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What’s Been Lost to the Islamists’ Sledgehammers

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Islamic State video showing destruction in Mosul Museum shocks historians.

A narrator of the video calls the objects “idols and statues that people in the past used to worship instead of Allah.”

“The so-called Assyrians and Akkadians and others looked to gods for war, agriculture and rain to whom they offered sacrifices,” he says, according to a translation by the International Business Times. “The Prophet Mohammed took down idols with his bare hands when he went into Mecca. We were ordered by our prophet to take down idols and destroy them, and the companions of the prophet did this after this time, when they conquered countries.”

The website Gates of Nineveh, authored by Christopher Jones, a Ph.D student in ancient Near Eastern history at Columbia University in New York, has a summary of what appears to have been destroyed and historical information on the lost pieces. He said that of the Assyrian artifacts, "by far the most important losses are the lamassu at the Nergal Gate, one of which was exceedingly well preserved…. They were some of the few lamassu left in their original locations to greet visitors to Nineveh the same way they would have greeted visitors in ancient Assyria.”


The entrance to the gate was flanked by two large winged human-headed bulls known as lamassu in Akkadian. The gate and its lamassu were first excavated by Sir Austen Henry Layard in 1849 but then re-buried. The left lamassu (seen above behind the ISIS narrator) was uncovered again sometime before 1892, and a local man paid an Ottoman official for the top half of it, cut it off and broken down over a fire in order to extract lime. The right lamassu remained buried until 1941 when heavy rains eroded the soil around the gate and exposed the two statues. The gate was later reconstructed around them and they have remained on display ever since.

The gate was built during Sennacherib’s expansion of Nineveh sometime between 704 and 690 BC.

The video stops at 2:26 to emphasize the sign which states that “this gate is related to the god Nergal, the god of plague and the lower world.” The left lamassu, already missing its upper half, does not seem to have been targeted. The right lamassu had its face chiseled off with a jackhammer, likely causing irreparable damage.

The Iraqi region under the control of the extremists has nearly 1,800 of the country’s 12,000 registered archaeological sites, and the militants appear to be out to cleanse it of ideas they consider un-Islamic, including library books, relics and even Islamic sites considered idolatrous, said AP.

Islamic State militants ransacked the Central Library of Mosul in January, smashing the locks and taking about 2,000 books, while leaving only Islamic texts. Days later, militants broke into University of Mosul’s library and built a bonfire out of hundreds of books on science and culture, destroying them in front of students, reported the wire service.

Among the most important sites under the militants’ control are four ancient cities: Ninevah, Kalhu, Dur Sharrukin and Ashur, which at different times were capitals of the mighty Assyrian Empire. The Assyrians first arose around 2,500 B.C. and once ruled from the Mediterranean coast to what is now Iran.

 

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