Zakhiku, Iraq’s ‘Atlantis on the Tiger’ revealed by drought

Prolonged periods of drought have ravaged much of Iraq’s northern ecosystem. But in a stunning recent dig, archaeologists discovered a 3,400-year-old city previously submerged under water, which was once the epicenter of the Mittani Empire.

As the tide of war in Iraq recedes, the crippling effects of climate change take center stage.

One of the unforeseen benefits of extreme weather events in the country – from blood red skies to desert sandstorms to intensified droughts – is the interesting discovery of hidden archaeological riches.

The Empire-era underwater city of Mitanni, 30 km southwest of Dohuk, Zakhiku, is the latest discovery announced in late May by German and Kurdish archaeologists.

“It is believed that an earthquake in 1350 BC reduced the ancient city to rubble, and in the mid-1980s the megalopolis sank under water due to rising waters from the construction of the dam of Mosul”

The site first became visible last year after the Iraqi government released water stored in the Mosul Dam reservoir, responding to peak water demand in southern Iraq, one of the regions hardest hit by global warming.

As the waters of the Tigris shrunk to an all-time high, the crown jewel of the Mitanni Empire, Zakhiku, was revealed.

It is believed that an earthquake in 1350 BC. reduced the ancient city to rubble, and in the mid-1980s the megalopolis sank under water due to rising waters from the construction of the Mosul Dam. [1981-84].

This time, archaeologists quickly organized themselves to conduct a 40-day joint Kurdish-German excavation mission; a race against time before the water level rises again.

Zakhiku was an important urban center which is said to have played an important role in connecting the center of the Mittani empire which was located in the northeast of modern Syria to its eastern border [Getty Images]

Four years earlier, in 2018, deteriorating drought conditions led to the discovery of the Mitanni-built Kemune Palace, which lay north of the newly discovered city. The palace was the third discovery of its kind, but it is the only site in Mitanni located near the urban heart of the empire.

At the time, archaeologists from the University of Tübingen, in collaboration with the Kurdistan Archaeological Organization, discovered 22-foot-high exterior walls and richly colored murals inside.

As for the latest discovery, archaeologists recovered ceramic vessels and a valuable cache of 100 cuneiform clay planks, towers, the ruins of fortified walls and a multi-storey warehouse where goods from across the region were likely stored. stored.

Peter Pfälzner, a professor of archeology at the University of Tübingen involved in the project, described the survival of unfired clay artifacts as a near-miracle.

So who were the Mitanni? Where did they rule, when and how? Historians trace their rise to ca. 1500, and the borders of their kingdom stretched across northern Syria and present-day Iraq.

Historians have described the Kingdom as a formidable political and military power, whose society would have been feudally organized. Existing records have also shown that intermarriage between Mittani rulers and Egyptian pharaohs was commonplace.

Talk to The new Arabicthe sister publication of (in Arabic), Al-Araby al-JadeedAl-Mustansiriya University history professor Ali Al-Nashmi said details about the capital of the Mitanni Empire – including the official language and script used by its Indo-Aryan society – remained blurred.

The absence of historical documents has and continues to cast mystery on the genesis and the political and social history of the empire. Nevertheless, some historians believe that the demise of the Babylonian Hammurabi dynasty paved the way for Mitanni rule.

A junior professor from the University of Freiburg involved in the excavation mission, Ivana Puljiz, believes that the newly discovered clay tablets could help fill in these historical gaps to reveal more details about the Assyrian conquest of Mittani.

Commenting on the contents of the cuneiform texts, Puljiz said that “we do not yet know what is written […] but we hope that they will provide information on the beginning of Assyrian domination in the region”.

In conversation with Live Science, Puljiz added that the city’s location, perched on the Tigris River, also offers clues to business innovation and empire growth due to its valued control of the lane. navigable.

The “lost” city revealed is an event of monumental significance not only for Iraq, but also for archaeologists around the world who can decipher and assess the newly discovered evidence on one of the most important commercial, political and military centers. most important of the empire of Mitanni.

Nazli Tarzi is a freelance journalist, whose writings and films focus on Iraq’s ancient history and the contemporary political scene.