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A dig in the Middle East has uncovered statue of a winged deity, which was almost entirely intact despite its size.

The 2700-year-old alabaster statue depicting the winged Assyrian deity Lamassu was found in northern Iraq on October 24, AFP reports, in almost one piece.

Only the head was missing from the massive sculpture, but that was already in the possession of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad after being confiscated from smugglers by customs officers in the 1990s.

French archaeologist Pascal Butterlin, who led the dig, said he had “never unearthed anything this big in my life before”.

The sculpture weighs 18 tonnes and measures 3.8 by 3.9 metres.

“Normally, it’s only in Egypt or Cambodia that you find pieces this big,” he said, AFP reports.

The statue was erected at the entrance to the ancient city of Khorsabad, some 15 kilometres north of the modern city of Mosul. It shows the Lamassu: an Assyrian deity with a human head, the body of a bull, and the wings of a bird.

Mr Butterlin, who is a professor of Middle East archaeology at the University of Paris I Pantheon-Sorbonne, said “the attention to detail is unbelievable”.

He said the piece was commissioned during the reign of King Sargon II who ruled from 722 to 705BC and erected at the city’s gates to provide protection to the Assyrian capital.

It was first mentioned in the 19th century by French archaeologist Victor Place, the relief – the sculptural method of raising the figure from a solid background – dropped from public records until the 1990s when Iraqi authorities earmarked it for “urgent intervention”.

It was during this period that looters pillaged the head and chopped it into pieces to smuggle abroad.

Professor Butterlin said the rest of the relied was spared destruction by the Islamic State jihadist group when it overran the area in 2014 because residents of the modern village of Khorsabad hid it before fleeing to government-held territory.

– with AFP.

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