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Colossal Lamassu, Mosul

Colossal Lamassu, Mosul



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A marble statue of a lamassu, a protective deity which was supposed to guard the city. Made in Assyria, c. On display, Musée du Louvre, Paris. Made using Sketchfab.

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NIMRUD, Iraq — When ISIS swept into Mosul two years ago, Leila Salih begged the militants not to destroy the Mosul Museum, where she worked, or the archaeological site at Nimrud, which she helped oversee, just south of the city.

"I told them we would destroy the graves ourselves if they just left the buildings standing,” she told NBC News. "I begged them to save Iraq’s history."

But the pleas fell on deaf ears. Several videos released by the militants last year show ISIS fighters using sledgehammers, power tools, and bulldozers to demolish priceless sculptures and stone carvings. What they didn’t destroy with explosives they tore down by hand.

Built three thousand years ago — and forgotten for centuries — the ancient city of Nimrud was the second capital of the Assyrian empire, which at its height extended to modern-day Egypt, Turkey and Iran.

Archaeologists first began excavating Nimrud in the 1840s, finding the remnants of ancient palaces, sculptures, and cuneiform tablets — some of the earliest examples of writing known to man. The UNESCO heritage site was considered one of the most important archaeological finds in the world. Most famous for its colossal Lamassu sculptures — hulking winged mythical beasts with a human face, the body of a bull and the wings of an eagle.


Historical Sites Destroyed by ISIS

Temple of Bel
The Temple of Bel , also known as the Temple of Baal, was an ancient stone ruin located in Palmyra, Syria. The temple, consecrated to the Mesopotamian god Bel, worshipped at Palmyra in triad with the lunar god Aglibol and the sun god Yarhibol, formed the center of religious life in Palmyra and was dedicated in 32 AD. Its ruins were considered among the best preserved at Palmyra.

The temple ruins were destroyed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in August 2015

Lion of Al-lāt
The statue was made from limestone ashlars in the early 1st century AD and measured 3.5 m in height, weighing 15 tonnes. It was an ancient statue of a lion holding a crouching gazelle which adorned the temple of pre-Islamic goddess al-Lāt in Palmyra, Syria.

On 27 June 2015 the statue was demolished by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant after it had captured Palmyra.

Tower of Elahbel
The Tower of Elahbel (also known as Tower 13, or Kubbet el 'Arus) was a four-storey sandstone tower tomb near the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria. The tower was one of several built outside the city walls of Palmyra, in an area known as the Valley of the Tombs. The tower was important in the history of textiles: fragments of very early Chinese silk yarns, dated to the 1st century AD, were discovered in the tombs at the tower.

After ISIL/ISIS destroyed parts of the temples of Baalshamin and Bel later in 2015, the Tower of Elahbel and several other less well preserved tower tombs were reportedly blown up in August 2015, including the Tower of Iamblichus.

The Tomb of Jonah/Mosque of the Prophet Yunus
Dating from the 14th century, The Tomb of Jonah in Mosul was a "popular place of pilgrimage for people who would come from around the world to see it.

ISIS wired the structure with explosives and reduced it to rubble.

The Nineveh Wall
The ruins of Nineveh are surrounded by the remains of a massive stone and mudbrick wall dating from about 700 BC. About 12 km in length, the wall system consisted of an ashlar stone retaining wall about 6 metres (20 ft) high surmounted by a mudbrick wall about 10 metres (33 ft) high and 15 metres (49 ft) thick. The stone retaining wall had projecting stone towers spaced about every 18 metres (59 ft). The stone wall and towers were topped by three-step merlons.

Nineveh is an ancient Mesopotamian city located in modern day Iraq it is on the eastern bank of the Tigris River, and was the capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire.

The city wall has been destroyed by ISIS as of February, 2015.

Temple of Baalshamin
The Temple of Baalshamin was an ancient temple in the city of Palmyra, Syria, dedicated to the Canaanite sky deity Baalshamin. The temple's earliest phase dates to the late 2nd century BC its altar was built in 115 AD, and the temple was substantially rebuilt in 131 AD. In 1980, UNESCO designated the temple as a World Heritage Site.

