ENGLISH VERSION | A 3400 year-old city resurfaces on the Tigris

A team of german and kurd archaeologists discovered a 3400 year-old city which dates to the Mitanni age, located on the Tigris. The settlement re-emerged from the waters of the Mosul basin due to extreme drought in Iraq. The city, with its palace and large buildings, might be the ancient Zakhiku, an important centre of the Mitanni Empire (ca. 1550-1350 BC).


The reapparance

In december 2021, huge quantites of water were drained from the Mosul basin, the most important water supply of Iraq, in order to save the crops from the drought that afflicts the southern region of the country. This led to the reapparance of the city, which goes back to the Bronze Age and is situated in Kemune, in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

This unexpected event put great pressure on the archeologists, who spontaneously organized to excavate and document as many parts as possible of the city before it was submerged again. In few days, with the financial support of the Frits Thyssen Foundation, a team led the rescue excavations in Kemune between January and February of 2022, with the help of the Directorate of Antiquity and Heritage in Duhok (Iraqi Kurdistan). Among the members of the team, there are Dr. Hasan Ahmed Qasim, chairman of the Kurdistan Archeological Organization, Dr. Ivana Puljiz of the Freiburg University and Prof. Dr. Peter Pfälzner of the Tübingen University.

Aerial view of the Kemune excavation
The Artifacts

In a short time, the researchers managed to map a large part of the city. In addition to a palace that was already documented during a short campaign in 2018, other large buildings were discovered, such as a massive fortification and a multi-storey storage building. The urban complex dates to the age of the Mitanni Empire (ca. 1550-1350 BC), which controlled large zones of Northern Mesopotamia and Syria.

The researchers were surprised by the excellent condition of the walls, despite the material (sun-dried mud bricks) and the submersion. This is due to the earthquake that destroyed the city in 1350 BC, in which the superior parts of the walls buried the buildings.

Large building walls, perhaps a storage building
Cuneiform Tablets

One of the most interesting findings are five ceramic vessels which contained an archive of more than 100 cuneiform tablets that date to the Middle Assyrian period. Some clay tablets, probably letters, are even preserved in their envelopes. The researchers hope that this discovery may provide important information about the end of the Mitanni period of the city and the beginning of the Assyrian dominion in the region.

Ceramic pottery with cuneiform tablets

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