A prolonged drought helped archaeologists uncover a mysterious Bronze Age palace in the Middle East

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The archaeological site is located on the banks of the Tigris river in Mesopotamia. Universität Tübingen, eScience Center

In the Kurdistan-Iraq region on the eastern bank of the Tigris River, an international team of archaeologists stumbled upon an amazing discovery: a magnificent Bronze Age palace belonging to the Mittani Empire. The empire, which existed in northern Syria and southeast Anatolia between 1500 to 1300 BC, is considered one of the least explored civilizations of the Ancient Near East.

The archaeological excavations were only possible due to a prolonged drought in Iraq, which saw the sinking water levels of the Mosul reservoir give way to the remarkable remains of the ancient palace, according to a press release by the University of Tübingen. Acting as quickly as possible, the German-Kurdish archaeological team of the University of Tübingen, the Kurdistan Archaeology Organization and the Antikendirektion Duhok carried out a rescue excavation at the site and now hope the discovery will provide new insights into the rich history of the once-powerful Mittani Empire.

Ivana Puljiz, from the Institute for Cultures of the Ancient Orient in Tübingen, revealed that her team uncovered an ancient building with clay brick walls up to two meters thick and two meters high. In addition, the excavations showed that some of the exposed interiors were even plastered and equipped with large fired bricks used as floor slabs.

The excavations revealed colourful murals on fired bricks. Universität Tübingen

“We have also found the remains of murals in bright reds and blues,” said Puljiz. “Wall paintings may have been a typical feature of palaces in the second millennium BC, but they have rarely survived. The discovery of wall paintings in Kemune is, therefore, an archaeological sensation”.

The archaeologists also discovered 10 clay cuneiform tablets in former palace rooms, which are currently being translated and analyzed.  They suspect that the exposed site was part of the old town of Zachiku, which is mentioned in ancient texts from the Middle Bronze Age. If this assumption is confirmed, the city of Zachiku must have existed for at least 400 years.

Although archaeologists have long been aware of the existence of the site in the Kurdistan-Iraq region, excavations were never able to take place. This was due to the water of the Mosul reservoir, which flooded the archaeological site. “We had already discovered the Kemune site in 2010 when the lake had low water levels. Even then, we found a Mittan cuneiform tablet and saw the remains of the murals in red and blue. But this is the first time we were actually able to excavate here,” said Hasan Ahmed Qasim of the Antikendirektion Duhok, University of Tübingen.

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