page updated August 1, 2014
NB: The following summary of the Polish excavations of the Central Palace area on the citadel of Nimrud has been collocated from the few interim reports created by the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology. Most of these reports were not intended to be final publications. Learning Sites has assimilated and synthesized the information presented in this set of descriptions from the material turned over to it by Richard P. Sobolewski (the original site architect). Much of the material was initially composed by Sobolewski (between 1974 and 1976, with minor revisions up through 2003) and then edited for this digital publication by Learning Sites (except as noted otherwise in the text).


The Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology excavated the Central Palace area of the citadel at Nirmud (ancient Kalhu/Calah in Assyria, present-day northern Iraq) between 1974 and 1976 (work ceased due to the untimely death of the director, Janusz Meuszynski, in 1976).  The citadel contains buildings (mostly temples and palaces, but also a ziggurat, gateways, walls, and residences) built by Assyrian kings and their officials from the 9th to the 7th centuries BCE.  The remains had already been investigated by A. H. Layard (1845-1850), H. Rassam (1848-1850, 1852-54, 1878-1881), W. K. Loftus (1854-55), G. Smith (1873), and the British School of Archaeology in Iraq (1949-1963 under M. E. L. Mallowan and D. Oates). Iraqi archaeologists worked with the British and followed up on their own; Meuszynski joined them in 1970 before the official Polish mission began. In spite of all these excavations, many portions of the mound had not been explored and only soundings had been made in others.  One of these areas was chosen as the focus of the Polish work--the so-called Central Palace area. 

What little was known about the Central Area came both from cuneiform inscriptions (stating that Tiglath-pileser III, 747-725 BCE, had built a palace in this location) and from preliminary soundings by Austen Henry Layard, Hormuzd Rassam, William Kennet Loftus, and Max Mallowan.  These excavations uncovered the Black Obelisk and other important objects, but no specific report on the work had been published and no exact plans of the architecture had been made. Some fragmentary notes about the excavations, from field records, private and official letters, and interim publications were collected and republished by R. D. Barnett & M. Falkner and J. E. Reade.  According to this preliminary material, unidentified parts of buildings erected by Ashur-nasir-pal II (883-859 BCE), Shalmaneser III (858-824 BCE), and Tiglath-pileser III (747-725 BCE) were found in this area of the citadel, but no definitive plans could be created to locate these remains or even establish their dimensions.  Further, as Barnett had pointed out, the only map that did show the location of remains in this area (drawn by William Boutcher in 1856 and published by C. J. Gadd) incorrectly represents as walls what are really the outlines of Layard's and Rassam's trenches.

Taking all this into account, new excavations in the Central Area of the citadel seemed necessary. The Polish Centre explored three sections in this Central Area (see the page of site plans for orientation): (1) the South Area; (2) the West Area, divided into West I and West II; and (3) the North Area.

The South Area

In 1974, the only feature found here was a cistern, apparently for collecting water (found in excavation square S40 / E20).  It has the shape of a well, is built of fired bricks, and has stone slabs at the bottom.  It is 5m deep (representing 52 courses of brick).  Only some pottery sherds and small animal bones were found inside--nothing that could help date the feature's use or provide any stratigraphy.  Judging by its dimensions and workmanship, it can most probably be dated to the Neo-Assyrian period.

The West Area
Eventually, the Polish team undertook two sets of excavations on the west side of the grid, which they labeled West Area I and West Area II in the preliminary reports. Several trenches were opened in West Area I in 1974 and expanded in 1975 (hover over the plan to zoom).

In the first trench (straddling grid squares S10/W20 & S20/W20), the excavation team found a colossal, nearly totally preserved, stone bas-relief depicting a wingless genius, wearing a tunic and shawl (NA18-74). The slab was found lying horizontally on its right side, broken into two parts.  No mudbrick wall was found around the bas-relief.  We suppose that the bas-relief once decorated the walls of Tiglath-pileser III's palace, the so-called Central Palace.

In the second trench (in grid square N0/W20; just north of the first one), the lower part of a stone slab with a mythological representation in relief was uncovered in situ, backed up to a mudbrick wall. The bas-relief (NA9-74) shows a wingless, barefoot genius wearing a long dress (similar to bas-relief L-20 in the Northwest Palace and the famous Ninurta Temple bas-relief, which depicts the "weather god" pursuing a lion demon). The genius figure faces left.  Lions standing upright on their rear paws are represented on each side of the genius. This type of scene was previously unknown among the corpus of neo-Assyrian bas-relief art, though it is a variant of iconography of the later royal stamp seal type. Thus, the discovery of this image is of some importance.  The quality of the carving is excellent, similar to other Ashur-nasir-pal II bas-relief (especially to a near duplicate iconographic scene [NA11-74] found nearby in the so-called Ashur-nasir-pal Building, also framing an interior doorway) and is thus dated to his reign.  The floor in front of the bas-relief is paved with a huge monolithic stone slab (3.29 x 1.87m).  This paving stone is placed directly upon the mudbrick of the citadel platform.  There is no preserved inscription on either the bas-relief or the stone slab.  Our excavation unit was too small to investigate the entire building to which the bas-relief and paving slab belonged, but it seems likely that the structure formed the so-called Shalmaneser Building to which two bull lamassu also belong.

