3400-Year-Old City Emerges From Tigris River

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3400-Year-Old City Emerges From Tigris River

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Extreme drought in Iraq has helped archaeologists discover the remains of a 3400-year-old Bronze Age city that emerged from beneath the surface of the Mosul reservoir as water levels dropped earlier this year.

Falling water levels revealed an extensive ancient city, a palace, and imposing fortifications on what would once have been a hilltop that in ancient times would dominate the banks of the Tigris River.

Researchers believe the city may be the ancient cultural centre of Zakhiku, a vital trading hub that existed from 1550-1350 BC.

The city, located at Kemune in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, was part of the Mitanni Empire. The Mitanni were a people powerful enough to rival Egypt through wealth gained from an extensive trading network however their cultural identity remains a mystery.

Iraq, which has been experiencing extreme drought since last year, is a country severely affected by climate change. Since December, enormous amounts of water have been diverted from the Mosul reservoir – one of Iraq’s most important water storages – to help preserved vital food crops.

A team of German and Kurdish archaeologists began investigating the site, which disappeared without being investigated more than 40 years ago when the reservoir was built, knowing that they needed to complete their excavations quickly before waters rose again.

Researchers succeeded in mapping the city. In addition to a palace, they uncovered several other large buildings including a massive fortification with wall and towers, a monumental, multi-storey storage building for agricultural produce and an industrial centre.

“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 one of the lead researchers Dr. Ivana Puljiz, from the University of Freiburg in Germany.

The well-preserved state of the walls – in places built to a height of several meters – stunned the research team as they are made of sun-dried mud bricks which were under water since the dam was built more than 40 years ago.

This extraordinary state of preservation is because the city was destroyed in an earthquake around 1350 BC, which caused upper sections of the walls to collapse and bury the buildings, helping them resist erosion from water movement.

Researchers also found five ceramic containers that held more than 100 cuneiform tablets. They date to the Middle Assyrian period, shortly after the earthquake disaster struck the city. S

The clay tablets, which may be letters, are even still in their clay envelopes. Researchers say this discovery will provide valuable information about the end of the Mitanni-period city.

“It is close to a miracle that cuneiform tablets made of unfired clay survived so many decades under water,” says another team member, Professor Peter Pfälzner, from the University of Tübingen.

To avoid further damage to the site, the excavations were covered with tight-fitting plastic sheeting and backfilled with gravel.

This protects the unbaked clay walls as well as any other finds still hidden in the ruins during times of flooding. The site is now once more submerged under the waters of the Mosul Reservoir.

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