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View of the Mashki Gate prior to its destruction (photo via Wikipedia)

Members of ISIS have destroyed two large gates in Iraq’s ancient city of Nineveh, which once served as the capital of the Neo-Assyrian empire. Recently released satellite imagery, according to National Geographic, reveal the ruins of the Adad Gate; Michael Danti, co-director of the American Schools of Oriental Research’s Cultural Heritage Initiative (CHI) and archaeology professor at Boston University, last week confirmed the destruction of the Mashki Gates based on photographic evidence obtained from “trusted sources” in Mosul, who also verified their legitimacy. The initiative is an international collaborative effort that works with the US State Department to document the conditions of heritage sites in Syria and Iraq.

View of the Nergal Gate (photo by JoAnn S. Makinano/Wikipedia) (click to enlarge)

An image shared exclusively on National Geographic reveals a backhoe crossing a flat landscape surrounded by a cloud of dust. While ISIS often uses explosives to blow up archaeological sites, it has been known to favor heavy construction equipment as well, so such a technique would align with the group’s past cultural crimes.

The gates are two of 15 built along the city wall around 700 BCE, but much of what ISIS destroyed was actually the result of restoration programs from the 1960s and ’70s, as University College London professor Eleanor Robson, chair of council of the British Institute for the Study of Iraq, told Hyperallergic.

“The high mound on which the ‘wall’ sits is the real ancient wall, built by [king of Assyria] Sennacherib in c.702–690 BCE,” Robson said. “So whatever damage ISIS think they are doing, the damage is mostly (but not exclusively) to 20th-century buildings, not ancient ones. Well over 90% of the ancient remains are still covered in over 2,500 years of accumulated earth and remain safe for future generations of archaeologists and visitors to study and enjoy.

“Nevertheless, any destruction of the careful restoration and reconstruction work carried out by Iraqi archaeologists such as Tariq Madhloom and his colleagues is to be deplored— as is the terrible loss of life and suffering wreaked upon the people of Mosul and its neighborhood,” she continued.

Robson, who has visited Nineveh, describes the wall as being about 50 feet thick and 6.5 miles in length. Archaeologists have only excavated six of its gates and restored four — the Mashki and Adad Gates as well as the Nergal and Shamash Gates.

“All news media should think carefully about the manner in which they report attacks on cultural heritage, whether by ISIS or other perpetrators,” Robson said. “It is all too easy to unwittingly magnify their actions into a catastrophe, thereby giving them undue credit and power and further feeding their propaganda aims.”

Still, speaking over the phone, CHI Project Manager Allison Cuneo told Hyperallergic that the Nergal Gate did hold original statuary, of the same type that militants filmed themselves smashing in the Mosul Museum last February. Like those artworks, the sculptures at the Hatra archaeological site, and the many ancient sites in Palmyra, the works from the Nergal Gate are now lost forever.

Update, 5/5: This story has been edited to reflect newly released satellite imagery showing that ISIS had, in fact, demolished the Adad Gate, not the Nergal Gate, as National Geographic previously reported.

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Claire Voon

Claire Voon is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Singapore, she grew up near Washington, D.C. and is now based in Chicago. Her work has also appeared in New York Magazine, VICE,...

7 replies on “ISIS Destroys Two Gates in Ancient City of Nineveh [UPDATED]”

  1. Not to worry. I’m sure we can just 3d print smaller versions of them for brits to gawp at.

    1. Not to worry? Speak for yourself!, a 3d printer would have to have the dimensions of the thing destroyed to copy it. These priceless artifacts that ISIS has been destroying are gone forever, so there’s no printer that can repair this damage. Are you going to say ‘not to worry’ when they take your own family, children and friends? You can always make a new family so no worries?

      1. But we always have that super cool Skeleton they spotted. I mean…trade offs need to be made right? None of these things were ever built by actual people for any valid reason worth respecting over the cultural feelings of the current trend and powerful? Right? Isn’t that what we’ve learned so far since the inquisition? Angry people win cause art makes them angry cause……I never quite have that last part nailed down. Let’s ask the Skeleton – I think it said “YOLO”. AH. Got it. My bad.

  2. This isn’t terrorism. It’s cultural genocide. They’ll destroy them either way. Telling the press to be cautious is the WORST advice to take. It’s as foolish as telling the press “don’t worry about those skinny people, they’re just farming” in 1941.

    ““All news media should think carefully about the manner in which they report attacks on cultural heritage, whether by ISIS or other perpetrators,” Robson said. “It is all too easy to unwittingly magnify their actions into a catastrophe, thereby giving them undue credit and power and further feeding their propaganda aims.”

    IT IS a catastrophe. Please tell Professor Robson that her expertise on Iraq doesn’t merit her hubris in defining what would be or not be a catastrophic loss of ancient culture. One might say she is the last person who should be opining on the subject. Yikes.

  3. Wow did that piece about the skeleton in another part of the world and the argument about its validity suddenly give me the worst chills….not good, folks. Ignoring violence as to not insight anger never turns out well for the culture that loses it’s voice for eternity. Belittling archeology or narratives of outliers….as if cultures that existed once weren’t even meriting “I was here.” WOW. Hope others see this connection.

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