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Biblical Archaeology Review 46:3, Summer 2020

Strata: Gods on Parade

Riding mythical creatures, seven gods and goddesses face the Assyrian king Sargon II on this eighth-century B.C.E. panel from the site of Faida in Iraqi Kurdistan. Sargon also appears behind the procession—forming a kind of bracket. The seven gods and goddesses—Ashur, his wife Mullissu, the moon god Sin, the god of wisdom Nabu, the sun god Shamash, the weather god Adad, and the goddess of love and war Ishtar—were some of the major deities of the Assyrian pantheon. They are mounted on a mix of real and mythical creatures, including dragons, horned lions, horses, bulls, and lions.

Italian and Iraqi archaeologists uncovered this and nine other reliefs carved into the bedrock along a 4-mile-long canal, which was built by Sargon II (r. 722–705 B.C.E.) to bring water to the Assyrian capital, Nineveh, and to irrigate the nearby fields. The carvings were first spotted in the 1970s. Archaeologists then surveyed the area in 2012 but had to flee ahead of the ISIS offensive. Finally, in 2019, they were able to excavate. Now their focus has shifted to conservation—ensuring that the carvings are protected and establishing an archaeological park.

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