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Relics Of History's First Known Goddess Emerge In Assyrian City Razed By ISIS

In the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, a large stone monument depicting the goddess Ishtar has been unearthed.


Tom Hale


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

Senior Journalist

Ancient Babylonia and Assyria bas relief from king Ashurnasirpal Nimrud Palace of a big cat eating an antelope.

Many reliefs from Nimrud are currently being held at the British Museum in London.

Image credit: Andrea Izzotti/

Amid the smashed ruins of an ancient town sacked by ISIS, archeologists have returned and yielded all kinds of ancient artifacts. Among the new relics discovered at the site are ones from a 3,000-year-old temple that was dedicated to Ishtar, the Mesopotamian goddess of love and war, who’s the goddess with the earliest written evidence.

The ancient city of Nimrud is located in present-day Iraq, around 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of the city of Mosul. Found along the Tigris River, the settlement grew into a thriving Assyrian city between approximately 1350 BC and 610 BCE, complete with grand palaces, beautiful artworks, and impressive temples. 


In June 2014, ISIS captured Mosul and seeded its influence across the surrounding area. As part of their effort to rid the area of non-Islamic culture, ISIS set out to systematically destroy the archeological site of Nimrud, demolishing the ruins with sledgehammers, bombs, and diggers. 

That reign of terror has, thankfully, ended and archeologists have recently been able to return to Nimrud. 

Early this year, archaeologists from the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage and the University of Pennsylvania continued work on the Temple of Ishtar, which burned when Nimrud was sacked by an invading army in 612 BCE. 

Chief among their finds were fragments of a large stone monument that depicts the goddess Ishtar inside a star symbol.

Ancient Assyrian reliefs found at the British Museum.
More ancient Assyrian reliefs found at the British Museum.
Image credit: Francisco Javier Diaz/

“Our greatest find this season was a spectacular fragment from the stone stele that shows the goddess Ishtar inside a star symbol. This is the first unequivocal depiction of the goddess as Ishtar Sharrrat-niphi, a divine aspect of the goddess associated with the rising of the planet Venus, the 'morning star,' to be found in this temple dedicated to her,” Dr Michael Danti, Program Director of the Iraq Heritage Stabilization Program and archeologists at the University of  Pennsylvania, said in a statement.

During earlier excavations in Nimrud, the same team revealed a 2,800-year-old palace belonging to an Assyrian king Adad-Nirari III, who reigned from 810 to 783 BCE. They also found monumental stone slabs inscribed with cuneiform, the ancient writing system widely used throughout the Middle East in the Early Bronze Age. 

Many of the new discoveries this season highlight the opulence of ancient Nimrud and the reign of Adad-Nirari III. The archeologists identified two colossal stone column bases that suggest the palace was grandly decorated with beautifully carved columns. Within the throne room, evidence of a large stone basin was recovered, which the researchers believe may have served as a central heating system. 

On top of this, they unearthed scatterings of ivory fragments and ostrich eggshells, rare materials that would have been highly valuable in the early Bronze Age.


These kinds of invaluable insights were close to being extinguished from history at the hands of ISIS. Fortunately, thanks to the hard work of archeologists and researchers, the invaluable stories of the city are still being kept alive. 


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  • Middle East,

  • Iraq,

  • terrorism,

  • ISIS,

  • early bronze age,

  • ancient ancestors,

  • Assyrian Empire,

  • Nimrud