On 23 August 2015 (or earlier in July, according to some reports), ISIL militants detonated a large quantity of explosives inside the Temple of Baalshamin, completely destroying the building.

Dura-Europos
Dura-Europos was a Hellenistic, Parthian and Roman border city. It is located near the village of Salhiyé, in today's Syria. It was conquered in 114 AD and finally captured in 165 AD by the Romans and destroyed after a Sassanian siege in 257 AD. After it was abandoned, it was covered by sand and mud and disappeared from sight.

Dura-Europos is extremely important for archaeological reasons. As it was abandoned after its conquest in 256𔃅 AD, nothing was built over it and no later building programs obscured the architectonic features of the ancient city. Its location on the edge of empires made for a co-mingling of cultural traditions, much of which was preserved under the city's ruins. Some remarkable finds have been brought to light, including numerous temples, wall decorations, inscriptions, military equipment, tombs, and even dramatic evidence of the Sassanian siege during the Imperial Roman period which led to the site's abandonment. It has since been severely looted by the Islamic State.

Assur
Assur is a city from the Neo-Assyrian Empire in modern-day Iraq. The city was occupied from the mid-3rd millennium BCE (c. 2600� BCE) to the 14th century.

The citadel of Assur was blown up by ISIS in May 2015 using improvised explosive devices.

Historical Sites Destroyed by ISIS Reviewed by STATION GOSSIP on 05:49 Rating: 5

Museum of Lost Objects: The Winged Bull of Nineveh

One year ago a man took a pneumatic drill to the statue of a winged bull at the gates of the ancient city of Nineveh, near Mosul in modern Iraq. It's one of countless treasures destroyed by vandals, militants or military action in the region in the past 15 years. This is the first of 10 stories about ancient objects that have now been lost.

The winged bull had the head of a man, the wings of an eagle, and the hulking body of a bull. Known as a Lamassu, other examples had the body of a lion. It was a composite of the most powerful and ferocious creatures known in the region, and this particular sculpture was huge - about 4.5m high, and up to 30 tonnes in weight.

It stood at one of the many gates along Nineveh's city walls, as a protective spirit and a symbol of the power of the Assyrian king.

"They're very intimidating. Those faces look quite daunting, the wings, the hooves, and the combined creature of many different animals that's very large and menacing-looking. It does strike you a little bit with fear which I suppose is part of the reason for these things," says Mark Altaweel, an Iraqi-American archaeologist.

At the same time, amid its mass of curly hair and its tumbling beard, the Lamassu does have a kind of tight-lipped smile. It is stern, but in its own way welcoming.

It was hewn from a single slab of limestone about 2,700 years ago, in the reign of the Assyrian King Sennacherib, ruler of an empire covering parts of modern Iraq, Syria, and Turkey.

Nineveh, Sennacherib's capital "would have been the city of cities", says Altaweel. "The largest city anywhere on Earth, probably, by the time it reaches its peak in the 7th Century BC. All roads would have literally led to Nineveh."

But a few generations after Sennacherib's death, Assyria was overrun. Nineveh was sacked and its palaces, walls and Lamassus slowly sank beneath the ground, eventually becoming a series of mounds of dust, sand and earth.

The name of Nineveh lived on partly thanks to its role in the Old Testament and the Koran, and in the 19th Century French and British explorers were inspired by Biblical texts to seek out the famed city.

When the winged bulls emerged again from the dirt, the man who led the excavation, Sir Austen Henry Layard, was struck by their majesty and the exquisite craftsmanship.

"Wide spreading wings rose above their backs, and their breasts and bodies were profusely adorned with curled hair," he wrote in 1853.

"Behind them were colossal winged figures of the same height, bearing the pine cone and basket. Their faces were in full, and the relief was high and bold. More knowledge of art was shown in the outline of the limbs and in the delineation of the muscles than in any sculpture I have seen of this period. The naked leg and foot were designed with a spirit and truthfulness worthy of a Greek artist."