West Area 1

East of this relief, we uncovered two bull lamassu dating (based on their inscriptions) to the reign of Ashur-nasir-pal's son, Shalmaneser III, that were originally found by Layard (Sobolewski 1982:330). These two figures (#12 and #13 in the plan above) formed an entrance to a building, most of the walls of which no longer exist (the lamassu are currently out of their original positions; they were found by Layard already shifted to the west sometime in Antiquity).  The relief mentioned just above probably belonged to this building, as well.  Southwest and northwest of the relief were baked brick pavements and some fragments of mudbrick walls which most likely also belonged to this building.

Over that structure, apparently, a newer monumental building had been erected.  This so-called Late Building does not align with the earlier structure nor use any of its predecessor's walls. The foundations of the Late Building rest directly on the old mudbrick platform of the citadel.  When construction of the Late Building progressed, the pavement of the earlier building was destroyed and the monumental stone reliefs partly sawn off and moved away to make a place for the new foundations.  This Late Building may be the Central Palace of Tiglath-pileser III.  That this king had no regard for the buildings of his predecessors is also evident where this building's remains were uncovered in the North Area. It is equally plausible that the Late Building is a construction of the Persians (possibly in the 7th c.), and that the palace of Tiglath-pileser lies farther to the southwest.

Added squares were opened in the space between these buildings and the Ashur-nasir-pal II building farther north (in the North Area) in order to better understand the chronological sequence of construction.   The walls that were uncovered were badly damaged by early excavators; nevertheless, it was possible to complete a plan of the remaining rooms of both buildings. It seems possible that the pavement over which the reliefs of Tiglath-pileser III were found belonged originally to a construction of Shalmaneser III (the one with the two bull lamassu). This pavement runs continuously from the southern edge of the West Area excavations northward to the extent of our work.  The pavement is in two levels (similar to what we found in Room 1 in the North Area, and also found in Courtyard Y of the Northwest Palace of Ashur-nasir-pal II). The lower part of the pavement was placed on the layers of sand with little stones that covered the mudbrick platform of the citadel; the upper part of the pavement rests on a thin layer of clean sand. Both layers were covered by a thin layer of waterproof bitumen, partly preserved. Based on evidence from elsewhere on the citadel, it seems likely that this pavement is part of a courtyard of this building by Shalmaneser III.

About 80cm above this pavement, on a thin layer of clean sand, rests a new platform for the Late Building.  This later construction destroyed much of the rooms of the Ashur-nasir-pal II and Shalmaneser III buildings that predated it.  No new evidence arose concerning the dating of the Late Building.

We discovered over 100 bas-relief and their fragments resting on the baked-brick pavement of the earlier building here, northwest of the where the relief of the genius between the lions was found.  All the bas-relief belong to Tiglath-pileser III and were, already in antiquity, removed from their original locations to be re-used by Essarhaddon, but which never made it to their intended new positions.  The representations on these reliefs include Assyrian soldiers carrying away statues of gods, sieges of cities, battle scenes with camels, corner sacred trees, an enthroned king, rows of tribute bearers, courtiers, and officials (see the photograph index).

While excavating in this area, we also found traces of Layard's activity here.  The lamassu and some of the reliefs that we uncovered were known already to him.

Also within the West Area, three graves were uncovered (marked B-1, B-2, B-3 on the plan, above). Graves 1 and 2 were both located below the line of the sand covering the platform (c. 0.20 m below). The skeletons were aligned E-W with the head to the east. No tomb structure except for the fact that Grave 2 was cut somewhat into the adjoining wall Both bodies were laid out supine, the heads slightly toward the south, arms crossed on the chest, legs slightly contracted. A few grave goods were found, as follows: in Grave 1, near the neck, three vessels (an alabastron, a bowl, and a jar, presumably Late Assyrian); in Grave 2, near the waist, a metal object of unknown function. [ed. note: there is no description of Grave 3 or its finds.]

In 1976, West Area II was explored, about 70m west of the Shalmaneser III bulls. Here a stone-paved gateway was uncovered.  It is adorned with three colossal bull lamassu--two of them situated on the north exterior part of the gateway; a third found on the south exterior part of the as-yet unnamed structure.  The threshold between the two bulls is comprised of a large stone block; the middle portion of the gateway is paved with small limestone slabs covered by a layer of bitumen.  In the surface of the pavement are traces of ruts made by carriage wheels passing through the gateway in ancient times. Evidence of the doors and locking mechanism were found--one door socket lay near the back of lamassu #14 and two openings on the central part of the gate ?? = holes in floor for bars ?? 

