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Sunday, September 25, 2022

Extreme drought reveals ancient lost city in Iraq

A team of German and Kurdish archaeologists has unearthed a 3400-year-old Mitanni Empire-era city once located on the Tigris River in Iraq.

The settlement emerged from the waters of the Mosul reservoir early this year as water levels fell rapidly due to an extreme drought sweeping through the region.

Archaeologists theorise that the extensive city, which boasts a palace and several large structures, could be ancient Zakhiku, an important centre in the Mitanni Empire, which ruled from around 1550 to 1350 BC.

SciTech Daily reported that the Kingdom of Mitanni was a powerful nation around the 16th century BC that stretched over portions of present-day Syria, Iraq, and Turkey.

Iraq, an already arid country, is one of the most affected by climate change in the world, with much of the southern parts of the country enduring an extreme drought for almost a year.

To save crops and livestock, vast amounts of water have been pumped down from the Mosul reservoir, Iraq’s most important water storage. This has led to the reappearance of a Bronze-Age city that was submerged nearly a century ago without any prior archaeological investigations.

This placed immense pressure on archaeologists to excavate and document at least parts of this important discovery as quickly as possible before it was re-submerged.

Kurdish archaeologist Dr Hasan Ahmed Qasim, chairperson of the Kurdistan Archaeology Organisation and German archaeologists Professor Ivana Puljiz from the University of Freiburg, and Professor Peter Pfälzner from the University of Tübingen, spontaneously decided to undertake joint rescue excavations at Kemune.

A team for the rescue excavations was put together within days, with funding for the work being obtained at short notice from the Fritz Thyssen Foundation through the University of Freiburg.

In record time, researchers succeeded in mapping the ancient city. In addition to a palace, which had already been documented during a short campaign in 2018, several other large buildings were uncovered. These included a massive fortification with walls and towers, a monumental, multi-story storage building, and an industrial complex.

“The huge magazine building is of particular importance because enormous quantities of goods must have been stored in it, probably brought from all over the region,” says Puljiz.

“The excavation results show that the site was an important centre in the Mitanni Empire,” said Qasim.

The excellently preserved walls, some of which are several metres tall, left researchers stunned that the structures managed to survive thousands of years without crumbling away.

This preservation is because the city was destroyed in an earthquake around 1350 BC, during which the collapsing upper parts of the walls buried the buildings, protecting them from the elements.

Archaeologists were particularly excited about the discovery of five ceramic vessels which contained an archive of over a hundred cuneiform tablets that date back to the Middle Assyrian period, shortly after the earthquake disaster struck the city. Some clay tablets, which may be letters, are even still in their clay envelopes.

The researchers hope this discovery will provide valuable information about the end of the Mitanni-period city and the beginning of Assyrian rule in the region. “It is close to a miracle that cuneiform tablets made of unfired clay survived so many decades underwater,” Pfälzner says.

To avert further damage to the important site by the rising water, the excavated buildings were completely covered with tight-fitting plastic sheeting and covered with gravel fill as part of an extensive conservation project funded by the Gerda Henkel Foundation.

This is intended to protect the walls of unbaked clay and any other find still hidden in the ruins during times of flooding. The site is now once more completely submerged.

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