Layard shipped Lamassus from Nineveh and other excavated Assyrian cities back to London, where some stand today in the British Museum. There are others in Paris, New York, Chicago and Baghdad.


Oriental Institute Statement on Cultural Destruction in Iraq

The deliberate vandalism and destruction of heritage from Mosul’s Library, the Mosul Museum, and the archaeological site of Nineveh at Mosul constitute a moral and cultural outrage that adds to the growing spiral of despair from both Iraq and Syria concerning heritage, looting, and damage due to armed conflict. Without the past, we cannot understand our present, and without understanding our present, we cannot plan for our future. We hope that whatever remnants of this shattered heritage still surviving in Mosul may be salvaged and restored, but it is already clear that so much has been irreparably destroyed or looted. Mosul’s heritage is an important part of Mesopotamian civilization and the heritage of the entire world.

The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago is a leading institution for the study of the ancient Middle East that focuses on research, heritage and knowledge preservation, and public education. Iconic artifacts from Iraq on display in the Museum of the Oriental Institute are accessible today for all to see. Many are counterparts to objects on display in the Iraq Museum, Baghdad, that come from the Oriental Institute’s excavations in Iraq. The Oriental Institute’s colossal human-headed winged bull, or Lamassu, was excavated from Khorsabad, ancient Dur Sharrukin, several miles north of Mosul. Carved in the late eighth century BC during the reign of King Sargon II (721–705 BC), it is one of the finest examples of Assyrian sculptor’s art in the world. At the site of Nineveh and in the Mosul Museum, similar sculptures have been smashed and mutilated in minutes by the Islamic State. The Oriental Institute condemns this callous eradication of the cultural treasures of Mesopotamia. We extend our deepest sympathies to the families of the people who are suffering in northern Iraq and Syria, and offer our support to the archaeological and heritage community of Iraq to help document, salvage, and restore the heritage of Mosul and other provinces of Iraq affected by looting and destruction.

We support the joint statement published by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), and the Society for American Archaeology (SAA), as well as statements from the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) and The American Academic Research Institute in Iraq (TAARII).


Scarred but still standing, Mosul museum reopens at last

Before 2014, Iraq's Ninevah province was home to five museums of natural history, modern art and antiquities. Within a year, that number fell to zero.

Six years later, Ninevah welcomed the public back to the antiquities museum in Mosul, regarded by some as the region's crown jewel of cultural heritage.

The museum has a tumultuous recent history. Its most recent ransacking was committed by the Islamic State and began in 2014. The extremist group destroyed or looted hundreds of artifacts.

“The museum is our identity,” said Iraqi archeologist Layla Salih. “Each city in Iraq has a unique identity. Najaf and Karbala both have a religious identity. For others, there is an economic identity. For Mosul, we have cultural heritage this is our identity.”

On Nov. 22, the museum opened for a sculptural exhibit by Omar Qais. Mosul lies in what was an important part of the ancient Assyrian empire, and Qais showcased figures from this era including sculptures of the lamassu, Sargon II, Sennacherib and Ashurbanipal. During the Islamic State's reign in Mosul, Qais kept his artwork hidden in a workshop in his father’s basement. Now, he wants to show the world that Mosul’s deep cultural history was not destroyed.

“We are alive and we still hold our historic identity, we love our roots and the glory of that age,” he said. “This city was a capital city of the Assyrian empire. I wish to make it shine with Assyrian monuments and buildings and to be a tourist destination for everybody.”

The museum also opened in January 2019 to host a six-day contemporary art exhibit called "Return to Mosul." The exhibit was hosted in one building while most of the site remained closed for restoration work. In June, despite the ongoing construction, Mustafa al-Kadhimi declared the museum open in his first visit to the city as prime minister. This month’s opening was larger than previous events, Salih said, as more of the building was accessible to visitors and art was displaced on the main floor.

