old palace is found buried under the ruins of a shrine blown up by Isis in Mosul

The 2,600-Year-old palace is found buried under the ruins of a shrine blown up by Isis in Mosul

Archaeologists assessing the damage caused by Islamic State militants to the tomb of the prophet of Jonah have made a surprise discovery. Experts found a previously untouched palace dating back to 600BC buried under the ruins of Jonah’s desecrated resting place.

The Nebi Yunus shrine – containing what Muslims and Christians believe to be the tomb of Jonah or ‘Yunnus’ as he is known in the Koran – was destroyed by ISIS militants in July 2014.

Weeks after overrunning Mosul and much of Iraq’s Sunni Arab heartland, ISIS militants rigged the shrine and blew it up, sparking global outrage.  ISIS militants believe giving special veneration to tombs and relics is against the teachings of Islam.

Archaeologists assessing the damage caused by Islamic State militants to the tomb of the prophet of Jonah have found an undiscovered palace. Here, a member of the Iraqi army stands next to Assyrian stone sculptures of demi-goddesses, pictured spreading the ‘water of life’

The shrine holding Jonah’s tomb is located on top of a hill in eastern Mosul, a city in northern Iraq with a population of around 660,000 that was retaken from ISIS control by Iraqi army forces last month.

Archaeologists have been picking through ancient rubble left behind by the terror group as they attempt to salvage surviving artefacts. They told the Telegraph that ISIS dug tunnels deep under the shrine and into a previously undiscovered and untouched palace dating back to 600BC. These tunnels were not professionally built, leaving them unstable and at risk of collapse within the next few weeks, burying the ancient palace.

‘We fear it could all collapse at any time,’ entombing the treasures, said archaeologist Layla Salih, who is in charge of antiquities for the Nineveh province where the shrine stands.

The impressive maze of tunnels dug by the jihadists to carry out excavations is located in the heart of the hill that houses the tomb of the Prophet Jonah. These demi-goddess sculptures were carved into the walls over 2,000 years ago

‘There are cave-ins in the tunnels every day.’

It had long been rumoured that the shrine shared a site with an ancient palace.  Excavations had previously been carried out by the Ottoman governor of Mosul in 1852. The Iraqi Department of antiques also studied the site in the 1950s.

But neither excavation had dug as far as the ISIS militants, leaving the palace undiscovered for 2,600 years. The finding is the first example of ISIS militants tunnelling underneath historic sites to find artefacts to loot. Within one of the ISIS tunnels, archaeologists found a marble inscription of King Esarhaddon, thought to date back to the Assyrian empire in 672BC.

The palace was renovated and expanded by King Esarhaddon after it was built for his father Sennacherib. It was partly destroyed during a ransacking as part of the Battle of Nineveh in 612 BC.

Only a handful of these ‘cuneiform’ slabs have ever been uncovered from the Esarhaddon period. Archaeologists also unearthed two Assyrian empire-era winged bull sculptures within the Jihadist tunnels.

Excavations had previously been carried out by the Ottoman governor of Mosul in 1852. And the Iraqi department of antiques studied the site in the 1950s. But neither excavation had dug as far as the ISIS militants, who dug tunnels, such as those pictured here, deep into the earth

Two murals in white marble show the winged bulls with only the sides and feet showing.  In another section of ISIS tunnel, the archaeologists found Assyrian stone sculptures of a demi-goddess, pictured spreading the ‘water of life’ to protect humans.

Mrs Salih said that some of the larger sculptures were likely left behind by ISIS because they feared the hill might collapse. Other removable artefacts, especially pottery, were certainly plundered, she said.

‘I’ve never seen something like this in stone at this large size,’ Professor Eleanor Robson, chair of the British Institute for the Study of Iraq, told The Telegraph.

Professor Robson suggested they may have been used to decorate the women’s quarter of the palace. The objects don’t match descriptions of what we thought was down there, so Isis’s destruction has actually led us to a fantastic find.’

An Iraqi soldier standing in a section of excavated ISIS tunnel. It had long been rumoured that the shrine shared a site with an ancient palace. Excavations had previously been carried out by the Iraqi department of antiques in the 1950s, but they found nothing

‘There’s a huge amount of history down there, not just ornamental stones.  It is an opportunity to finally map the treasure-house of the world’s first great empire, from the period of its greatest success.’

Mrs Salih, who is leading the five-person team carrying out the emergency documentation of Jonah’s tomb, believes that ISIS forces looted hundreds of objects before Mosul was retaken by Iraqi forces.

‘I can only imagine how much Daesh discovered down there before we got here,’ she said.

‘We believe they took many of the artefacts, such as pottery and smaller pieces, away to sell. But what they left will be studied and will add a lot to our knowledge of the period.’

The Nebi Yunus shrine – containing what Muslims and Christians believe to be the tomb of Jonah or ‘Yunnus’ as he is known in the Koran – was destroyed by ISIS militants in July 2014
The shrine holding Jonah’s tomb is located on top of a hill in eastern Mosul, a city in northern Iraq with a population of around 660,000 that was retaken from ISIS control by Iraqi army forces last month

As the city of Mosul was finally retaken, Iraqi forces battling Islamic State unveiled the destruction left behind by the jihadis last month in a series of devastating photographs. The terrorist group who levelled many of the city’s most well-known Muslim artefacts and buildings.

‘We retook control of Nabi Yunus area… raised the Iraqi flag above the tomb,’ said Sabah al-Noman, spokesman for the Counter-Terrorism Service spearheading the Mosul offensive. The destruction of all bridges over the river in airstrikes has made it difficult for IS fighters in east Mosul to resupply or escape to the west bank, which they still fully control.

The western side of Mosul, which is home to the old city and some of the jihadists’ traditional bastions, was always tipped as likely to offer the most resistance.

