“I felt as if I was in a ritual when I was confronted by the very expressive eyes and majestic serious face of the storm god Hadad,” Dr. Mehmet Önal told the New York Times, describing his feelings as he viewed a “procession of almond-eyed deities” carved in an underground chamber nearly 3,000 years ago. The site in southeastern Turkey was discovered during construction of a home in 2017, but it might never have been known to researchers if the owners had their way. They concealed access and offered the panel and other findings on the ever-thriving black market for antiquities, but someone in the village tipped police. The homeowners were arrested and briefly imprisoned as a result, and archaeologists have been busy ever since.
The panel was carved around 800 BCE at the height of the Assyrian Empire. The chamber, some 20 feet underground, is just one feature in a vast complex built at the northern edge of Assyrian power. Besides Hadad, the the 13-foot-long carving includes representations Sin the moon god and Atargatis, goddess of love and war, according to the Wild Hunt. While the gods reflect Assyrian culture, the language and symbols in the carvings are in Aramaic, the local language at the time. According to Artnet, these findings illustrate “local cohabitation and symbiosis of the Assyrians and the Arameans” and may indicate that the ruling Assyrian regime used "soft power" and “saw benefits to mixing culture to obtain peace.”
Archaeologists recently published their findings in the journal Antiquity, but hopefully it is only their first installment. Much of the vast underground complex is yet to be explored. As the Times notes, archaeologists were forced to temporarily abandon the dig for fear of collapse. Work is underway to stabilize the site before exploration continues. As yet, nobody knows the extent of the complex or even where the original entrance is located. (Read more archaeology stories.)