This splendid series of five Assyrian bas-reliefs (see also 66.4.1, .2, .4, .5) from the ninth-century once decorated the inner walls of the northwest palace of Ashurnasirpal II (r. 883-859 BC). The site of ancient Calah (now called Nimrud), located on the Tigris River in northern Iraq, was first excavated by British archaeologist Austen Henry Layard in 1845. Calah was an ancient capital of Assyria probably founded in the thirteenth century BC. The city was developed under the reign of Ashurnasirpal II, who erected his great northwest palace on earlier ruins. Built of mud brick on stone foundations, the palace was embellished on its lower levels with a series of decorated slabs (from the upper Tigris quarries) that depicted the monarch's skill as a hunter/warrior, as a servant of the gods, and as a mighty king. One of the five panels depicts the king with a learned man. In one hand, the king holds a libation bowl; in his other hand, he holds his bow, symbol of royal prowess. A long inscription in cuneiform on the reliefs has come to be known as Ashurnasirpal's "standard inscription" because it was repeated so frequently throughout the palace; it mentions the king's prayer and his deeds in founding the city of Calah.
The reliefs were discovered in 1855 by a Scottish geologist, William Kenneth Loftus, after the departure of Layard. They were offered to the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle upon Tyne, England, and for more than a century they were displayed near the entrance of that institution. In 1966, thanks to the generosity of Anna Bing Arnold, the reliefs were purchased and presented to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.