Assyrian treasures saved, stolen & destroyed

The palaces of Khorsabad, Nimrud and Nineveh

Over 5,000 years ago, in the south of today's Iraq, a group of people worked out that by designing numbers and things on clay, they could record their contracts and do business easily. With such a seemingly simple invention, cuneiform writing, they changed the course of human history, one of the reasons Iraq is called 'the cradle of civilisation'.

Assyrian palaces discovered

With the dawn of archeology, men, whether they were enlightened enthusiasts, clumsy amateurs or great scientists shone a light on the first chapters of civilisation.

Paul-Emile Botta and Austen Henry Layard found Assyrian palaces in the 1840's, in Khorsabad, Nimrud and Nineveh.

Not only did they discover near intact fragments of the past, with immense carved stone reliefs and statues, but a crucial chapter of the memory of mankind.

Layard discovered the oldest surviving royal archive ever found, a library of 30,000 cuneiform tablets, resurrecting religious, medical astronomical knowledge, as well as literature.

One of them was the oldest work of human literature, the epic of Gilgamesh. A story copied many times but only found in fragments, until the best surviving example was found in Nineveh. Taking place about 4,600 years ago, it is the tale of a King, Gilgamesh, who sought eternity. On his quest he visited a garden where the fruits were made of gems and heard of a great flood, the Deluge.

Archeological treasures stolen

The tale of treasures 2,600 years old, just brought back to memory, transported downriver to be secured in a safe place, a museum, again the short term profit against long term loss calculation when looters attacked archeologists and lost in the river four stone masterpieces, two winged bulls and two genies, as well as 235 crates of antiquities.

Then in 1989, succeeding French, British and American teams, Iraqi archeologists found three royal tombs in Nimrud. They were the tombs of Assyrain Queens, intact after 2,700 years, the kind of discovery that rank highly in the history of archeology. Less than 15 years later war returned, and more destruction of the cradle of civilisation ensued.

Intolerance & greed

A catalogue of horrors and crimes, with the destruction and slaughter of anything and anyone that does fit the extremists' ideology : Muslim monuments, including the reputed tombs of Prophet Yunus (Jonah to Christians), of Daniel, of Prophet Jirjis (George).

Christian monuments, as Iraq was home to some of the oldest Christian communities in the world. Most of the churches of Mosul and its region were destroyed. Monuments of Antiquity were attacked and destroyed by both intolerance and greed, as the extremists profited from the sale of Assyrian antiques.

Most of the remains of ancient Assyria was bombed, drilled and hammered. Including Palmyra and Hatra, testimonies of the epoch when goods and ideas came as far from Rome and China, when people of different traditions could trade, mingle, bathe, go to the theatre and worship as they please.

Then crucial reminders of the condemnations from Muslim authorities, like the calls to “strongly condemn the destruction of ancient Assyrian artefacts and statues at Mosul museum in Nineveh”. And Al Azhar university stating that “protecting archeological sites from destruction and plundering is the battle of all of humanity”.


This is a preview of the chapter about the discovery and destruction of the the heritage of mankind in Iraq, ancient Mesopotamia, from the book Lost Treasures.