Extreme drought in Northern Iraq caused the water in the Mosul Reservoir to recede, revealing the 3,400-year-old remains of a Mesopotamian city.
The city was discovered by a team of German and Kurdish archaeologists at the University of Freiburg, said in a statement released Monday. The city is believed to have been erected in the Bronze Age, sometime between 1475 BCE and 1275 BCE, when the Mitanni Empire ruled over the northern Euphrates-Tigris region.
The university added: “The extensive city with a palace and several large buildings could be ancient Zakhiku – believed to have been an important center in the Mittani Empire (ca. 1550-1350 BCE).”
The site was discovered in 2013 when the water receded and has never been researched before. When the waters receded in December, researchers hurried to investigate. The excavations, conducted by Kurdish archaeologist Hasan Ahmed Qasim, chairman of the Kurdistan Archaeology Organization, and the German archaeologists Ivana Puljiz of the University of Freiburg, as well as Peter Pfälzner of the University of Tübingen, took place in January and February 2022 in collaboration with the Directorate of Antiquities and Heritage in Duhok.
The university said: “The German-Kurdish archaeological team was under immense time pressure because it was unclear when the water in the reservoir would rise again.”
The researchers mapped the city and its palace, which was partially documented in 2018. In addition, this year, they discovered several other large buildings, including a massive fortification with walls and towers, a multi-story storage building, and an industrial complex.
The university said: “The extensive urban complex dates to the time of the Empire of Mittani (approx. 1550-1350 BCE), which controlled large parts of northern Mesopotamia and Syria.”
Puljiz said: “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.”
Qasim said: “The excavation results show that the site was an important center in the Mittani Empire.”
Despite being made of sun-dried mud bricks, the fortified walls were surprisingly well-preserved after all this time underwater. The university said: “This good preservation is due to the fact that the city was destroyed in an earthquake around 1350 BCE, during which the collapsing upper parts of the walls buried the buildings.”
The researchers also found a cache of more than 100 cuneiform tablets dating back to the Middle Assyrian period. The tablets, made of unfired clay, were inscribed in the Middle Assyrian period shortly after the earthquake hit the city.
The team covered the buildings they excavated with tight-fitting plastic sheets and gravel to protect them from the returning waters.
The Tigris River is east of the Euphrates, running almost parallel with it, extending from present-day Turkey, through Syria and Iraq, and into the Persian Gulf. Mesopotamia (literally ‘between the rivers) stood in the long stretch of land between the two rivers in ancient times. The region is known as the Fertile Crescent and was home to some of the earliest civilizations to ever exist in the world, beginning from around 10,000 BCE. It has been identified as the home of some of the most important developments in human history, including the invention of the wheel, the planting of the first cereal crops, and the development of the cursive script, mathematics, astronomy, and agriculture.
The site of the archaeological find in Northern Iraq is believed to be where Abraham was born and lived before God told him to go to Israel (Genesis 11:31). Most scholars believe this was around 2,000 BCE, at least five centuries before the city described above was built.