New discovery by the team of archaeologists from the University of Udine led by Professor Daniele Morandi Bonacossi

Versione in Italiano: QUI

Good day everyone, thank you for being on Alessandro III di Macedonia – your resource on Alexander the Great! Today is an important day for Professor Daniele Morandi Bonacossi’s team: read the press release to learn more!

Before leaving the press release I want to clarify that this important discovery concerns the Assyrian Empire and I decided to share it anyway because I think we should talk more about these discoveries, the teams of archaeologists who devote years and years if not life to bring to the light these treasures of humanity buried by time. History must not be forgotten but we must treasure it. Here is the press release!

The English translation is done by me: any error you’ll find is therefore to be considered my fault.

Archaeologists from the University of Udine on the trail of the Assyrian Empire. Great gods and rulers carved into the rock along an imposing irrigation canal

Daniele Morandi Bonacossi’s team engaged in a mission where archeology becomes an instrument of international cooperation for the protection of the threatened cultural heritage of Iraq
Bandawai, assyrian canal, 8th-7th century B.C. (photo Alberto Savioli for LoNAP)

Rome, 9 December 2019. New surprising discoveries in Iraqi Kurdistan: ten imposing rock reliefs depicting the sovereign and the great gods of Assyria along a large irrigation canal carved into the rock. It’s the last exceptional result of the research of the archaeological mission of the University of Udine and of the Directorate of Antiquities of Duhok led by Professor Daniele Morandi Bonacossi and by Dr. Hasan Ahmed Qasim in a land, northern Mesopotamia, crucial for the unexplored history for decades due to the complex political situation that has characterized it until recent years. Research, protection, restoration, enhancement, training and international cooperation are the cornerstones of a project supported by: Kurdistan Regional Government – Iraq, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Ministry of Education, University and Research, Autonomous Region of Friuli Venezia Giulia Giulia, Friuli Foundation, ArcheoCrowd and Italian Agency for Development Cooperation.

Faida, Relief 4, 8th-7th century B.C. (photo Alberto Savioli for LoNAP)

In September and October 2019, the joint Italian-Kurdish mission made an extraordinary discovery in the archaeological site of Faida (20 km south of the city of Duhok, northern Iraqi Kurdistan). Archaeologists have identified ten imposing rock reliefs from the Assyrian period (8th-7th century BC) carved into the rock along an ancient irrigation canal of almost 7 km in length. The Faida canal, fed by a system of karst springs, was probably excavated by the Assyrian ruler Sargon (720-705 BC) at the base of a hill. Today, the channel, which has an average width of 4 meters, is almost completely buried under thick layers of earth deposited by the erosion of the hillside. From the main channel smaller canals branched out, allowing irrigation of the surrounding fields and increasing the agricultural production of the countryside located in the hinterland of Nineveh, the capital of the empire.

Faida, Relief 4, 8th-7th century B.C. (photo Alberto Savioli for LoNAP)

Along the canal, the Assyrian ruler had large panels almost 5 meters wide and 2 meters high representing the Assyrian ruler on both sides of a series of divinities standing on their symbolic animals carved. Only the upper part of the sculpted relief panels emerged from the earth that filled the canal, the upper frame of which could be glimpsed and, in some cases, the top of the tiaras worn by the deities. Back in 1972, Julian Reade, an English archaeologist from the British Museum, had identified the location of three bas-reliefs buried along the canal, but couldn’t bring them to light due to the political and military instability that characterized the region in those years of bitter confrontation among the Kurdish Peshmerga and the army of the Baathist regime.

Faida, Relief 8 being excavated, 8th-7th century B.C. (photo Alberto Savioli for LoNAP)

Forty years later, in August 2012, during the archaeological survey conducted by the “Land of Nineveh Archaeological Project” of the University of Udine directed by prof. Daniele Morandi Bonacossi, Italian archaeologists identified six new reliefs along the Faida canal. Seven years later, thanks to the collaboration between the University of Udine and the Directorate of Antiquities of Duhok and the support of the Italian Consulate in Erbil, the Assyrian rock reliefs of Faida were finally brought to light.

Faida, Relief photogrammetric survey operation from the drone, 6-7, 8th-7th century B.C. (photo Alberto Savioli for LoNAP)
Khinis, Assyrian relief, 8th-7th century B.C. (photo Alberto Savioli for LoNAP)

Assyrian rock reliefs are extremely rare monuments. The last reliefs discovered in Iraq, in fact, were identified almost two centuries ago, in 1845, by the French Consul in Mosul, Simon Rouet, who discovered the reliefs of Khinis and Maltai.

The ten bas-reliefs now brought to light in Faida portray the Assyrian ruler represented twice, at the ends of each panel, in front of the statues of seven divinities on pedestals placed on the back of animals. The animals that carried the statues of the divinities advanced towards the right, in the sense of the stream of water that once flowed in the canal. The divine figures represent the god Assur, the main divinity of the Assyrian pantheon, on a dragon and a lion with horns, his wife Mullissu, sitting on an elaborate throne supported by a lion, the god of the moon, Sin, also on a lion with horns, the god of wisdom, Nabu, on a dragon, the god of the sun, Shamash, on a horse, the god of the storm, Adad, on a lion with horns and a bull, and Ishtar, the goddess of love and of war on a lion.

Faida, Relief 8, 8th-7th century B.C.(photo Alberto Savioli for LoNAP)

However, this amazing complex of unique rock art works in the world today is part of a still post-war scenario, strongly threatened by vandalism, clandestine excavations and the expansion of the nearby village and its productive activities that have already seriously damaged it. In the years between the birth of the Islamic State as a self-proclaimed state entity in 2014 and its defeat in 2017, moreover, Faida reliefs were found to be located only 25 km from the front line.

Faida, Relief 6, 8th-7th century B.C.(photo Alberto Savioli for LoNAP)
Faida, Relief 9, 8th-7th century B.C. (photo Isabella Finzi Contini for LoNAP)

The joint Italian-Kurdish project is therefore a rescue operation, which aims not only to bring to light these very important Assyrian reliefs (ten have already been excavated, but many others are still waiting to be identified and exposed), but also to document them with technologies innovative, to restore them and above all to protect this absolutely unique and exceptional archaeological site.

Khinis, Assyrian relief, 8th-7th century B.C. (photo Alberto Savioli for LoNAP)

At the end of the excavation and restoration work, an archaeological park of the Assyrian reliefs of Faida will be created, which will allow to open the canal and its bas-reliefs to Iraqi and international tourism, thus allowing the widest dissemination of their knowledge and their most adequate protection. In this way, the Faida canal with its wonderful reliefs will join the other Assyrian channels, aqueducts and rock reliefs (Khinis, Maltai and Shiru Maliktha, Jerwan aqueduct) that the “Land of Nineveh Archaeological Project” has already studied and documented, planning their restoration and enhancement through the creation of an archaeological-environmental park of the Assyrian hydraulic system in the Duhok region and elaborating the dossier necessary to support the proposal for the inclusion of these extraordinary cultural assets on the UNESCO list of world heritage sites.

DIUM Press Office/Aquileia Foundation

Erica Zanon

I’d like to thank Dr. Zanon for sending me the material to share this important discovery!

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