Seven marble slabs were excavated underneath the Mashki Gate, partially destroyed by the Islamic State in 2016. (all photos via Iraqi State Board of Antiquities & Heritage on Facebook)

Archaeologists have discovered rare 2,700-year-old stone carvings in Iraq during the excavation of Mosul’s ancient Mashki Gate, which was partially destroyed by Islamic State militants in 2016.

Mashki Gate was constructed by King Sennacherib as the entrance to the city of Nineveh. Buried, the rock carvings were protected from the Islamic State’s assault on the ruins above ground. The marble engravings are intricately patterned and portray scenes of battle and conflict from the time of Assyrian rule in the capital city, as well as palm trees, grapes, pomegranates, and figs. They are believed to have been completed during the reign of King Sennacherib, who ruled between 705 and 681 BCE.

In total, seven stone slabs were uncovered by a team of scholars and researchers affiliated with the Iraq Heritage Stabilization Program of the University of Pennsylvania and the Nineveh State Board of Antiquities and Heritage.

“‘Mashki Gate’ means ‘Gate of the Watering Places,’ because it was on the west side of ancient Nineveh and provided access to the Tigris River,” Michael Danti, program director at the Iraq Heritage Stabilization Program, told Hyperallergic.

The marble slabs portray scenes of battle and conflict during the Neo-Assyrian Empire.

The excavation is being undertaken as part of a collaboration with antiquities authorities in Iraq with the end goal of converting the vandalized Mashki Gate monument into an educational center exploring the history of Nineveh. The slabs will stay in Iraq.

“Access to cultural heritage is a human right, and groups like ISIS want to sever those links forever as part of their campaign of cultural cleansing and genocide,” Danti said in an interview with CNN.

Some of the marble slabs show Assyrian soldiers firing arrows.

Since 2014, the Islamic State has ravaged Iraq and Syria’s museums, libraries, and cultural heritage sites. In 2015, members of the group stormed the Mosul Museum, drilling and sledgehammering ancient Assyrian artifacts. That same year, the militant group set off explosives at the ruins of an ancient temple in the historic Syrian city of Palmyra, built in the first century AD. The group has reportedly overseen widespread looting of antiquities.

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Jasmine Liu

Jasmine Liu is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she studied anthropology and mathematics at Stanford University.

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