“I can only imagine how much Daesh discovered down there before we got here,” archaeologist Layla Salih told The Telegraph, referring to the Islamic terror group that continues to hold territory in Syria and Iraq.
“We believe they took many of the artifacts, such as pottery and smaller pieces, away to sell. But what they left will be studied and will add a lot to our knowledge of the period,” Salih added
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The team of researchers believe that IS has been tunneling to access ancient artifacts, such as statues, coins, jewelry and mosaics, looking to sell them on the black market to fuel its ongoing war in the region.
One of the tunnels reportedly led archaeologists to the remarkable marble cuneiform inscription of King Esarhaddon of the Assyrian empire, who ruled from 681 to 669 B.C., and renovated the palace built for King Sennacherib.
The Bible describes part of Sennacherib’s military rule in II Chronicles 32:1, where it says: “After all that Hezekiah had so faithfully done, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah. He laid siege to the fortified cities, thinking to conquer them for himself.”
Breaking Israel News reports that the 2,300-year-old palace was partially destroyed during the Sack of Nineveh in 612 B.C.
The archaeologists also discovered in another part of the tunnel stone sculptures of an Assyrian demi-goddess believed to sprinkle “water of life” to protect humans in her care.
“There’s a huge amount of history down there, not just ornamental stones,” Salih added. “It is an opportunity to finally map the treasure-house of the world’s first great empire, from the period of its greatest success.”
Officials reported back in July 2014 that IS, which was just beginning its conquests in Iraq, had destroyed the tomb of Jonah, the biblical prophet said to have been swallowed by a whale.
“In Christian tradition, the story of Jonah is an important one,” scholars Joel S. Baden and Candida Moss told CNN back then. “Jonah’s descent into the depths in the belly of the great fish and subsequent triumphant prophetic mission to Nineveh is seen as a reference to and prototype of the death and resurrection of Jesus.”
The researchers have been able to expand their efforts since the Iraqi government’s reclamation of the western half of Mosul back in February, though the campaign to liberate the entire city and push IS out of Iraq continues.
It has not been made clear why IS radicals destroyed the tomb of Jonah back in 2014, given that a Muslim mosque had also been build there for a prophet venerated by Islam.
“It is believed that ISIS, as part of the Salafi movement, rejects the concept of worshiping at shrines and therefore destroyed it to prevent Muslims from worshiping there,” BIN offered.
“Some have speculated that the destruction of the site was intended to wipe out vestiges of Christianity and Judaism, even those connected to Islam.”