Famed human-headed bull statue uncovered in Iraq
A joint Iraqi-French excavation at the ancient site of Dur-Sharrukin (modern Khorsabad in northern Iraq) has uncovered an imposing Lamassu statue. The massive statue dates to the reign of Sargon II (r. 722–705 BCE), who built the city of Dur-Sharrukin (Akkadian for “the fortress of Sargon”) and made it the capital of the growing Neo-Assyrian Empire.
One of several Lamassus recovered from the ancient capital, this statue is remarkable for its incredible preservation, save for its missing head, which was looted from the site in 1995, but is today housed in the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad. According to France 24, the Lamassu, which is made out of alabaster, stands 12.5 feet tall, is nearly 13 feet long, and weighs approximately 20 tons. In antiquity, it was placed at the entrance to one of Dur-Sharrukin’s city gates, where it served as a protective spirit.
The Lamassu was originally uncovered in the early 1990s by Iraqi archaeologists. However, after its head was stolen, the statue was reburied for its protection. This turned out to be the statue’s saving grace; being largely hidden, it was not further damaged during either the Iraq War or the conflict with ISIS. Fortunately, the Iraqi government recovered the stolen head while it was being smuggled out of the country.
Lamassus were common and important figures in Assyrian art, frequently depicted as human-headed bulls with wings. Representing protective spirits, these massive statues were often placed within the gates and entryways of cities and royal buildings as displays of power. The statues, which were carved in high relief, were made with five legs so that they would appear standing when viewed from the front or striding when viewed from the side. Another Lamassu excavated at Dur-Sharrukin, now housed in the Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures (ISAC) Museum in Chicago, measures 16 feet tall and weighs 40 tons.
Sargon II, who commissioned the Lamassu for his new capital city, was one of the most important kings of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. Sargon greatly expanded Assyria’s territory, strengthening its control over many regions, including Israel’s Northern Kingdom. He is mentioned in passing in the Book of Isaiah (20:1), and some Assyriologists suggest he played an important role in the conquest of Samaria, which took place the year he ascended the throne. Likely a younger son of Tiglath-Pileser III, who conquered much of the Northern Kingdom (2 Kings 15:29), Sargon was the founder of the Sargonid dynasty, which ruled over Assyria until its conquest by Babylon in 612 BCE. Sargon’s son and successor, Sennacherib, would become one of the Bible’s most frequently mentioned Assyrian monarchs because of his invasion of Judah and near conquest of Jerusalem in 701 BCE.
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