Archaeological sense: a submerged metropolis – Wikipedia

Iraq suffers severely from the effects of climate change. The country is currently experiencing a devastating drought, which has had to reduce its area by 50 percent this year due to water shortages. For this reason, water was also pumped from the Mosul Reservoir, the country’s largest water reservoir, 40 kilometers north of Mosul on the Tigris River, in order to irrigate fields and save the crop.

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And so – convincingly lucky – the ruins of a 3,400-year-old city appeared near Kemun, which was flooded almost 40 years ago and could not be archaeologically examined at that time. The dam was completed in 1986 during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) when there was no time for emergency archaeological excavations.

Act before the water rises again

A team of German and Kurdish archaeologists led by Hasan Kassem, director of the Kurdistan Archaeological Organization (KAO), together with Ivana Polges of the University of Freiburg and Peter Pfalzner of the University of Tübingen, decided spontaneously to start a race against time to seize the unique opportunity to discover and document as many parts of the large city complex as possible. This is before the water level rises again.

These emergency excavations were carried out in cooperation with the Directorate of Antiquities of Duhok (KRG) in January and February before the snow began to melt in the mountains of Turkey thanks to funding from the Fritz Thyssen Foundation. He did not know exactly when the thaw would begin. So it was a race against time.

Archaeologists believe that this large complex with a palace, massive fortifications, defense towers, an industrial complex and a multi-storey warehouse building is the ancient city of Zachiko, an important settlement of the Mitanni Empire (1550-1350 BC). The Mitanni Empire then controlled large parts of northern Mesopotamia and Syria.

The outstanding position of the settlement

“The huge warehouse building is of particular importance because it is necessary to store huge quantities of goods, which may have been brought from the whole region,” explains Ivana Polges in a statement from the University of Tübingen. These massive magazine buildings always indicate a prominent location of the settlement.

The fact that there was a palace there was known from a short expedition in 2018, when the water level also fell for a short time. Director Qasim said at the time, “This discovery is one of the most important archaeological discoveries in the region in recent decades and demonstrates the success of Kurdish-German scientific cooperation.”

Archaeologists found it surprising that the walls made of unburned bricks, which have been under water for more than 40 years, have been so well preserved. You can clearly see the individual clay bricks on the walls, some of which are several meters high. This was probably due to the earthquake that devastated the city around 1350. The collapsed sections of the wall covered many of the buildings below and thus preserved them.

The most valuable thing that archaeologists can find is not gold and other valuables, but written testimonies that provide information about time. In this case, five earthenware vessels with more than 100 clay tablets inscribed with cuneiform were found. A preliminary investigation showed that they came from the Middle Assyrian period shortly after the earthquake disaster, which means that the city must have continued to exist after the disaster.

An insight into the beginnings of the Assyrian rule

Researchers hope to gain insight into the end of the Mitanni kingdom and the beginnings of Assyrian rule from the evaluation of the tablets. Some of the documents are still inside their clay ‘envelopes’. “The fact that cuneiform tablets made of unburned clay have survived for so many decades below the water boundary is a miracle,” says Peter Pfälzner.

As the snow began to melt in the mountains, the water level in Mosul Lake rose again. To protect the excavated walls from water, they were tightly wrapped in plastic sheets and covered with pebbles. This important protection campaign was funded with funding from the Gerda Henkel Foundation.

The researchers hypothesize that other important objects could be hidden in the ruins. The site is now completely flooded again. The main work now lies in documenting the city’s floor plans and buildings as well as evaluating the mud slabs.

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