Iraq: Secret city found after drought uncovers 3,400-year-old ruins

Comp of ruins in Iraqi Kurdistan

The ancient palace city emerged from the water after extreme droughts in Iraq (Pictures: KAO)

A 3,400-year-old palace city in Iraqi Kurdistan has resurfaced after months of extreme droughts.

As one of the countries worst hit by climate change, Iraq has seen temperatures soar to as high as 45°C, leaving residents with no other choice but to pull water from the Mosul reservoir for irrigation.

Photographs show incredible ruins – believed to be of the lost city of ‘Zakhiku’, a bustling centre for the Empire of Mittani – exposed from the waters of the Tigris River as a result.

A team of German and Kurdish archaeologists rushed to excavate and document the ruins before it is submerged in reservoir again.

Their quick reaction led them to discover more than 100 ancient clay tablets, which may be letters, with some even still in their clay envelopes.

One researcher labelled the discovery, and the fact they had survived underwater for so long, ‘a miracle’.

Ruins in Iraqi Kurdistan

A team of German and Kurdish archaeologists uncovered a 3,400-year-old Mittani Empire-era city once located on the Tigris River (Picture: KAO)

Ruins in Iraqi Kurdistan

Excavations took place in January and February this year in collaboration with the Directorate of Antiquities and Heritage in Duhok (Kurdistan Region of Iraq) (Picture: KAO)

Ruins in Iraqi Kurdistan

The archaeological site of Kemune in the dried-up area of the Mosul reservoir (Picture: KAO)

Within a short time, experts mapped the extensive urban complex that dates back to 1550 to 1350 BC.

In addition to a palace, several other large buildings were uncovered – a massive fortification with wall and towers, a multi-storey storage building and an industrial complex.

They were all extremely well-preserved, despite being kept underwater for more than 40 years after the palace was flooded when the Mosul Dam was built in the mid-1980s.

The operation was led by chair of the Kurdistan Archaeology Organisation Dr Hasan Ahmed Qasim, Dr Ivana Puljiz from the University of Freiburg, and Dr Peter Pfälzner from the University of Tübingen. 

Dr 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.’

Ruins in Iraqi Kurdistan

This drought put archaeologists under sudden pressure to excavate and document at least parts of this large, important city as quickly as possible (Picture: KAO)

Ruins in Iraqi Kurdistan

To avert further damage by the rising water, the excavated buildings were completely covered with tight-fitting plastic sheeting (Picture: KAO)

And Dr Qasim added: ‘The excavation results show that the site was an important center in the Mittani Empire.’

First discovered in 2010 after water levels in the region again dropped because of a drought, experts have hailed it an archeological marvel. But it was only in 2019 they were able to start digging.

The researchers hope the new findings will provide important information about the end of the Mittani-period city and the beginning of Assyrian rule in the region.

‘It is close to a miracle that cuneiform tablets made of unfired clay survived so many decades under water,’ Dr Pfälzner stressed.

To avert any damage to the important city by the rising water, the excavated buildings were covered with tight-fitting plastic sheeting and gravel fill.

The city is now completely underwater once more, as the water levels in the reservoir have risen back up. 

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at [email protected].

For more stories like this, check our news page.


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