For nearly three decades, the museum has been rocked by invasions, looting and extremist groups. In 1991, the museum closed due to the Gulf War. It reopened in 2000, but closed again only three years later with the US invasion. Some of the museum’s artifacts were sent to the National Museum in Baghdad after 2003, Mosul’s now exiled Gov. Atheel al-Najaifi told Rudaw. The Baghdad museum's director, Fawzye al-Mahdi, seemed to dispute Najaifi’s comments in his interview with Germany’s Deutsche Welle, saying, “None of the artifacts are originals. … They were copies.” There were also reports of looting at the Baghdad museum in 2003 by the time US troops arrived, with as many as 15,000 artifacts taken in April 2003. In 2011, the Mosul museum opened once again, but access was primarily limited to school groups and special visitors.

During its 2014 occupation of Mosul, IS attempted to eradicate the city’s cultural history. The extremist group burned Mosul’s library, home to over 8,000 rare books and manuscripts. It produced a video of the destruction of artifacts at the archaeological site in Nimrud, including an original lamassu.

The antiquities directorate, in the same area as the museum, was used as a diwan or large hall that served as a senior level meeting place, a tax office to collect dues from Islamist fighters and a holding area for items as diverse as antiquities from the museum and petrol. In 2017, Iraqi forces retook the museum.

“The reopening of the museum will help to bring back what normal life looked like in Mosul before [IS],” said Helen Malko, an Assyrian archaeologist and program manager at Columbia University’s Global Center in Amman.

Efforts to rebuild and repatriate artifacts to the museum are ongoing. In 2018, the ALIPH organization, a Swiss-based group that works to protect heritage in conflict areas, committed about $1.3 million to rehabilitate the museum over five years in partnership with the Louvre Museum, the Smithsonian Institution and the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage. Just two months ago, during a state visit to the United Kingdom, Kadhimi announced the British government would return nearly 5,000 artifacts to the country, including a 4,000-year-old Sumerian plaque discovered for sale online in May 2019. The items are expected to be delivered next year.

Today, the museum is working to revive cultural activities to complement the ancient artwork. Salih told Al-Monitor she worked with the German development agency GIZ to develop a tool for the museum’s visitors to explore its deep history, especially that of minority groups in the Ninevah Plains. The agency will launch a new training program with participants from the region next year, Salih said without giving any more detail.

Today, despite the growing influence of armed militias and uncertainty over what a US troop withdrawal means for Iraq, perhaps this latest reopening will be more permanent.

“We’re going to use cultural heritage as a means for peace-building,” Salih said


Return to Mosul: An exhibition to bring the city’s people back together

Growing up in Mosul, a visit to the city’s iconic museum, and the tapestry of historic sites around Nineveh on my daily travels, brought to life the stories of my childhood, the noble mythologies and fables passed down from generation to generation in northern Iraq. The antiquities housed in Mosul Museum — the country’s second largest — spanned civilisations and dated back to 5000 BCE.

The museum’s location in the heart of Iraq’s most ethnically and religiously diverse province made the experience all the more powerful for its visitors. It was an illumination of worlds, an opportunity to commune with people from all over the planet with totally different beliefs and ideas than ours.

It took me years to fully understand what this really meant: that the museum’s priceless artefacts and their stories were a window to unfamiliar people and places. This exposure and understanding fuelled my insatiable curiosity about other cultures, and more broadly influenced my empathetic worldview.

A rare trip to the museum through all the security points was one of the few times I was granted the independence I so craved. In its silence and scale, the museum became a sacred place for me where the outside realities of the modern world could not touch the magic that laid within. There, I wandered freely among strangers as we weaved through the halls of ancient civilisations together, each experiencing a different whisper of a bygone age. The mere act of crossing the threshold into a museum seems to transform people into being more trustworthy, tolerant, and considerate as they become part of the myriad of history, myth, and beauty.

I was left to roam unfettered among these many different voices from ancient Mesopotamia — my personal unbridled paradise and, as the cradle of civilization in modern-day Iraq, a source of national pride. Stories of the great Assyrian kings told to me were brought to life in bas reliefs of dramatic and violent royal lion-hunting scenes or images of battle.

Monumental Assyrian winged bulls or Lamassu an earlier version from those guarding the Nergal Gate of Nineveh stood imposingly, watching over the museum’s visitors as they had the subjects of their kingdoms, protecting all citizens despite religion or sect.

