Archaeologists, both German and Kurdish, have discovered a Bronze Age palace and cuneiform tablets in Iraqi Kurdistan. The palace, located on the eastern bank of the Tigris River in the region of Iraqi Kurdistan, is believed to date back to the time of the Mittani Empire, which dominated much of northern Mesopotamia and Syria between the 15th and 14th centuries BCE.

The Mittani Empire is among the least explored states of the Ancient Near East. Scientists hope to gain new insights into the politics, economy, and history of this empire by analyzing the cuneiform tablets found in the palace.

Last fall, a drop in the water level of the Mosul Reservoir in northern Iraq unexpectedly revealed the remains of an ancient city known for some years but previously inaccessible due to submersion.

The Mitanni Empire circa 1400 B.C./photo Javierfv1212 on Wikimedia Commons

An archaeological excavation was swiftly carried out on the exposed ruins before being submerged again. The excavation was led by Dr. Hasan Ahmed Qasim and Dr. Ivana Puljiz as part of a joint project between the University of Tübingen and the Kurdistan Organization of Archaeology.

According to Ivana Puljiz from the Institute of Tübingen for Ancient Near Eastern Studies (IANES), the discovered structure has thick interior walls made of ceramic bricks, some up to two meters thick. Some walls exceed a height of 2 meters, and parts of the interior are plastered with gypsum.

Remains of murals in bright red and blue hues have also been found. In the second millennium BCE, murals were likely a typical feature of Ancient Near Eastern palaces, but they have rarely survived. Therefore, the discovery of murals in Kemune is an archaeological sensation.

Photo Universität Tübingen

The palace remains are at least seven meters tall, with two clearly visible usage phases indicating that the building was used over a very long period. Inside the palace, the team identified several rooms, eight of which were partially excavated.

Large fired bricks, used as floor slabs, were found in some areas. Ten cuneiform clay tablets from Mittani were discovered in the palace rooms and are currently being translated and evaluated by philologist Dr. Betina Faist (University of Heidelberg).

The content of one tablet suggests that Kemune was likely the ancient city of Zachiku, mentioned in an ancient Eastern source from the Bronze Age (around 1800 BCE).

Photo Universität Tübingen

This would mean that the city existed for at least 400 years. Future research will confirm if this identification is correct.

In antiquity, the palace was situated on a hill at the edge of the river valley, only 20 meters from the eastern bank of the Tigris before the area was flooded.

During the Mittani period, a monumental terrace wall built with clay bricks was erected in front of the western facade of the palace to support the sloping ground towards the river. Thus, the palace was enthroned over the Tigris Valley.

Photo Universität Tübingen

Surveys conducted under the direction of Dr. Paola Sconzo in the vicinity of the palace indicate that a larger city was connected to the palace in the northward direction.

The Mittani Empire, extending from the 15th century to the mid-14th century BCE, spanned from the Mediterranean coast to the east of present-day northern Iraq. The core of this vast empire was in the current northeast of Syria, where its capital Waschukanni was likely located but remains uncertain.

Cuneiform texts from Tell el-Amarna in modern-day Egypt show that Mittani kings interacted on an equal footing with Egyptian pharaohs and the great kings of Hatti and Babylon.

For instance, Mittani King Tushratta gave his daughter in marriage to Pharaoh Amenhotep III. Around 1350 BCE, Mittani lost its political significance, and the territories it controlled came under the influence of surrounding Hittite and Assyrian empires.


Sources

Universität Tübingen


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