Since seizing much of northern Iraq and Syria in 2014, the terror group known as ISIS has been destroying sites that are important to the region’s cultural and religious heritage. Over the past two years, ISIS has destroyed more than 100 cultural sites and sacred buildings, also closing museums and cultural centers.
However, the Iraqi army has been steadily pushing back ISIS forces from areas in Iraq, and has retaken Mosul as of last month. Now, local archaeologists have been able to see and document the extensive destruction by ISIS of religious and historical shrines important to not only Muslims, but Christians as well. All of this has led to some incredible, unexpected discoveries.
“The objects don’t match descriptions of what we thought was down there.”
Archaeologists stumbled upon a palace dating all the way back to 600 B.C. It was underneath the Nebi Yunus shrine — also known as the tomb of Jonah for Christians and Muslims.
Deep beneath the tomb, archaeologists found tunnels that ISIS had dug, leading to a palace that had been undiscovered and untouched for 2,600 years. ISIS dug the tunnels to search for priceless artifacts and antiquities to sell for the funding of its operations. Fortunately, ISIS left the ancient palace untouched.
It’s an incredible find and important in helping us understand more about the world’s very first empire, archaeologists told The Telegraph. Even though the palace was partly destroyed during the Sack of Nineveh in 612 B.C., many artifacts are still in excellent condition. Some artifacts date all the way back to 672 B.C., such as a marble cuneiform with the inscription of King Esarhaddon, who was responsible for rebuilding Babylon after its destruction by Sennacherib.
A cuneiform is a form of writing invented over 6,000 years ago in what is now known as southern Iraq. It was most often done on clay tablets about the size of an iPhone and is considered the world’s first examples of handwriting, according to the Smithsonian.
The Greek used this term, meaning “wedge-shaped,” to describe the look of the writing, which was used for at least a dozen languages; it became the first writing system that corresponded to speech. Archaeologists have only found a handful of cuneiforms from the same time period.
Another artifact found was a stone sculpture of an Assyrian demi-goddess. This was an incredible discovery, Professor Eleanor Robson, chair of the British Institute for the Study of Iraq, told The Telegraph. It’s possible that it decorated the women’s quarter of the palace and is larger than other similar stone statues. “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,” Robson told The Telegraph.
Because of this discovery, archaeologists will be able to catalogue some of the greatest treasures from the world’s first great empire: the Assyrians.
However, teams of archaeologists are racing against the clock to secure the sites, as the tunnels ISIS dug are unstable and in danger of collapsing, trapping countless treasures beneath the earth. UNESCO is holding a meeting in Paris to determine who should be sent to secure the site and how to do it so that an entire empire isn’t lost.
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As ISIS gained land in Iraq and Syria, the group destroyed hundreds of sites and plundered thousands of priceless artifacts of historical, cultural, and religious significance. Believing that the worshiping of shrines was not in accordance with Islamic traditions, ISIS made it impossible to visit such places. The terror group also closed many museums and historical buildings that gave special attention and veneration to tombs and relics that were against the teaching of Islam, such as from Christianity and other religions.
The places destroyed by ISIS include the monastery of St. Elijah, Nineveh, Palmyra in Syria, and even ancient Islamic sites such as the tombs of Yahya ibn al-Qasim and Ibn Hassan Aoun al-Din in Mosul. Another ancient city that ISIS completely bulldozed was Nimrud.
Nimrud was an ancient city of the Assyrian kingdom, flourishing during 900 and 612 B.C. It was the first Assyrian capital and contained much of the kingdom’s wealth. It was one of the most important and unique archaeological sites of the ancient Near East, according to archaeologists.
The Assyrians are one of the oldest civilizations in the world, dating back to 2500 B.C. Part of ancient Mesopotamia, their homeland was made up of parts of present-day Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and Syria. According to traditions, the Assyrians are direct descendants of Abraham’s grandson Dedan, son of Jokshan. The claim that Christian Assyrians are direct descendants of the ancient empire has been debated, but it is a long-held belief of the Assyrian Church of the East and part of the Christian culture of that region.
The Assyrians were a great empire until 599 B.C, when they finally fell to the Persian Empire after more than a decade of war.
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Steffani Jacobs, a freelance writer based in the Twin Cities area, has a degree in English and Communications from DeSales University. She has written about everything from military history and weaponry to theology and church doctrine.