March 29, 2023

a 3,400-year-old city in Iraq emerges from the water City in Iraq Emerges from Water City in Iraq Emerges from Water City in Iraq Emerges from Water City in Iraq Emerges from Water City in Iraq Emerges from Water


City in Iraq Emerges from Water, After Drought, After a reservoir’s water level quickly plummeted due to prolonged drought, a sprawling 3,400-year-old metropolis arose in Iraq.

In January and February, Kurdish and German archaeologists unearthed the village in the Mosul reservoir, along the Tigris River in northern Iraq’s Kurdistan region. The project worked in collaboration with Duhok’s Directorate of Antiquities and Legacy to protect the area’s cultural heritage for future generations.

Kemune is thought to be the Bronze Age city Zakhiku, an important centre of the Mittani Empire that ruled from 1550 to 1350 BC. According to Ivana Puljiz, a junior professor in the department of near eastern archaeology and assyriology at the University of Freiburg in Breisgau, Germany, and one of the project’s coordinators, the kingdom’s territory spanned from the Mediterranean Sea to northern Iraq where the City in Iraq Emerges from Water is found.

A race against the clock

After the Iraqi government built the Mosul Dam in the 1980s, Zakhiku was submerged below and has seldom seen the light of day since.

When Puljiz learned that the city had resurfaced, she and her team rushed to excavate the site because it was unclear when the water levels would rise again.

“Because of the extreme time constraints, we dug in cold weather, snow, hail, rain, even storms, as well as the occasional sunny day, without knowing when the water would rise again or how much time we would have,” Puljiz explained.

The old city has now been resubmerged, but scholars have catalogued much of the site.

When the city reappeared temporarily in 2018, a palace had already been documented, but several additional structures were discovered during the recent excavation. Among the discoveries is a stronghold with towers and walls, as well as a multi-story storage facility.

According to the experts, several of the constructions were composed of sun-dried mud bricks, which would not normally hold up well underwater. However, in 1350 BC, an earthquake struck Zakhiku, causing parts of the higher walls to collapse and engulf the buildings.

Keeping the past alive

Little is known about the ancient Mittani people who built the city, because scholars have yet to identify the empire’s capital or unearth its archives, according to Puljiz. However, certain items discovered during the most recent dig could assist shed light on the situation.

Archaeologists discovered five ceramic containers containing over 100 clay cuneiform tablets dating from shortly after the earthquake. According to a news release, they are thought to be from the Middle Assyrian period, which spanned from 1350 to 1100 BC, and could offer light on the city’s downfall and the development of Assyrian authority in the area.

“It’s a miracle that cuneiform tablets made of unfired clay survived so long underwater,” said Peter Pfälzner, professor of near eastern archaeology at the University of Tübingen and one of the excavation leaders, in a statement.

The tablets have yet to be read, but Puljiz believes they are from a private repository.

“I’m excited to see what the study of the cuneiform tablets may disclose about the destiny of the city and its inhabitants following the tragic earthquake,” she said.

The Duhok National Museum houses all of the excavated antiquities, including the tablets.

Before the city was submerged once more, experts wrapped it in tight-fitting plastic sheets held down by stones and gravel. Puljiz hopes that these steps will protect the ancient site from water erosion and prevent it from completely disappearing.


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