The State of Preservation of the Neo-Assyrian Reliefs
at Khinnis/Bavian


May 14, 2006 Francis Deblauwe IW&A Documents, 9





The northern Iraqi archaeological site usually called Bavian forms the
source of a Neo-Assyrian canal/aquaduct system built for Nineveh by Sennacherib
(704-681 BC). Bavian is the name of a nearby town; the site is better named
after the closer village of Khinnis* and is situated about 50 km northeast
of Nineveh. The place is decorated—or should I say monumentalized—with reliefs
on the cliffs where the Gomel river** passes through a gorge. From the
cuneiform inscriptions accompanying the reliefs we learn that the construction
of the canal was finished in 690 BC. Sennacherib also boasted about his
thorough destruction of Babylon (in 689 BC) after a rebellion...

Mesopotamian archaeologists and Assyriologists are especially concerned with
this site at this time because of a recent Iraq trip by members of the Assyrian
Academic Society (a Chicago-based Assyrian Christian cultural organization).
One of the participants, Firas Jatou, alerted Dr. McGuire Gibson (University
of Chicago) about problems with the site. The photos he made during his April
8 visit I include on the left in the illustration section below. On the right
side
are then shown old pictures, paired as much as possible with Jatou's
photos. The large, main relief cut out of the cliff consists of king
Sennacherib (fig. 3) shown twice, offering before the gods Ashur and Enlil.
The big holes are, as you see in the century-and-a-half-old drawing in fig.
3bis
, not of recent date. However, the damage to the left-side king Sennacherib
of the main relief is very recent: the area around his nose has been erased
(see fig. 3). There are also numerous niches with relief carvings and/or
cuneiform inscriptions spread out over the site (figs. 4-6a). Finally, a huge
block rests in the river itself displaying lamassus, kings and more (figs. 7-
7quater
).

According to Jatou, the local mayor is planning to have a construction company
use dynamite to make caves in the cliffs in order to shelter tourists from the
sun. Needless to say, this type of "valorization" of the site is ill conceived.
The shock waves from the explosions will cause damage to the reliefs. Also, it
appears that the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage (SBAH) did not only not
approve these plans but was not even consulted. By the way, the site is located
in Nineveh province and not in one of the Kurdish provinces as could be
mistakingly concluded from Jones 2006a. As shown for instance in figure 2, the
main relief can currently too easily be accessed. Jatou also saw tourists chip
off pieces of the carvings to take home as souvenirs. Natural damage and human
carelessness and "souvenir taking" combine to degrade the reliefs (see for
instance the bullet hole in fig. 8). Anyway, the SBAH is looking into the matter
right now and will hopefully be able to convince the local authorities of more
responsible methods: fencing, awnings, some order and organization perhaps.
Maybe some of the damage already done can be repaired. After all, an attractive
tourist spot as well as invaluable heritage site should be preserved as well as
possible, that much all should be able to agree upon.

Recent pictures
Old pictures


Fig. 1: Main relief in its landscape setting (taken by Firas Jatou, April 2006; © Firas Jatou)



Fig. 1bis: Note how black-and-white photography does a better job of registering the details of the relief (taken by Gertrude Bell, May 1909; from the Gertrude Bell Project; © The University of Newcastle upon Tyne Library)



Fig. 2: The right-side 3/4 of the main relief when one climbs up to it; the people provide a good relative indication of the proportions (April 2006; © Firas Jatou)



Fig. 2bis: Much better contrast (taken by Gertrude Bell, May 1909; from the Gertrude Bell Project; © The University of Newcastle upon Tyne Library)


Fig. 3: The left 1/4 of the main relief we weren't able to see in fig. 2: king Sennacherib; there is recent damage around the nose (taken by Firas Jatou, April 2006; © Firas Jatou)


Fig. 3bis: The main relief as interpreted by the excavator of Nimrud and Nineveh (drawn by Austen Henry Layard, mid-19th cent.; from Layard 1853; © New York Public Library)



Fig. 4: A niche with remnants of cuneiform inscriptions (taken by Firas Jatou, April 2006; © Firas Jatou)




Fig. 5: A niche with the bottom half of the relief of a king missing (taken by Firas Jatou, April 2006; © Firas Jatou)




Fig. 6: More niches with relief figures (taken by Firas Jatou, April 2006; © Firas Jatou)





Fig. 6a: A cut-out relief (taken by Gertrude Bell, May 1909; from the Gertrude Bell Project; © The University of Newcastle upon Tyne Library)



Fig. 7: Partial view of the top of a huge block that was hewed from the cliff in antiquity but left in the river itself, showing a lamassu and a bearded figure in the lower register (April 2006; © Firas Jatou)



Fig. 7bis: A better view of the size and location of the block; a king and queen are visible in the upper register (taken by Gertrude Bell, May 1909; from the Gertrude Bell Project; © The University of Newcastle upon Tyne Library)




Fig. 7ter: Underside of the block in the river; notice the marks left by the changes in water levels (taken by Gertrude Bell, May 1909; from the Gertrude Bell Project; © The University of Newcastle upon Tyne Library)




Fig. 7quater: The block in the river, showing its location in relation to the main relief (figs. 1-3) above it (taken by Edgar T.A. Wigram, very beginning of the 20th cent.; from Wigram 1922; © AINA)



Fig. 8: Remains of inscriptions in brittle, fragile state; bullet impact visible (unclear where exactly this photo was taken) (April 2006; © Firas Jatou)


* A.k.a. Khinnes/Hinnes/Hemus/Khuns, ancient Khunusa; geographical co-ordinates 36°44'N 43°25'E
** Ancient Pulpullia, a tributary of the Khosr/Khazir, ancient Khazur, which itself feeds into the
Tigris


Sources


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