The archaeological site, Kemune, is believed to be the Bronze Age city of Zakhiku, a major hub of the Mittani Empire which ruled from 1550 to 1350 BC. The territory of the kingdom stretched from the Mediterranean Sea to northern Iraq, according to Ivana Puljiz, a junior professor at the Department of Near Eastern Archeology and Assyriology at the University of Freiburg in Breisgau, Germany, and one of the directors of the project.
Zakhiku was submerged underwater after the Iraqi government built the Mosul Dam in the 1980s and has rarely seen daylight since then.
After Puljiz learned that the town had reappeared, his team rushed to excavate the site as it was unclear when the water level would rise.
“Due to enormous weather pressure, we dug through freezing temperatures, snow, hail, rain, even storms, as well as the occasional sunny day, not knowing when the water would come up and how much time we would have,” Puljiz said. .
The ancient city is now submerged, but researchers have been able to catalog much of the site.
A palace had already been documented when the city briefly emerged in 2018, but several additional structures have been documented in recent excavations. Some of the finds include a complete fortification with towers and walls and a multi-storey storage building.
Much of the structures were made of sun-dried mud bricks, which generally wouldn’t hold up well underwater, researchers said. However, Zakhiku suffered an earthquake around 1350 BC, and parts of the upper walls collapsed and covered the buildings.
Preserving the past
Little is known about the ancient Mittani people who built the city, largely because scholars have not identified the empire’s capital or uncovered its records, Puljiz said. However, some artifacts unearthed during the last excavations could help to better understand.
Archaeologists have found five ceramic vessels containing more than 100 clay cuneiform tablets, dating from shortly after the earthquake. They are believed to date to the Middle Assyrian period, which lasted from 1350 to 1100 BC, and may shed light on the city’s demise and the rise of Assyrian rule in the region, according to a press release. .
The tablets have not yet been deciphered, but Puljiz has speculated that they belong to private archives.
“I am then curious to see what the study of the cuneiform texts will reveal about the fate of the city and its inhabitants after the devastating earthquake,” she said.
All the artifacts that have been excavated, including the tablets, are kept in the Duhok National Museum.
Before the city disappeared under water again, researchers covered the ruins with tight-fitting plastic sheets held together with rocks and gravel. Puljiz hopes these measures will protect the ancient site from water erosion and prevent it from completely disappearing.