Tragically, it was impossible to return this protection. Daesh’s destruction of priceless antiquities in 2015, including the majestic Lamassu, awoke me to the fragility of this magical place. By housing thousands of years of shared human experiences, the museum reminds us that the human condition has persisted despite political, religious, economic, and social strife. Then Daesh came to Mosul, bringing with them cultural terrorism dressed as iconoclasm as they attempted to remake or erase history. Every blow to the hammer made by the sculptor in creating something beautiful and eternal was done almost in reverse by Daesh members to dismantle and destroy it.

Daesh (also known as ISIS) members shown smashing this priceless human history in videos falsely claimed the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him) had ordered followers to “take down idols that people used to worship instead of Allah, and destroy them.” Their extremist ideology was not the primary driving force, however: Daesh sold the smaller, more portable idols to pay for guns and finance their lavish lifestyles in the city, which they had occupied less than a year earlier, bringing with them a reign of terror and death.

Antiquities smuggling became a significant source of revenue for Daesh, and was emblematic of the group’s contradictory messages and actions. Daesh propagated a destructive approach that devalued the past, yet obsessively cited historic texts and traditions as evidence of their own legitimacy. They sanitized the museum by turning it into its antithesis: a tax office.

Daesh stripped the museum of national identity, leaving it as a monument to destruction. All that remains in the main area of the institution are piles of rubble, walls blackened from rocket blasts, and pieces of shattered Sumerian Cuneiform tablets (one of the world’s earliest systems of writing) casting shadows in the darkness like tombstones.

The same year that Daesh destroyed the Mosul Museum, I founded a radio station to serve the people of the city. Al-Ghad (Tomorrow) FM provided the city with alternative news and support during the dark years of Daesh’s occupation and media blackout. Daesh had laid siege to communications in an effort to drown out any voice or description of reality that wasn’t their own. Through call-in shows and other programming, Al-Ghad aimed to help Mosul residents take back their voice.

After Iraqi forces liberated Mosul in 2017, Al-Ghad’s coverage shifted to the city’s massive reconstruction and recovery efforts. Although Mosul’s devastating human losses and widespread basic needs were the top priorities, I also recognized the need to rebuild the identity and national pride lost through Daesh’s cultural destruction.

With the kind permission of the Government of Iraq and Municipality of Mosul, Al-Ghad and the Mosul Artists’ Committee have hosted the first event in Mosul Museum since the occupation. The art exhibition, ‘Return to Mosul’ brought together artistic voices from all over Iraq and Mosul to tell the story of the occupation and recovery, providing a vision of a brighter, more tolerant future in Mosul. It was staged in the old museum buildings recently restored by Royal Venue.

Al-Ghad has collaborated with Rekrei and the Economist Media Lab to provide museum visitors with a virtual reality experience. RecoVR Mosul allows them to experience the museum as it once was, with some of the pieces destroyed by Daesh depicted in their rightful places. The same pieces were also 3D printed and formed part of the exhibition’s sculptural installation.

The technology is extraordinary for the recreation of lost antiquities and cultural heritage. The re-creations can never replace the irreplaceable, but they can provide inspiration for today’s artists while memorializing lost heritage. Musab Mohammed Jassim, from the Nineveh Antiquities and Heritage Department currently in charge of the Museum, says: “The technological innovations will support cultural and artistic initiatives that will aid Mosul’s recovery and reaffirm its identity and pride.” He is also hopeful that Al-Ghad’s new partnership will raise international support for the reconstruction of the museum and awareness of the larger importance of cultural heritage and protection in Iraq.

For me, the excitement of bringing the past back to life again in the city is only surpassed by the promise of something the city needs even more. ‘Return to Mosul’ provided a place to bring the many different peoples of Mosul together again to wander, marvel, and think freely and independently about the past, the present, and the future. It was a start in returning the museum back to its rightful place, as a sacred centre of knowledge, history, creativity, and beauty for our beloved city, Mosul.


