A team of Russian and Iraqi archaeologists have made the remarkable discovery of an ancient urban settlement believed to date back 4,000 years to the Old Babylonian period. It was unearthed at the site of Tell al-Duhaila in Iraq’s Dhi Qar governate, situated in the modern delta area of southern Mesopotamia.
The region was once the heart of the Sumerian empire — considered one of the first civilisations in the world.
In 2019, the Russian-Iraqi Integrated Expedition (RICE) received permission from the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Antiquities of Iraq for the archaeological investigation of two ancient tell sites in southern Iraq: Tell Vajef and Tell al-Duhaila.
Field research was conducted in 2019 and 2020. The first excavations began in April 2021, and were focused entirely upon Tell al-Duhaila, which is home to hundreds of archaeologically significant sites, such as the Great Ziggurat of Ur, and lies close to Eridu, a city where, according to Sumerian legend, the kings descended to earth.
Last month, the team revealed the remains of a settlement at Tell al-Duhaila situated on the banks of a watercourse. They exposed the remains of a 4m-wide and 2m-high wall of a building, which likely served a public or religious purpose.
‘According to the study of the oldest architectural building in the city and based on the design features and huge construction blocks, the edifice was most likely built during the ancient Babylonian era [in the first half of the second millennium BC], which caused the systematic destruction of the Sumerian civilisation’s urban life,’ explained Alexei Jankowski-Diakonoff of the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts and head of the excavation to Al-Monitor.
He described the additional discovery of an ancient harbour for river vessels as being of ‘paramount importance because it introduces the world to one of the Sumerian cities overlooking the seaports’.
Artefacts recovered from the site include traces of stoves, an oxidised arrowhead, and clay camel statues dating back to the first millennium BC. Evidence of the earliest agricultural use of silt in Mesopotamia was also identified.
‘Researching the cities of southern Mesopotamia at the end of the ancient Babylonian era — and the Tell al-Duhaila site in particular — opens the secret of an unknown page in the history of the oldest civilisation on the planet,’ said Jankowski-Diakonoff.
The region of Dhi Qar will see further exploration in October 2021 by a consortium of researchers hailing from Italy, France, Britain, Russia, and the USA. Excavations will also take place this autumn at Tell Vijaf, which has so far yielded pottery material pre-dating the emergence of the Sumerian civilisation.