Iraq is one of the countries facing the most dire consequences of climate change. Since early 2021, the West Asian nation has been experiencing a drought crisis, exacerbated by a spike in temperatures caused by climate change and a record drop in rainfall.
Since December 2021, Iraq’s southern regions have drawn large amounts of water from Mosul’s reservoirs, the country’s most important water reservoir, to prevent their crops from drying out. And this drastic measure indirectly led to a surprising discovery, because the fall of the water level in the body of water made the submerged ancient city cough!
This 3,400-year-old city could be ancient Zakhiku — an important center in the Mittani Empire (ca. 1550-1350 BC), which ruled much of northern Mesopotamia and Syria. Once located on the Tigris River, it was recently discovered in modern-day Kemune, an archaeological site based in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
Its sudden reappearance, coupled with the possibility of sinking again after the water level rises again, created a high-pressure scenario for the researchers. Therefore, spontaneous rescue excavations were carried out jointly by a team of German and Kurdish archaeologists in January and February 2022, a race against time to document this Bronze Age city.
Thankfully, the mapping process was completed in no time. It eventually uncovered several massive structures: monumental multi-storey storage buildings, massive fortifications with walls and towers, industrial complexes, and palaces that had previously been documented during a brief campaign in 2018.
The team was pleasantly surprised by the well-preserved state of the walls of the storage building, given that it survived more than four decades underwater despite being made of sun-dried mud bricks. This remarkable preservation may have been due to the 1350 BC earthquake, which toppled the top of the wall and buried the building in a sheltered manner.
More underwater survivors, and perhaps the most interesting find from these excavations, are five ceramic vessels containing an archive of more than 100 nail tablets from the Middle Assyrian period. Several tablets, possibly letters, were found inside the clay envelope!
“It is almost a miracle that nail tablets made of unbaked clay survive for decades underwater,” said Peter Pfälzner, a German archaeologist from the University of Tübingen who co-led the excavation.
Now, the researchers hope that further study of the discovery will provide important information about the late Mittani period city and the beginning of Assyrian rule in the region.
As for the archaeological site, it was completely submerged once again. However, before being submerged, the excavated building is completely wrapped in a tight-fitting plastic sheeting and covered with gravel, to protect the walls from unburned clay and other finds that may still be hidden in the rubble during a flood. .
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