ISIS’ Destruction of 3,000-Year-Old Assyrian Site ‘Worse Than We Thought’

By Barbara Hollingsworth | November 23, 2016 | 10:31am EST
Screenshot of a video released by ISIS in 2015 showing a jihadist taking a sledgehammer to ancient carvings in the Assyrian village of Nimrud. (AP photo)

( –  When U.S.-backed Iraqi forces pushed ISIS out of Nimrud last week, they found 70 percent of the 3,000-year-old Assyrian village razed and its 140-foot tall mud brick ziggurat, which is considered one of ancient Mesopotamia’s most spectacular structures, “reduced to a pile of dirt.”

“The destruction was worse than we thought,” Iraqi Ministry of Culture General Director Qais Hussein said, adding that “it’s a huge loss to Iraqi heritage” and to world history.

After two years of occupation by ISIS, much of Nimrud , including what is widely believed to be the world’s first library, has been destroyed, the Voice of America news agency reported.

The 2,900-year-old ziggurat was “bulldozed and pushed into the ancient bed of the Tigris River,” John Curtis, president of the British Institute for the Study of Iraq, told the ArtNewspaper, calling it the “worst damage that ISIL has inflicted on Iraqi archaeology.”

National Geographic has published satellite photographs of the area, one showing the ziggurat on August 31st, and another photo taken on October 2nd after the structure had been bulldozed to the ground.

Last year, ISIS released video of its fighters using explosives and sledgehammers to smash ancient artifacts in Nimrud - including the lamassu’s, statues of winged creatures that guarded the palace of Ashurnasirpal II for three millennia - because the jihadist group believes that pre-Islamic art and architecture are idolatrous.

In March 2015, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director General Irina Bokova condemned the destruction of the world heritage site as a “war crime” and “another attack against the Iraqi people, reminding us that nothing is safe from the cultural cleansing underway in the country: it targets human lives, minorities, and is marked by the systemic destruction of humanity’s ancient heritage.”

Nimrud, which is located about 20 miles south of Mosul, lay buried under sand until 1845, when British archaeologist Austen Henry Layard first began excavation of the ancient city, which was once the capital of an Assyrian empire that stretched from modern-day Egypt to Turkey. It is mentioned in the biblical Book of Genesis.

Iraqi forces found ancient carvings reduced to piles of rubble after pushing ISIS out of Nimrud. (AP photo)

Over the years, bas-relief panels, carved ivories, and other antiquities dating back to 800 B.C. were unearthed from the palace of Ashurnasirpal II. In 1989, archaeologists discovered several underground tombs, including one believed to belong to Ashurnasirpal’s queen.

Nimrud is just one of many ancient archaeological sites that ISIS has destroyed or severely damaged since it began its takeover of large sections of Iraq and Syria in 2014.

However, many gold and ivory artifacts found at Nimrud are safely housed in museums around the world or stored in the vaults of the Central Bank of Baghdad.

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