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Over 3,400 years old, the historic city of Zakhiku emerged from the banks of the Tigris River in Iraq, which archaeologists believe to have belonged to the Mittani kingdom (1550 to 1350 BC). “The miracle” is due to the extreme drought that the Middle Eastern country has been facing, being one of the territories most affected by climate change.
Built in a place that remained inhabited mainly by Kurds, the city was submerged with the creation of the Mosul dam in the 1980s, during the regime of Saddam Hussein. This year, when the river’s water levels unexpectedly dropped due to the extreme drought that hit Iraq, the opportunity arose for a team of archaeologists to start excavations in January and February.
The city in ruins is almost always under water, although it can occasionally be visible in the summer months, such as November, when the climate is more severe and it is necessary to draw water from the Mussol reservoir (along the Tigris River) so that the plantations in the region survive the drought. But never before has it been so accessible, given that the high temperatures required more water to be used and there was not enough rain for the river’s flow to rise and refill the reservoir.
Not knowing when the waters might rise again, Ivana Puljiz, one of the directors of the archaeological project, wasted no time: she knew that the team would have to excavate as much of the area as possible against the clock. “Due to the enormous pressure of time, we dug in freezing temperatures, snow, sleet, rain, even thunderstorms, and also occasional sunny days, not knowing when the water might rise and how much time we had left,” she tells CNN.
Currently, the city is already under water again, but the team managed to map this archaeological space of the empire that stretched from the Mediterranean Sea to northern Iraq. And she made some discoveries that excited her a lot, such as five ceramic vases over hundred raw clay cuneiform tablets.
“It’s almost a miracle that these tablets have survived so many decades under water,” says Peter Pfälzner, one of the excavation directors and a professor at the German University of Tubingen.
These artifacts can provide important information about the beginning of the rule of the Assyrians — another ancient civilization that also inhabited the region centuries after the fall of the Sumerians. For now, the discovered remains of the city of Zakhiku are stored and preserved in the Duhok National Museum.
It is not the first time that this city has been studied. A palace had already been found in the year 2018, when it briefly emerged, but during the latest excavation additional structures were found “at the important center of the kingdom,” Hasan Ahmed Qasim, the archaeologist at the Iraqi Kurdistan Archeology Organization, told ScienceAlert news website. Now towers and walls have also been discovered as well as a multi-story storage building. In 1350 BCthe city suffered an earthquake and part of the upper walls collapsed and covered the structures.
Puljiz reveals that she is curious to see the result of the study of texts found in artefacts such as tablets, as she believes that these may have information about the lives of the inhabitants after the tragedy.
Aware that the city of Zakhiku can bring unique opportunities to study a cultural matrix that is important to preserve, the team, before the city disappears back into the water, covered the ruins with plastic and stones, in the hope that they can survive the erosion of the environment.
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