Find a 2,700-year-old sculpture of the Assyrian deity with its head cut off by smugglers decades ago

Archaeologists in northern Iraq have unearthed a colossal lamassu sculpture, a symbolic Assyrian guardian with the wings of a bird, the body of a bull, and the head of a human, at Dur-Sharrukin.

Discover a sculpture of the Assyrian deity 2,700-year-old with its head, severed by smugglers decades ago
Discover a sculpture of the Assyrian deity 2,700-year-old with its head, severed by smugglers decades ago

Discovered by Pascal Butterlin of the University of Paris I Pantheon-Sorbonne, the statue dates back approximately 2,700 years and stands about 12.5 by 12.8 feet, weighing 18 tons showcasing remarkable craftsmanship and an intact form, despite the loss of its head. This discovery excites experts with its intricate craftsmanship and turbulent history.

Historical Background and Previous Thefts

The lamassu is not a new find in archaeological circles, having been first recorded during 19th-century excavations. The sculpture served a protective role, stationed at the city gates to guard against enemies and evil spirits.

However, after the death of Sargon II, the Assyrian capital was relocated to Nineveh by his son, leaving Dur-Sharrukin and its grand structures, including the lamassu, unfinished and gradually forgotten. The site’s neglect made it a target for looters over the centuries. The sculpture fell victim to theft, with its head being stolen and later recovered in fragments. The recovered pieces still show visible cracks from this ordeal.

Some images after scientists excavated it:

Current Protection and Restoration Efforts

To safeguard the ancient lamassu from threats, including the Islamic State, local residents and authorities collaborated to protect the artifact by temporarily reburying it.

The Islamic State, local residents and authorities collaborated to protect the artifact
The Islamic State, local residents and authorities collaborated to protect the artifact

Concurrently, the latest excavation efforts led by Pascal Butterlin are part of a larger archaeological project aimed at exploring the historical site and assessing the impact of recent military conflicts.

Sculpture of the Assyrian god with its head after being pieced together by archaeologists
Sculpture of the Assyrian god with its head after being pieced together by archaeologists

Currently, experts are engaged in devising ways to reattach the lamassu’s head to its body, a complex task given the damage from previous thefts. This collective effort reflects a blend of community vigilance and scientific inquiry, underscoring a shared commitment to safeguarding Iraq’s cultural heritage.

The Lamassu’s Significance and Future

The lamassu holds significant cultural and historical value, symbolizing protection and strength in Assyrian mythology. As researchers and historians continue to delve into its origins and implications, there is ongoing debate about how to handle the reassembled sculpture.

Simulated intact image
Simulated intact image

Plans for its future are still under discussion, with the hope of eventually placing the restored lamassu in a setting that allows for public appreciation and scholarly study, thereby ensuring its preservation for future generations.

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