Archeologists denounce ISIS attempt to erase history at Nimrud

by Julia A. Seymour
Posted 4/20/15, 08:50 am

ISIS continued its destruction of archaeological treasures and historic sites last week by obliterating a city that dates back to Genesis.

A propaganda video posted April 11 showed militants, believed to be with ISIS, jackhammering, drilling and destroying artifacts such as alabaster reliefs of Assyrian kings and deities at Nimrud. Then the militants wired the site with explosives and blew up the entire city. Only rubble remained. The black flag of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) appeared in the upper right hand corner of the video.

Also called Calah, Nimrud is an ancient Assyrian city located about 20 miles south of ISIS-held Mosul, Iraq. It dates back to the 13th century B.C. and is even mentioned in the book of Genesis as Calah, a city Nimrod built along with nearby Nineveh.

The Assyrians rose to prominence around 2500 B.C. and at one point ruled over land from the Mediterranean coast to present-day Iran. They often decorated their palaces and temples with depictions of their kings’ military triumphs as well as sacrifices to their gods. Winged man-headed lions or bulls were one of the typical depictions of their deities.

Sky News reported the militants said they were destroying such idols and claimed it was an honor to be “removing and destroying everything that was held to be equal to him and worshipped without him,” referring to their prophet Mohammed. Another person in the video said the militants would continue to “remove the signs of idolatry and spread monotheism,” wherever they go.

ISIS began bulldozing parts of Nimrud in March, according to CNN. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called it “a war crime” and archaeologists were horrified.

“ISIS continues to defy the will of the world and the feelings of humanity,” Iraq’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities said, according to CNN.

The Islamic extremists have been trying to erase history by destroying Muslim, Christian, and Jewish sites throughout Iraq and Syria, claiming they violate Islamic law.

ISIS has released similar videos of its destruction of artifacts at the Mosul Museum in February and vandalism at Hatra, a Unesco World Heritage Site. An Iraqi official said ISIS’ damage at Hatra took place in March, The Guardian reported. But at least some of the pieces destroyed at the Mosul Museum were replicas, according to The New York Times.

The radicals also are accused of looting and selling antiquities to fund their terror operations. The Times of London reported ISIS is responsible for about 100 pieces of art smuggled into Britain during the past year.

“Obviously, they are destroying some things that they could sell, but they are also selling some things that, according to their perversion of Islamic law, they ‘should’ destroy,” wrote Samuel Andrew Hardy, a specialist in the illicit antiquities trade who teaches at the American University of Rome.

Some people are attempting to save treasures from ISIS before it’s too late. Syriac Orthodox Monks from the Mar Matti monastery feared centuries-old Christian manuscripts would be destroyed by the Islamic radicals, so they sent them to be kept hidden in the Kurdish city of Dohuk.

University of Manchester archaeologists also conducted a three-month dig near Ur, even as ISIS was devastating other ancient cities nearby.

“If the militants think they can erase history, we are helping to make sure that can’t happen,” Jane Moon, archaeologist and co-director of the dig, told the BBC.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Julia A. Seymour

Julia has worked as a writer in the Washington, D.C., area since 2005 and was a fall 2012 participant in a World Journalism Institute mid-career class conducted by WORLD editor in chief Marvin Olasky in Asheville, N.C. Follow Julia on Twitter @SteakandaBible.

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