The image of an ancient city in Iraq, saved from time to time from the waters of a reservoir, cannot fail to evoke those who know Vilarinho da Furna, in Gerês, a village reduced to ruins by a dam. submerged in the early 1970s. , even though they are separated by thousands of kilometers and more than three thousand years of history.
Zakhiku, 30 km southeast of Dohuk, an Iraqi city with a predominantly Kurdish population, was built around 3,400 years ago on a site that was successively inhabited until, in the 1980s, the Saddam Hussein’s regime decides to build the Mosul dam, a structure that would lead to the submersion of this area and which dictated the resettlement of the populations who lived there.
Important center of the Mitani Empire, which developed between 1550 and 1350 BC in northern Mesopotamia (a territory that today includes much of Iraq and Kuwait, as well as parts of Syria ), Zakhiku is almost always under water, but appears on the surface, it delights the scientific community.
It is usually visible in November, years when the summer is particularly intense and requires more water to be drawn from this gigantic reservoir so that the crops in the region do not die, explained Hasan Ahmed Qasim, director of the Organization. of Archeology of Kurdistan, to the publication specializing in the news of the art world The art diary.
The summer of 2021 was one of those summers. When in December the ruins of this ancient urban center became accessible, archaeologists were already waiting, ready to continue the work of 2018, the last year of its re-emergence.
This time, however, due to the drought that hit that part of the country, bringing the water level in the reservoir down to unprecedented levels, they managed to work on the site until the end of February. And they worked fast, because they knew that, although larger than usual, the window of time they would have would still be insufficient compared to what they would like to have.
after the palace
This year’s excavation campaign has been particularly successful, Qasim acknowledged as he to place science news ScienceAlertwhich refers to the reports of the research team led by this archaeologist and by colleagues from the German universities of Freiburg (Ivana Puljiz) and Tübingen (Peter Pfälzner).
As well as continuing work on the building they believe to be a palace, located in 2018, archaeologists have managed to map virtually the entire city and identify other significant structures: a fort, which still retains part of the walls and towers; an industrial complex and a large warehouse, all dating from the Mitani period.
The latter is of particular importance because it indicates that, most likely, huge quantities of products from all over the region were kept there, which attests to the importance of the city, he told the art diary archaeologist Ivana Puljiz.
Archaeologists believe it was an earthquake that struck the area more than three thousand years ago that allowed its remains to reach the present day in such a good state of preservation, a considerable feat given that the Buildings were then built with mud bricks that were drying out. in the sun. With the earthquake, the ceilings collapsed and the resulting rubble ended up helping to consolidate the walls, which still retain paintings today.
“The results of this year’s excavations show that this site was very important to the Mitani Empire,” added his colleague Hasan Ahmed Qasim. Among these finds, detailed in the statement from German universities, are various materials, including 100 clay slabs from the Assyrian period (1350-1100 BC), engraved with cuneiform script and found inside ceramic vessels.
“It is almost a miracle that cuneiform slabs made of raw clay have survived so many decades under water”, declared in turn Peter Pfälzner, adding that “the Mitani empire is one of the least known of the ancient Middle East”, making the discovery .
These plates, which will now be kept by the Dohuk Museum, will be abundantly documented and studied in the years to come, but we can already say that they contain a lot of information on the Assyrian conquest of this ancient empire and on its political evolution. and social organization, according to the Kurdish archaeologist.
Hasan Ahmed Qasim has no doubt that there are many other sites of archaeological interest in the region that have yet to be identified. Over 100, guaranteed. The archeology of Iraqi Kurdistan remains to be studied, he argues, because for years the regime of Saddam Hussein neglected this region for political reasons.
The old city which has again attracted attention is now close to another, ten thousand inhabitants, called Kemune and which was born when the government relocated families forced from their homes with the construction of the dam there, more than 40 years.
Kemune is where many of those who used to work in Zakhiku in the winter live. The 2022 campaign ended with the covering of the entire excavated area with gigantic plastic, fixed with stones and metals, in an attempt to seal the structures already exposed, preventing any major erosion caused by the waters.
Zakhiku is already underwater again. When it returns to the surface, archaeologists will be ready to get back to work.