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Underwater Bronze Age City in Iraq Revealed After Drought

kemune bronze age city drought iraq
The Bronze Age city of Kemune in Iraq was revealed after the Tigris River dried up due to drought. Credit: University of Tubingen, Germany

An ancient Bronze Age city in Iraq came to light after the river that covered it for thousands of years dried up due to a drought.

Located under a portion of the Tigris River in Northern Iraq, the city of Kemune dates back 3,400 years and was part of the Mitanni Empire.

The Bronze Age empire was dominant in northern Mesopotamia, which includes parts of south-eastern Turkey and northern Syria and Iraq, from around 1600 BC to 1260 BC.

Although the location of the ancient city has been known for decades, it has not been heavily studied and analyzed due to the fact that archaeologists have to wait for the river to dry up in order to excavate it.

The last time that Kemune was excavated was when another major drought exposed the remains of the city in 2018. At the time, archaeologists rushed to analyze the ancient city and found a lost temple that was covered in intricate murals.

Bronze Age city of Kemune in Iraq

Experts were also able to fully diagram the layout of the ancient city at the time, which will help researchers who wish to excavate Kemune in the future.

The maps created during the last digs at the site show both a city that had a large storage facility used to store goods that were traded across the region and a large industrial complex.

“The excavation results show that the site was an important center in the Mittani Empire,” Hasan Qasim, archaeologist with the Kurdistan Archaeology Organization, wrote in a statement.

The city played a significant role in the Mitanni Empire during the Bronze Age, as it was the only such settlement that was on the Tigris River. This location allowed the Mitanni Empire to control movement through the river and also likely transformed Kemune into a prominent urban center.

The city remained an important urban site in the region until it was destroyed by a major earthquake in 1350 BC. It is located under the currents of the Tigris River because it was intentionally flooded to create the Mosul Dam in the 1980s.

A major drought in January and February in Iraq meant that the country needed to use the water collected by the dam, which would reveal the entire ancient city. When this was announced, archaeologists from Iran and Germany jumped on the opportunity to work on the site.

Experts at the site were able to further analyze the ruins of the city and also located over a hundred ancient clay tablets that date back to around 1365 BC.

The clay tablets may detail the radical shift in control of the city when the Assyrians built a new urban center on top of Kemune during the time. While the texts have not yet been deciphered, they may detail the change in power.

Currently, as the drought has ended, the city has returned to its position under the flow of the Tigris River, and it is unclear when archaeologists will have another opportunity to excavate the site.

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