Lost City Of Alexander The Great Discovered In Iraq With Old Spy Footage

Lost City Of Alexander The Great Discovered In Iraq With Old Spy Footage

The ‘lost city’ of Alexander the Great was a mystical place where people drank wine and naked philosopher exchanged wisdom, ancient accounts claim. Now, nearly 2,000 years after the great warrior’s death, archaeologists believe the city may have finally been discovered in Iraq.

Since looking at declassified American spy recordings from the sixties, analysts have first found the old remains in the Iraqi settlement known as Qalatga Darband. The images were made public in 1996 but, due to political instability, archaeologists were unable to explore the site properly for years.

Now archaeologists have discovered that there has been a city during the first and second centuries BC that had heavy Greek and Roman influences, with more modern drone footage and on-site work.

Nearly 2,000 years after Alexander the Great’s death, archaeologists believe his ‘lost city’ has been found in Iraq’s Qalatga Darband. Shown here is the Darband-i Rania pass from the northeast. The site of Qalatga Darband is the triangular land beyond the bridge on the right

They believe Alexander the Great founded it in 331 BC, and later settled in the city with 3,000 veterans of his campaigns. Undefeated in battle, Alexander had carved out a vast empire stretching from Macedonia, Greece in Europe, to Persia, Egypt and even parts of northern India by the time of his death aged 32.

Researchers believe Qalatga Darband – which roughly translates from Kurdish as ‘castle of the mountain pass’ – is on the route Alexander of Macedon took to attack Darius III of Persia in 331 BC. The city may have served as an important meeting point between East and West. It is 6 miles (10km) south-east of Rania in Sulaimaniya province in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Researchers at the British Museum first explored the site using spy footage of the area from the 1960s. An archaeological dig was not possible when Saddam Hussein controlled Iraq. But more recently improved security has allowed the British Museum to explore the site as a way of training Iraqis to rescue areas damaged by Islamic State. As well as on-site work, the Museum has also been able to capture its own drone footage of the area.

‘We got coverage of all the site using the drone in the spring — analysing crop marks hasn’t been done at all in Mesopotamian archaeology’, lead archaeologist John MacGinnis told The Times.

‘It’s early days, but we think it would have been a bustling city on a road from Iraq to Iran. ‘You can imagine people supplying wine to soldiers passing through’, he said.

‘Where there are walls underground the wheat and barley don’t grow so well, so there are colour differences in the crop growth’.

A graphic of what the ‘lost city’ would have looked like, with a temple, inner fort and wine press facilities. Farmers in the area had found remains of big buildings and a large fortified wall in the area

From the excavation work, they discovered an abundance of terracotta roof tiles and Greek and Roman statues, suggesting the city’s early residents were Alexander’s subjects.

Archaeologists also found terracotta roof tiles, such as this antefix (pictured) – which suggested Greek and Roman influences

Among the statues they found was a female figure believed to be Persephone, the Greek goddess of vegetation, and the other is believed to be Adonis, a symbol of fertility.

They also discovered a coin of Orodes II, who was king of the Parthian from 57 BC to 37 BC. On its western flank, the city was protected by a large fortification which ran from the river to the mountain.

It is situated on a large open site around 60 hectares (148 acres) large on a natural terrace. The 1960s Corona spy satellite footage showed a large square building, potentially believed to be a fort, according to a British Museum blog.

More recently improved security has allowed the British Museum to explore the site as a way of training Iraqis to rescue areas damaged by Islamic State. The findings suggest, Qalatga Darband, may be on the route Alexander the Great took to attack Darius III of Persia in 331 BC
More recently improved security has allowed the British Museum to explore the site as a way of training Iraqis to rescue areas damaged by Islamic State. The findings suggest, Qalatga Darband, maybe on the route Alexander the Great took to attack Darius III of Persia in 331 BC
Archaeologists found a stone mound near the city ruins, beneath which they found a temple-like structure. Inside the structure, they found smashed statues, one of which was a nude male, possibly representing Adonis.

Farmers in the area had also found remains of big buildings and a large fortified wall. There were a number of limestone blocks, believed to be wine or oil presses. Meanwhile, excavation of a mound at the southern end of the site revealed a monument that could have been a temple for worship.

Fieldwork started in the autumn of 2016 and is expected to last until 2020. The project, which was part of the government-funded Iraq Emergency Heritage Management Training Programme, has been possible due to improved security in the country.

It is part of a £30 million ($40 million) government plan to help Iraq rebuild historical sites destroyed by Islamic State. This fund is designed to counter the destruction of heritage in cultural zones from Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The programme involves bringing groups of Iraqi archaeologists to London for eight weeks of training at the British Museum.

They are then sent to excavations in the field for six additional weeks where they learn how to do drone surveys and 3D scanning. The team now wants to find linguistic evidence to confirm their findings. Earlier this year archaeologists believe they found the last will and testament of Alexander the Great – more than 2,000 years after his death.

Archaeologists at the British Museum have found a number of statues and coins and have established there was a city during the first and second centuries BC which had strong Greek and Roman influences
Experts believe Qalatga Darband is on the route Alexander the Great (pictured) took to attack Darius III of Persia in 331 BC

A London-based expert David Grant claimed to have unearthed the Macedonian king’s dying wishes in an ancient text that has been ‘hiding in plain sight’ for centuries.

The long-dismissed last will divulged Alexander’s plans for the future of the Greek-Persian empire he ruled. It also reveals his burial wishes and discloses the beneficiaries to his vast fortune and power. Evidence for the lost will can be found in an ancient manuscript known as the ‘Alexander Romance’, a book of fables covering Alexander’s mythical exploits.

Likely compiled during the century after Alexander’s death, the fables contain invaluable historical fragments about Alexander’s campaigns in the Persian Empire.

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’