The remains of the Tomb of Prophet Yunus, destroyed by Islamic State militants, in Mosul, Iraq, January 28, 2017/ inam alvi

The „old city“ of Mosul was taken over by the Islamic State group after 266 days of intense fighting.

At the end of a 9-month offensive, the „capital“ of the Islamic State in Iraq „fell“ at the beginning of July 2017, passing under the command of the Iraqi forces. The release of the entire city of Mosul was announced by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, while scrolling on the screens images of terrible destruction. View from the sky, the second city of Iraq is nothing more than a heap of jagged blocks strewn with many corpses. Wrecked buildings, burning houses, collapsed buildings.

Since 2014, jihadist groups have become masters of Mosul, the second city in Iraq. Beyond the criminal exactions on the population, these terrorist militias have carried out a veritable „cultural cleansing“. Thus, in July 2014, on the lands adjacent to Nineveh, the ancient capital of the Assyrian empire, the Islamists destroyed the tomb of Nabi Younis (a prophet known in the Bible under the name Of Jonah), claiming that this site of Muslim pilgrimage had become a place of apostasy.

The jewel of the Assyrian empire Nimroud was destroyed by bulldozer

Before demolishing the archaeological museum in Mosul in February 2015 with the aim of creating an atmosphere of sedation in the world thanks to the diffusion of images, especially those of the destruction of a colossal lamassu winged bull with human head . The violence foreshadowed a series of other large-scale destruction of adjacent heritage sites: Hatra (1st BC – 1. St s AD.), A Parthian city listed as Unesco World Heritage Nimroud, one of the jewels of the Assyrian empire destroyed by bulldozing Khorsabad, Dour-Shar-roukên , the „fortress of Sargon“, the capital of the Assyrian Empire (8th century BC).

More recently, in June 2017, the jihadists continued their iconoclastic destruction by blowing up the Al-Nuri mosque, the Mosul treasure with its emblematic 12th century minaret. The very place where Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed „caliph“ of the IS, made his only public appearance.

UN estimates only reconstruction of Mosul’s infrastructure to more than $ 1 billion

Similarly, the terrorist militias will have ceaselessly destroyed the rich historical Christian heritage of the city „to the forty prophets“. Like the monastery St Elie, built in the sixth century, the oldest Christian edifice in Iraq, destroyed in 2014 The Notre-Dame-de-l’Esure Church or Ste Marie de Mosul, set on fire in February 2015. In the old town, only the church of the Chaldean Christians St Thomas of Mosul would still have some standing walls.

During the liberation of the eastern part of the city in February 2017, the archaeologists who had returned to the site had made a surprising discovery: under the ruins of the tomb of Jonas (Nabi younis), they found the remains of an unknown Assyrian palace dated from the VIIth century before our era! It had occurred accidentally during tunnel digging carried out by the IS.

In March-April 2017, as part of a reconnaissance mission by Unesco, experts from the French company Iconem, specializing in the digital preservation of endangered heritage, were able to penetrate it: “ The IS had dug These galleries starting from the entrance of an ancient archaeological excavation … explains Yves Ubelmann, the founder of the young start-up. In this maze, he was asked to perform, using scanners, 3D surveys impressive frescoes Babylonian bulls who have been brought to light „.

The United Nations has just assessed the reconstruction of Mosul’s infrastructure to more than a billion dollars.


Reconstruction of an Assyrian palace room with door guardian figures (Lamassu) and wall reliefs

Like all buildings meant to impress, Assyrian palaces are distinguished by their monumentality. Even on entering a room, visitors had to pass at the door colossal guardian figures (Lamassu) – hybrid creatures composed of a winged god and a lion’s body. In 1855 the Berlin museums purchased the first Neo-Assyrian reliefs from the English excavations in Nimrud, and shortly thereafter visitors to Berlin’s Old Museum could marvel at art that was like nothing they had ever seen before. Interest in the Orient was awakened by Goethe’s poetry collection West-östlicher Divan (West-Eastern Divan 1819). It was further heightened once the first cune iform texts were deciphered. With the purchase of the Assyrian palace reliefs it also became possible to study cuneiform inscriptions with formulaic texts (the so-called standard inscription of Ashurnasirpal II). The large relief slabs of alabaster from Mosul celebrate the deeds of the Assyrian king. The inscriptions begin with the following words: “Palace of Ashurnasirpal, priest of the god Ashur, favourite of the god Enlil and the god Ninurta beloved of the god Anu and the god Dagan, the mighty one among the great gods the powerful king, the king of the universe, king of the land of Ashur …” The relief slabs came from a room near the throne room, and picture King Ashurnasirpal II both hunting with bow and arrows and presentinga drink-offering in a ribbed bowl. The king is surrounded by tutelary geniuses. Traces of red and black pigments on the ruler’s sandals indicate that the reliefs were originally brightly coloured.


