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Villagers in the Kurdistan region of Iraq accidentally uncovered a long-lost temple dedicated to an Urartian god, according to an archaeologist from a Dutch university.
Column bases from a temple dating back over 2,500 years to the Iron Age were discovered in a single village, while life-sized human statues and other artifacts were discovered in a larger area which interconnects the borders of Iraq, Iran and Turkey.
The finds date back to the Iron Age, when the groups and tribes the Urartians, Assyrians and Scythians fought for control over what is modern-day northern Iraq.
"I didn't do excavation, just archaeological soundings —the villagers uncovered these materials accidentally," Dlshad Marf Zamua, a doctoral student at Leiden University in the Netherlands, told Live Science.
Marf Zamua, who began the fieldwork in 2005, said that the area was under control of the ancient Urartu city of Musasir - also known as Ardini - for part of the Iron Age.
"One of the best results of my fieldwork is the uncovered column bases of the long-lost temple of the city of Musasir, which was dedicated to the god Haldi," he said.
Haldi was one of the three chief deities of the Urartu with a shrine situated in Musasir. He was a warrior God to whom the kings of Urartu would pray for victories in battle and temples dedicated to Haldi were adorned with weapons.
During his work in Kurdistan, Marf Zamua also uncovered several life-sized human statues made of sandstone, basalt and limestone, which are up to 7.5 feet tall. Although many are partly broken, they depict bearded males.
The majority of the statues date back to the seventh or sixth century BC, after Musasir fell to the Assyrians.
According to Marf Zamua, some of the statues hold weapons, while others "are holding a cup in their right hands, and they put their left hands on their bellies."
According to the researcher, the statues were originally erected above burials. "It is art and ritual of nomads/pastorals, especially when they buried their chieftains," Marf Zamua said.
He also discovered a bronze statuette of a goat, measuring 3.2 inches in height, with a cuneiform inscription. Researchers are currently trying to decipher the script, one of the earlier forms of writing recognisable by its wedge-shaped marks.
Although conflict in Iraq has escalated as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant has taken several cities and threatened to move on to Baghdad, the Kurdistan area is autonomous and the archaeological site has been protected by its militia.
Marf Zamua presented his findings at the International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East at the University of Basel in Switzerland.