Drought in Duhok unveils ancient city of Mitanni Empire

The drought in the Duhok region of South Kurdistan has unveiled the 3,400-year-old city of Zahiku which belonged to the ancient Mitanni civilization.

In December 2021, when the waters of the Tigris River receded after being used for the Mosul dam due to drought, ancient ruins began to re-emerge. The ruins belonged to the people of a Bronze Age city under water.

Archaeologists from the German universities of Fribourg-en-Brisgau and Tübingen and the Kurdish Archaeological Organization went to the site and started excavating. The first results were presented on May 31.

The ruins of an old palace emerged in 2018 during the previous drought. Archaeological teams mapped and unearthed the entire palace later on.

Thanks to the palace, archaeologists have identified the ruins of the 3400-year-old city of Zahiku. This city was probably destroyed after an earthquake in 1350 BC.

The city was part of the Mitanni Empire. The empire which spread from the Mediterranean to contemporary Baghdad, is still not known very well.

The ancient Mitanni civilization was located in Rojava centre and the Khabur triangle. Its residents were called Hurrians. They are considered by the Kurds as their ancestors. The region later came under the rule of the Assyrians.

“We know that this civilization was treated on an equal footing with the Egyptians. What we know about them comes from excavations at Til Brak in Syria," Ivana Puljiz from the University of Fribourg told AFP.

Archaeologists hope to learn more about the Mitanni Empire after analysing the outcomes of the excavations carried out in January and February 2022.

The city seems to be built on two parts. The palace was probably built on a benchland which overlooked the Tigris Valley at that time. “The discovered storage was constructed particularly large. This shows that large quantities of goods were preserved and imported from all over the region,” the German archaeologist said.

Excavations unveiled more than a hundred clay tablets with cuneiform script in pottery and jars. These artifacts need to be restored and deciphered. The buildings which were constructed with raw earth and the clay tablets seem to be quite well preserved. Experts believe that the way the buildings had collapsed protected them.

Recently, waters coming from the Mosul dam have again covered the ruins. The city of Zahiku will remain under water until the next drought.