The exterior space in front, or outside the gateway, is paved with smallish fired brick tiles measuring 34 x 34cm and covered with a thin layer of bitumen. Some partly preserved mudbrick walls adjoining the unsculpted back parts of the lamassu seem to leave no place for relief decoration.  Although this building could have been part of the great Central Palace, its construction is of poor quality when compared to other similar structures on the citadel.

The North Area

In 1974, four 10m quadrants and several additional trenches were opened in and around what has become known as the Central Building of Ashur-nasir-pal II. Work in this area continued in 1975 and 1976. The date of the building is confirmed by the inscriptions on the facade lamassu, paving bricks on the interior, and the partial text in the threshold of the interior doorway 'b.'

Work began on the site where Rassam reported finding a part of a lion and a bull.  These were re-excavated, then we expanded the trench toward the west.  When all was cleared, we had discovered the facade of an Assyrian building having two lions and two bulls placed symmetrically on both sides of the main entrance. The upper parts of the animals did not survive, and the left-side lion was not found in situ. The other statues are in situ resting on a foundation of small, rectangular stone slabs which in turn are placed directly on the mudbrick body of the citadel platform. All of the animals are covered with the Standard Inscription of Ashur-nasir-pal II.

Behind (north) of the facade, a large room (Room 1) paved in its central part with monolithic stone slabs was discovered. The east side of the room is paved with two levels of fired bricks (measuring 47 x 47 x 6cm).  Each level is placed on clean river sand; underneath is a waterproof bitumen surface. The lower bitumen surface is placed directly on the mudbrick citadel platform (and also shows up under the stone pavement inside the room).  The west side of the room remains unexcavated.  Parts of the mudbrick walls enclosing the room on the north and south sides were cleared; the eastern wall had been totally destroyed.

A wide entrance (labeled 'b' on the plan) leading to the next room to the north (Room 2) was paved with a huge monolithic stone slab (3.73 x 3.21m). The doorway jambs are adorned with reliefs, as follows:

  • The east doorway jamb is carved to represent a four-winged genius, facing left, set between two standing lions (the upper part is not preserved). The scene is similar to the relief found in the West Area (see above).
  • On the wall to the southwest of the door jamb is a relief depicting a genius with bird's legs, facing left (only the lower part is preserved). The representation is similar to that on a relief in the Louvre (AO 19850).
  • On the wall to the northwest of the door jamb is a relief showing a genius with human legs, facing left (only the bottom portion is preserved).
  • Only the foundation plinth from the relief once set at the west door jamb was found; and the area west of this has not been excavated so far.
Room 2 is paved with stone slabs in its central part and with fired bricks in its east side (similar to the arrangement in Room 1, but laid out on one level only). The west side of this room has not yet been excavated.  Over the stone pavement in the center of this room was a second pavement of fired bricks with the name Shulmanu-asharidu III written on them.  Over these bricks was a layer of ash covered with a fallen mudbrick wall.

Room 3 lies east of Room 2 and north of Room 1. Room 3 connects to Room 1 via a doorway ('c' on the plan) that was later blocked up with a mudbrick wall.  In the floor (which consists of one layer of baked bricks) behind the doorway was a big clay pot filled with sand (which can be seen in view number VE28-74).

Rooms 4, 5, and 6 were uncovered in 1975.  Especially interesting was the extensive pottery deposit (labeled DP) found in Room 5.  About 300 vessels were found placed along the walls of this chamber and grouped according to their shapes. The pottery seems to be all Late Assyrian.  Weather conditions prevented the team from investigating Room 5 or adjacent areas any further.

The Louvre relief that appears to match a fragment from doorway 'b' was found as a covering for a Hellenistic tomb, giving a terminus ante quem for the destruction of the Central Building. That the building was at least partially burned is attested to by the layers of ash found under the toppled mudbrick wall in the southeastern part of Room 1 and on top of damage to the fired brick pavement.

After the ashes were removed, the sand bedding under pavement II was revealed and under the sand, the sift layer lying on the first pavement.

CONCLUSION: Particular slabs/tiles of pavement II were robbed before the building burned down and collapsed (ashes and toppled libn).

Since the sand bedding survived under the ashes, it has to be assumed that the robbing occurred shortly before the conflagration that burned the building down (wind and rain had no opportunity to wash out the sand naturally).

Thin layer of burning (referring to the two preserved areas a) and b)) contained no elements (of wood) identifiable as part of the roof structure. The libn tumble was not excessively thick, but this is due to the 19th-cebtury excavations and robbing which we now know reached the pavement itself in the central part of the trench.


Reference Information

page created:  September 15, 20024
page updated:  August 1, 2014
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