IS militants 'bulldoze' ancient Assyrian archaeological site of Nimrud near Mosul

London, March 06 (ANI): According to the antiquities ministry in Baghdad, Islamic State (IS) militants have "bulldozed" the ancient Assyrian archaeological site of Nimrud near Mosul in Iraq. The ministry said that IS had used heavy military vehicles but did not give details of the damage at the site, reported the Independent. Nimrud, once one of the most important cities of the Assyrian empire, served as the main residence for the dynasty's kings until 727 BC. Excavations at the site were started by the British archaeologist Austen Henry Lanyard who brought more than six pairs of colossal statues of lions and bulls, known as lamassu, to the UK. They are now kept in the British Museum. (ANI)

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Museum of Lost Objects: The Winged Bull of Nineveh

One year ago a man took a pneumatic drill to the statue of a winged bull at the gates of the ancient city of Nineveh, near Mosul in modern Iraq. It's one of countless treasures destroyed by vandals, militants or military action in the region in the past 15 years. This is the first of 10 stories about ancient objects that have now been lost.

The winged bull had the head of a man, the wings of an eagle, and the hulking body of a bull. Known as a Lamassu, other examples had the body of a lion. It was a composite of the most powerful and ferocious creatures known in the region, and this particular sculpture was huge - about 4.5m high, and up to 30 tonnes in weight.

It stood at one of the many gates along Nineveh's city walls, as a protective spirit and a symbol of the power of the Assyrian king.

"They're very intimidating. Those faces look quite daunting, the wings, the hooves, and the combined creature of many different animals that's very large and menacing-looking. It does strike you a little bit with fear which I suppose is part of the reason for these things," says Mark Altaweel, an Iraqi-American archaeologist.

At the same time, amid its mass of curly hair and its tumbling beard, the Lamassu does have a kind of tight-lipped smile. It is stern, but in its own way welcoming.

It was hewn from a single slab of limestone about 2,700 years ago, in the reign of the Assyrian King Sennacherib, ruler of an empire covering parts of modern Iraq, Syria, and Turkey.

Nineveh, Sennacherib's capital "would have been the city of cities", says Altaweel. "The largest city anywhere on Earth, probably, by the time it reaches its peak in the 7th Century BC. All roads would have literally led to Nineveh."

But a few generations after Sennacherib's death, Assyria was overrun. Nineveh was sacked and its palaces, walls and Lamassus slowly sank beneath the ground, eventually becoming a series of mounds of dust, sand and earth.

The name of Nineveh lived on partly thanks to its role in the Old Testament and the Koran, and in the 19th Century French and British explorers were inspired by Biblical texts to seek out the famed city.

When the winged bulls emerged again from the dirt, the man who led the excavation, Sir Austen Henry Layard, was struck by their majesty and the exquisite craftsmanship.

"Wide spreading wings rose above their backs, and their breasts and bodies were profusely adorned with curled hair," he wrote in 1853.

"Behind them were colossal winged figures of the same height, bearing the pine cone and basket. Their faces were in full, and the relief was high and bold. More knowledge of art was shown in the outline of the limbs and in the delineation of the muscles than in any sculpture I have seen of this period. The naked leg and foot were designed with a spirit and truthfulness worthy of a Greek artist."

Layard shipped Lamassus from Nineveh and other excavated Assyrian cities back to London, where some stand today in the British Museum. There are others in Paris, New York, Chicago and Baghdad.