Off The Record
Iraq’s Extreme Drought Reveals A 3,400-Year-Old City
Researchers claimed that a severe drought has allowed archaeologists in Iraq to map an ancient city dating back to the Bronze Age.
When a drought occurred in December, residents of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq were forced to use massive amounts of water from a reservoir on the Tigris River to save their crops from failing. A 3,400-year-old city along the river was exposed due to the decreasing water levels.
In terms of its exposure to the effects of climate change, the United Nations ranks Iraq as the fifth most susceptible country. Droughts are more frequent and severe as a result of the country’s warming temperatures, putting a strain on agriculture and the people who rely on it. A senior adviser in Iraq’s water resources ministry told AFP in April that the country’s water reserves were “far lower” than the previous year. The consultant blamed “the subsequent years of drought: 2020, 2021, and 2022.”
The city’s ruins have long been known to scientists, but they are only accessible for study during droughts. A dry spell in 2018 was their final appearance, and scientists are unsure of their return.
The team reported seeing 20-foot-tall walls, many towers, and multi-story buildings at the fabled ancient city palace.
Kurdish and German archaeologists scurried to the Kemune site in January and February to excavate and document the majority of the city, which included a palace with walls 20 feet tall, multiple towers, and multistory buildings.
In the period between 1550 and 1350 BC, the Mittani Empire, a strong power in the region in what is now northern Mesopotamia and Syria, is said by archaeologists to have occupied the site. Around 1350 B.C., a massive earthquake wrecked the Mittani city by bringing the higher sections of the city walls crashing down on buildings and burying them. Experts speculate that the ancient structures’ preservation over their years submerged below may have been aided by being buried beneath the falling walls.
Archaeologist, chairman of the Kurdistan Archaeology Organization, and team leader Hasan Ahmed Qasim said in a statement, “The excavation results show that the site was an important center in the Mittani Empire.”
Researchers found five ceramic jars containing more than a hundred cuneiform tablets, or slabs of writing, from the early Bronze Age, with at least one tablet remaining in its clay encasing. The earthquake that wiped down the city occurred not long before the events recorded on the tablets.
Peter Pfälzner, a member of the excavation team from the University of Tübingen, stated in a statement, “It is close to a miracle that cuneiform tablets composed of unfired clay survived so many decades underwater.”
When the excavation is complete, it is protected from further flooding by being completely covered in plastic foil.
The historic city is now submerged to its very foundations. A news release states that when archaeologists finished their work in February, they covered the spot with plastic to preserve it in case the city was flooded again.
The company is not the only one working quickly to salvage cultural relics threatened by climate change. New discoveries are being made as a result of receding rivers, melting glaciers, and increasing sea levels. Example: When the water level in Lake Mead, Nevada, has dropped, submerged bodies that were previously invisible have become visible. Due to coastal erosion and rising seas, the burial sites of Hawaiian ancestors are in danger.
In May, forensic scientist Jennifer Byrnes told Insider that “encroaching oceans are eroding those sites out and human remains will continue to be uncovered.”
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