Archaeologists in Iraq say they have made an unexpected discovery under a site destroyed by Islamic State traditionally thought to hold the tomb of the biblical prophet Jonah.
Under a mound covering the ancient city of Nineveh, beneath a shrine destroyed by ISIS, they found a previously undiscovered palace built in the seventh century BCE for the Biblical Assyrian King Sennacherib and renovated by his son Esarhaddon.
The Nabi Younus shrine in Mosul — which was built on the reputed burial site of prophet Jonah — was a popular pilgrimage site.
In July 2014, weeks after overrunning Mosul and much of Iraq’s Sunni Arab heartland, ISIS militants rigged the shrine and blew it up, sparking global outrage.
In mid-January, Iraqi troops in Nineveh liberated the site.
“(It is) far more damaged than we expected,” Culture Minister Salim Khalaf said.
But IS also dug tunnels beneath the shrine searching for artifacts to plunder.
Iraqi archaeologist Layla Salih told Britain’s Daily Telegraph that in the tunnels she discovered a “marble cuneiform inscription of King Esarhaddon thought to date back to the Assyrian empire in 672 BCE.”
Although Esarhaddon’s name does not appear, the king is described in terms that were only used to refer to him, referencing his rebuilding of Babylon after his father’s death.
Chapters 18 and 19 of the biblical book of II Kings describe Sennacherib’s unsuccessful attempt to conquer Jerusalem. Upon his return to his palace he was murdered by two of his sons, who then fled, leaving Esarhaddon to take over the kingdom.
“And it came to pass, as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sarezer his sons smote him with the sword; and they escaped into the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son reigned in his stead,” reads verse 19:37 in Kings II.
Eleanor Robson, head of the British Institute for the Study of Iraq, said the terror group’s destruction had opened the way to a “fantastic find.”
“The objects don’t match descriptions of what we thought was down there,” she said, according to a Telegraph report. “There’s a huge amount of history down there, not just ornamental stones. It is an opportunity to finally map the treasure-house of the world’s first great empire, from the period of its greatest success.”
However, IS plundered many of the items that were in the palace. Khalaf estimated that more than 700 items have been looted from the site to be sale on the black market.
Additional Reporting by Times of Israel