Archaeologists stand near carvings discovered on the walls of an ancient irrigation canal near Faydeh in the Nineveh area of northern Iraq. (TERRA DI NINIVE / AFP)
DOHUK, Iraq－Archaeologists in Iraq revealed on Sunday their discovery of a large-scale wine factory from the rule of the Assyrian kings 2,700 years ago, along with stunning monumental rock-carved royal reliefs.
The stone bas-reliefs, showing kings praying to the gods, were cut into the walls of a nearly 9-kilometer-long irrigation canal at Faida in northern Iraq, said the joint team of archaeologists from the Department of Antiquities in Dohuk and their colleagues from Italy.
The carvings, 12 panels measuring 5 meters wide and 2 meters tall, show gods, kings and sacred animals. They date back to the reigns of Sargon II (721-705 BC) and his son Sennacherib.
"There are other places with rock reliefs in Iraq, especially in Kurdistan, but none are so huge and monumental as this one," said Italian archaeologist Daniele Morandi Bonacossi.
"The scenes represent the Assyrian king praying in front of the Assyrian gods," he said, noting that the seven key gods are all seen, including Ishtar, the goddess of love and war, who is depicted on top of a lion.
The irrigation canal was cut into limestone to carry water from the hills to the fields of farmers, and the carvings were made to remind people of the king who ordered its construction.
"It was not only a religious scene of prayer. It was also political, a sort of propaganda scene," Bonacossi said. "The king, in this way, wanted to show to the people living in the area that he was the one who has created these massive irrigation systems, so … the people should remember this and remain loyal."
Giant stone basins
At Khinis, also near Dohuk, the team unearthed giant stone basins cut into white rock that were used in commercial winemaking during the reign of Sennacherib in the late 8th or early 7th century BC.
"It was a sort of an industrial wine factory," said Bonacossi, who is a professor of Near Eastern archaeology at the University of Udine in Italy. He added that this was the first such discovery in Iraq.
"We have found 14 installations that were used to press the grapes and extract the juice, which was then processed into wine."
Some of the most famous carvings that have survived from the Assyrian period are mythical winged bulls, with examples of the monumental reliefs seen in the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, as well as the Louvre in Paris and the British Museum in London.
Iraq is the birthplace of some of the world's earliest cities, the home of the Assyrians, Sumerians and Babylonians. Humankind's first examples of writing were also found there.
But it is also now a location for smugglers of ancient artifacts.
Looters decimated the country's ancient past, including after the 2003 US-led invasion.
Then, from 2014 to 2017, the Islamic State terror group demolished dozens of pre-Islamic treasures with bulldozers, pickaxes and explosives. They also used smuggling to finance their operations.
Agencies Via Xinhua