An untouched Assyrian palace that once belonged to King Esarhaddon has just been found in Iraq, and this completely unexpected discovery would never have occurred if ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) hadn’t first blown up what was on top of it. A group of archaeologists had been focusing specifically on the damage that ISIL had inflicted on the Nebi Yunus shrine, and this is when they accidentally discovered the palace.
The Nebi Yunus shrine that archaeologists had been focusing on contained what many believed to be the tomb of Jonah, and the name of the shrine is explained by the fact that in the Koran this prophet is known not as Jonah, but as Yunus. After ISIL infiltrated Northern Iraq in 2014, they visited the hill in eastern Mosul where the tomb of Jonah was and destroyed it. This particular hill is one of two which at one time belonged to the ancient city of Nineveh.
The Iraqi Army has just managed to regain territory in this location so that ISIL is no longer a threat at this time, and this has enabled archaeologists to continue their work. One thing archaeologists noticed at the Nebi Yunus shrine which had been demolished is that ISIL had actually dug tunnels underneath it. There had been a small amount of work previously done on this site in both 1852 and the 1950s, but up until now nobody knew that there was an Assyrian palace from 672 BC beneath the tomb of Jonas.
The Telegraph reports that these tunnels are now evidence that ISIL is not only interested in blowing up ancient artifacts, but they are also extremely keen to tunnel underground so that they can plunder items that they find.
In one of the tunnels that ISIL dug at this location, the archaeologist Layla Salih found a cuneiform inscription from King Esarhaddon. This particular king had worked hard to try and rebuild Babylon as it was his father Sennacherib, king from 705 BC to 681 BC, who campaigned against it.
The ancient Assyrian palace that has just been discovered in Iraq had originally been built for Esarhaddon’s father, King Sennacherib, but was further expanded and worked on by Esarhaddon. Then, when King Ashurbanipal ruled Nineveh in 668 BC to 627 BC, he also continued to expand this palace. While part of the grounds were damaged in 612 BC because of the Sack of Nineveh, the majority of it still stands today.
But it is not just the Assyrian palace itself that is exciting archaeologists. The marble cuneiform inscription of King Esarhaddon is itself surprising, especially as to date there have only been a few cuneiforms like this from the same period in time.
— Christians of Iraq (@iraqichristian) February 28, 2017
As archaeologists continued to explore the tunnels that had been dug under the Nebi Yunus shrine, they also found stone sculptures of an Assyrian goddess who was giving the “water of life” to the humans that she was designed to protect.
While ISIL has been responsible for destroying huge amounts of ancient artifacts in the Middle East, if they hadn’t blown up the tomb of Jonah in Iraq, archaeologists may never have discovered the tunnels deep underneath it, nor the Assyrian palace from 672 BC, as Professor Eleanor Robson from the British Institute for the Study of Iraq explained.
“I’ve never seen something like this in stone at this large size. The objects don’t match descriptions of what we thought was down there, so ISIL’s destruction has actually led us to a fantastic find. 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.”
Archaeologist Layla Salih believes that ISIL has already looted hundreds of precious artifacts from these tunnels and is doing emergency documentation right now with her research team as there is a very real danger that these hastily made tunnels could completely collapse in a matter of weeks.
“I can only imagine how much Daesh discovered down there before we got here. 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.”
Since ISIL is tunneling beneath objects they have destroyed to steal artifacts, do you think we will be seeing more discoveries like this lost Assyrian palace in Iraq from 672 BC?
[Featured Image by Hadi Mizban/AP Images]