Archaeologists have unearthed fragments of a stone monument depicting the Ishtar – the goddess of love and war – in Nimrud, one of the heritage sites severely damaged by Islamic State (ISIS) in northern Iraq.
The discovery, which is the first of its kind, was made in the second season of excavations in Nimrud, originally the ancient city of Kalhu, which was once the Assyrian Empire’s capital nearly 3,000 years ago.
During earlier excavations in Nimrud, the same team revealed a 2,800-year-old
palace belonging to an Assyrian king Adad-Nirari III, who reigned from 810–783 BCE.
This season, the team continued working inside the palace and expanded its efforts to include the Temple of Ishtar, which burned when Nimrud was ransacked by an invading army in 612BCE.
‘This is the first unequivocal depiction of the goddess as Ishtar Sharrrat-niphi, a divine aspect of the goddess associated with the rising of the planet Venus, the “morning star”, to be found in this temple dedicated to her,’ said Dr Michael Danti, who leads the team.
Other finds this season include monumental stone threshold slabs inscribed with cuneiform, the ancient wedge-shaped writing used by the Assyrians.
Two colossal, well-carved stone column bases offering evidence of the palace’s opulence and impressive décor were also found.
The palace area also yielded fragments made of ivory and ostrich eggshells—other indicators of an elite material culture.
They also found a large stone basin in a throne room, with nearby parallel stone tracks believed to have guided a portable heater on wheels, used to heat water or the room itself.
The team also found incredible depictions of soldiers, horses, and people bearing gifts on many of the bronze door bands, along with an abundance of the nails that once held these bands to the cedar doors of a nearly 10-feet-wide gateway.
In addition, they found iron pillars — all partially intact. The gateway joined the Ishtar and Ninurta temples, a connection that had long been suspected, but never revealed until now.
The excavation is expected to be a long process, especially clearing the Northwest Palace, the epicentre of the explosions resulting from when ISIS detonated barrel bombs inside the reconstructed Palace at Nimrud in 2015.
For now, the team is concentrating its excavation just outside this area—in the palace of Adad-nirari III and Temple of Ishtar. These were poorly understood areas on the old maps, and two short seasons have already clarified important issues, according to the archaeological team.
Archaeologists from the University of Pennsylvania are working together with an Iraqi excavation as part of the Iraq Heritage Stabilization Program.
All artefacts will remain in Iraq as the team initiates a community-led process of reconstruction.