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ISIS Threatens Iraq's Ancient Past: The City of Nineveh
By Tom Wyke
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"The Arabs marvelled at these strange figures. As each head was uncovered they showed their amazement by extravagant gestures or exclamations of surprise." The "strange figures" had the head of a man, the body of a lion and the wings of a bird. They had not been seen for over 25 centuries. So what are these creatures and why is their home under threat from Islamic State (ISIS) fighters in Iraq? These imposing creatures are an ancient Assyrian protective deity called a lamassu. Carved out of alabaster, they date back to 9th Century BC. A few of these powerful anthropomorphic sculptures can be found in a handful of prestigious museums in America and Europe. I was admiring the lamassu in the British Museum. But how did these priceless treasures end up in London and where did they originally come from? In order to answer these questions, we need to focus on Iraq, specifically the northern province of Nineveh. Much of Nineveh has recently been seized by Islamic State militants, forcing hundreds of Christians and Yazidis to flee its ancient fertile plains to escape persecution. Islamic State pamphlets were handed out last weekend, announcing the "legal" demolition of more shrines in Nineveh. As in late June when the Islamic State destroyed the tombs of Daniel and Jonah (or Younis, as he is referred to in the Qur'an) as well as other shrines in Mosul, Nineveh province's ancient history is under threat. For over 50 years, Nineveh was the largest city in the world and was the capital of the mighty Assyrian Empire under King Sennacherib. Its ruins are located near the banks of the river Tigris, where it once blossomed as an important trading city between the East and West. Its true wonder was not re-discovered until the Victorian adventurer Austen Henry Layard travelled to Iraq and uncovered the lost city of Nineveh. Inspired by his favourite book The Arabian Nights and the travel stories of his family friend Benjamin Disraeli, the 22-year-old left his office job in London and set out to travel to Ceylon in 1839. Layard got as far as Persia, where he spent time living with the Bakhtiari tribe before abandoning his plans of reaching Ceylon and turning back to Constantinople. There he befriended the British Ambassador Stafford Canning, who recognised his interest in antiquities. In 1845, Canning gave Layard

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