Ten stone reliefs on the walls of an ancient canal system have been discovered in northern Iraq by a team of Italian and Iraqi Kurdish archaeologists. The tops of three of the stone panels were noted in 1973, and a survey of the site began in 2012, but had to be abandoned and the reliefs hidden when ISIS took over the region. In the fall of 2019, full excavations began at the site, resulting in 10 stone carvings being unearthed. The reliefs portray a procession an of the seven main ancient Assyrian gods and goddesses, who riding various animals, including dragons, lions, bulls and horses. An Assyrian king, thought to be Sargon II, is seen paying homage to the gods. The stone panels were carved during the eighth century BC, when the canal was built to irrigate the nearby farm fields, which likely provided barley, wheat, and other crops to the city of Nineveh. Sargon II is mentioned once in the Bible (Isaiah 20:1) where it describes his campaign into Canaan during which he captured the city of Ashdod. Prior to 1847, Sargon was only known from this reference in Scripture, and scholars believed his name might have been an alias for another Assyrian ruler. We now know that Sargon II was a powerful Assyrian king who built a vast palace at Khorsabad. The recently unearthed reliefs of Sargon II are the first significant Assyrian carvings to be found and studied in almost 200 years. Unfortunately, recent vandalism and the construction of a modern aqueduct threaten the site; scholars are seeking to protect the reliefs and ultimately create an archaeological park nearby.
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