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The 3,400-year-old city rises above the Tigris . River

IraqA team of German and Kurdish archaeologists discovered the 3,400-year-old ancient city from the time of the Mittani kingdom, once located on the Tigris river.

Ruins of the Bronze Age city in the middle of Lake Mosul.  Photo: University of Tübingen

Ruins of the Bronze Age city in the middle of Lake Mosul. Image: University of Tübingen

The Old Town emerged above the water of Lake Mosul earlier this year when water levels dropped rapidly due to severe drought in Iraq. This vast city containing a palace and many monumental buildings may have been Zakhiku, an important center during the Mittani kingdom (1550 – 1350 BC).

Iraq is one of the many countries in the world most affected by climate change. The southern part of the country is particularly affected by a month-long drought. To prevent crops from dying, authorities have been taking large quantities of water from Lake Mosul since December last year. This led to the re-emergence of the Bronze Age city that was submerged decades ago in Kemune, Kurdistan region, Iraq.

The arrival of the ancient city put archaeologists under unscheduled pressure to excavate and document as quickly as possible before the structure was flooded again. Dr Hasan Ahmed Qasim, president of the Kurdistan Archaeological Organization, professor – Dr Ivana Puljiz at the University of Freiburg and professor – Dr Peter Pfälzner at the University of Tübingen immediately decided to cooperate in excavations in Kemune. Excavation took place in January and February 2022 with the support of the Council of Antiquities and Heritage in Duhok. The excavation team was established within a few days with great pressure because they did not know when the water in the lake would rise again.

In a short time, the researchers succeeded in mapping most of the city. In addition to a palace, they also discovered other large buildings such as a giant fortress with walls and watchtowers, a monument, a multi-storey storage building, and an industrial complex. The team determined that the population was built during the period when the kingdom of Mittani controlled much of northern Mesopotamia and Syria.

The researchers were amazed at the intact condition of the walls (some reaching several meters high) despite the mud-brick construction being dried and submerged for more than 40 years. In addition, they also discovered 5 pottery jars containing more than 100 cuneiform tablets, dating from the Middle Assyrian period. The team hopes the find will provide important information about the end of the city and when Assyrians began to rule the area.

To prevent damage from rising water, the excavated buildings were completely covered in tight plastic and covered with gravel in a conservation project with funding from the Gerda Henkel Society. This helps protect the clay walls during periods of flooding.

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