As the water levels of the Mosul dam reservoir fell during extreme drought, a team of German and Kurdish archaeologists headed to Kemune in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq to carry out rescue excavations at the Bronze Age site.
Remains of a palace at the site emerged from the waters in 2010, and in 2018, when water levels were again low, archaeologists carried out a short campaign, documenting the palace and uncovering some cuneiform tablets. The latest fieldwork, carried out in January and February this year by Hasan Ahmed Qasim (Kurdistan Archaeology Organisation), Ivana Puljiz (University of Freiburg), and Peter Pfälzner (University of Tübingen) in collaboration with the Directorate of Antiquities and Heritage in Duhok, has mapped a large part of the city surrounding the palace, including several substantial buildings, and unearthed an archive of more than 100 cuneiform tablets held within five ceramic vessels. ‘It is close to a miracle that cuneiform tablets made of unfired clay survived so many decades under water,’ said Pfälzner.
The city – possibly ancient Zakhiku, a place recorded in a Middle Bronze Age source – dates to the Mitanni Empire, which ruled over much of northern Mesopotamia between c.1550 and 1350 BC. As well as the palace, it contained a fortification with walls and towers, an industrial complex, and a large multi-storey storage building.
The sun-dried mud-brick walls are relatively well preserved, as they were buried by the upper parts of the buildings, which collapsed during an earthquake around 1350 BC. The cuneiform tablets, some of which are still in clay envelopes and may be letters, date from the Middle Assyrian period shortly after the earthquake and, when studied, may provide information about the transition from Mitanni to Assyrian rule in the region.