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Visiting an Assyrian Queen’s Tomb

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Reporters on the Job: There are just some things you have to do when given the chance – in this case it was climbing into the tomb of an Assyrian queen.

Nimrud, Iraq, is one of the great archaeological stories of the last century. The most famous British archaeologists had excavated the Assyrian capital of Nimrud in the mid-1800s. Novelist Agatha Christie even came here to visit her husband, Max Mallowan, who was conducting an excavation a century later.

They found stunning bas reliefs and exquisite carved ivories that now grace the British Museum and other institutions. But they missed the tomb of Queen Yabba and three other royal women who were laid to rest 3,000 years ago and almost literally covered in gold.

Those tombs were discovered in the late 1980s by one of Iraq’s own archaeologists, Muzahim Hussein. He came across a vaulted brick ceiling, then dug down until he discovered one of the graves containing the gold jewelry and ceremonial objects that became known as the treasures of Nimrud. (Click here to read today's story.)

While touring Nimrud with the Iraqi site manager, he asked if I would like to see the tomb. I said, “yes” before realizing that it required jumping several feet down into a narrow stone vault containing a sarcophagus (stone coffin).

It was easier getting down than getting out, which required the help of an Iraqi policeman. But it was more than worth the dust and effort.

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