Ancient Deity Carvings Share Insight on Fallen Empire


| LAST UPDATE 05/17/2022

By Stanley Wickens
neo-assyrian cave drawings politics
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History has a way of making itself visible to us all across the world. Whether through ancient artifacts and prehistoric structures or by means of cave art and centuries-old scriptures, historians have numerous ways of understanding the cultures and lives of past civilizations on Earth. The most recent discovery made in the field is a secret tunnel with drawings from the ancient Neo-Assyrian Empire.

The unfinished rock carving, which was discovered by archaeologists in the village of Başbük, Turkey, dates back almost 3,000 - to the time the Neo-Assyrian Empire prospered in the region. The carvings seem to illustrate a procession of six deities, starting with Hadad, the Mesopotamian god of storms; the moon god Sîn; Šamaš, god of the sun; and Atargatis, goddess of fertility. But what's perhaps the most unique feature about this artwork is it shows a cultural blending of the conquering Assyrian and the local Aramaic gods. Could this artwork tell modern scientists more about the story of the political reality between the two cultures at the time?

neo-assyrian cave artwork
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Selim Ferruh Adali, an associate professor of history at the Social Sciences University of Ankara, seems to think so. In a study on the recently discovered carvings, he wrote, "By illustrating a local cohabitation and symbiosis of the Assyrians and the Arameans in a region and period under firm Assyrian imperial control, the Başbük panel gives scholars studying the imperial peripheries a striking example of regional values in the exercise of imperial power expressed through monumental art." In other words, historians now have reason to believe the Assyrian conquest of the local Arameans may not have been as harsh and brutal as history has led us to believe.

According to Adali, despite the distinct Assyrian style some of the features of the gods - like their rigid poses and unique style of their hair and beards - other details show the strong influence of the local Aramaic culture on the carvings. He notes that the "primarily Aramaic symbolism" intentionally "melded with Assyrian style," may indicate the attempt by Assyrian rules to integrate peacefully rather than forcefully with the local Aramean population. Definitely a masterpiece, if you ask us!

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