A major drought reveals a 3,400-year-old city near the Tigris River

And it will submerge once again as sea levels rise.
Mert Erdemir
The archaeological site of Kemune in the dried-up area of the Mosul reservoir.Universities of Freiburg and Tübingen, KAO

With the northern hemisphere switching to summer, we started to come across more drought news from different countries such as India, Pakistan, Mexico, and the United States. Iraq is also one of these countries that have been suffering from the consequences of drought. A new consequence, however, has stood archeologists in good stead.

The drought that has hit Iraq in recent months caused the Mosul reservoir - the most crucial water storage in Iraq- to shrink, which led to the revelation of a 3,400-year-old Mittani Empire-era city submerged for decades. The ancient city is located on the Tigris River in northern Iraq.

The results of the excavations were revealed in a press release by the institute.

The dam was built in the 1980s before the settlement was examined and cataloged archaeologically. Therefore, the re-emergence of the ancient city named Kemune has provided a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for scholars to investigate it before the water level escalates and it gets resubmerged again. 

Joint rescue excavations

The Kurdish archaeologist Dr. Hasan Ahmed Qasim, chairman of the Kurdistan Archaeology Organization, and the German archaeologists Jun.-Prof. Dr. Ivana Puljiz (University of Freiburg) and Prof. Dr. Peter Pfälzner (University of Tübingen) spontaneously decided to begin joint rescue excavations at Kemune on the spur of the moment. The excavations were held in January and February 2022 in conjunction with the Directorate of Antiquities and Heritage in Duhok.

Since it was unclear when the reservoir's water level would rise again, the German-Kurdish archaeological team was under extreme time pressure, which lead to their success in mapping the city in a quite short period.

In addition to a palace, which was already documented during a short campaign in 2018, several other large buildings from the extensive urban complex were uncovered: a massive fortification with walls and towers, a monumental, multi-storey storage building, and an industrial complex.

Although the walls are composed of sun-dried mud bricks and have been underwater for more than 40 years, the team of archeologists was astounded by the well-preserved condition of the walls.

"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 Ivana Puljiz. "The excavation results show that the site was an important center in the Mittani Empire," Hasan Qasim concludes.

One of the most fascinating facts is that the team also found some ceramic jars containing over 100 unfired clay tablets. They date from the Middle Assyrian period, shortly after an earthquake devastated the city. The team is hoping that these records may reveal information about the people who lived in the city and information about the earthquake that caused it to collapse.

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