Two vast reproduction Assyrian statues were unveiled in Iraq on Thursday as part of a project designed to restore the cultural heritage of Mosul, an ancient city badly damaged by recent conflicts.
The statues portray two Assyrian deities known as lamassu and were donated to the University of Mosul by Madrid-based NGO Factum Foundation and the British Museum, according to a statement.
Mosul is the second-largest city in modern Iraq and was part of an ancient society that mastered the first writing system, mathematics, astronomy, literature and law thousands of years before the birth of Christ.
It was home to many important sites and ancient artifacts that were destroyed by Islamic extremists ISIS, who took over the city in 2014, and bombs dropped by liberating forces that wrested it from their control in 2017.
Among the antiquities smashed by the jihadists was at least one lamassu.
The statues are highly accurate reproductions, known as facsimiles, of two original statues portraying winged lions with five legs currently housed in the British Museum.
Jonathan Taylor, a Middle East specialist at the museum, told CNN the lamassu were thought to protect from demons and evil, as well as providing an intimidating physical presence.
“They are used in pairs to protect the gateways to the palace,” he said.
Created by the Factum Foundation, which uses cutting edge technology for the conservation of ancient artifacts, the lamassu are part of a project carried out in conjunction with the British Museum, with support from the Rijksmuseum Van Oudheden in the Netherlands, the Spanish Ministry of Defense and the Iraqi government.
The statues were originally placed in the throne room of Ashurnasirpal II, a king who ruled Assyria from 883-859 BC.
The king commissioned a huge number of building projects at Nimrud, including a north-west palace designed to tell the story of his life, according to a statement from Factum.
Adam Lowe, founder of Factum, told CNN that the facsimiles are part of a project that aims to record all of the elements of the north-west palace using a high-resolution white light scanner.
This allows replicas of the artifacts to be manufactured using silicone molds, stucco marble and wax.
“The surface corresponds almost entirely to the lamassu in the British Museum,” said Lowe.
“People really can’t tell the difference.”
In February 2015 ISIS militants posted a video online showing men with sledgehammers and jackhammers destroying a lamassu and other relics at the Mosul Museum.
Factum cannot recreate smashed artifacts, but there are other projects gathering fragments of priceless works in Mosul, said Lowe.
He described a feeling of “enthusiasm and excitement about something positive happening” in the city, and “quite magical” scenes as hundreds of people came to watch the team at work.
For Taylor, ISIS destruction of cultural heritage in Mosul was an attack on the Iraqi spirit and sense of identity as well as a physical assault.
He said the replicas are a “symbol of hope” and part of a project that is “building a brighter future.”
Other projects are also working to repair the damage meted out to Mosul and its cultural heritage.
In July, a digital preservation project known as Rekrei used crowdsourced images of the destroyed Lion of Mosul work to render a 3D digital model of it.
A replica was then manufactured using 3D printing techniques and displayed at the Imperial War Museum in London.