Ancient carvings of Assyrian war scenes revealed on stone gate in Iraq damaged by Islamic State group

A worker brushes a rock-carving relief found in Iraq of an ancient warrior.
An Iraqi worker excavates a rock-carving relief recently found at the Mashki Gate, one of the monumental gates to the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh, on the outskirts of what is today the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. (Image credit: Photo by ZAID AL-OBEIDI/AFP via Getty Images)

Archeologists in Iraq have unearthed 2,700-year-old stone carvings that were chiseled into a previously undiscovered section of the Mashki Gate, an iconic structure in what was once the ancient Assyrian capital city of Nineveh.

The eight intricately carved marble bas-reliefs, which depict war scenes, grapevines, palm trees and other motifs, were found in what is now Mosul, during a project to restore the gate after Islamic State group militants destroyed it. Experts believe that the decorative gate dates back to King Sennacherib, who ruled the Assyrian empire from 705 B.C. to 681 B.C., according to a statement from the Iraqi Council of Antiquities and Heritage.

During his reign, King Sennacherib moved the Assyrian capital to Nineveh where he became well known for his vast military campaigns, according to BBC News

Related: Ancient Assyrian rock carvings in Iraq show procession of gods riding mythical animals

"We believe that these carvings were moved from the palace of Sennacherib and reused by the grandson of the king to renovate the gate of Mashki and to enlarge the guard room," Fadel Mohammed Khodr, head of the Iraqi archaeological team, told Al Jazeera.

Because much of the gate was buried underground due to the way it was oriented during its original construction, the only portions that archaeologists could salvage were under the soil.

"Only the part buried underground has retained its carvings," Khodr said.

In 2016, militants from IS (also called ISIS, ISIL or Daesh) destroyed the iconic gate with a bulldozer. The Swiss-based International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas is working with Iraqi authorities as well as archaeologists from the University of Pennsylvania and Mosul University on the restoration of the gate.

Jennifer Nalewicki
Live Science Staff Writer

Jennifer Nalewicki is a Salt Lake City-based journalist whose work has been featured in The New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine, Scientific American, Popular Mechanics and more. She covers several science topics from planet Earth to paleontology and archaeology to health and culture. Prior to freelancing, Jennifer held an Editor role at Time Inc. Jennifer has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin.