A team of German and Kurdish archaeologists excavated a 3,400-year-old city in Kemune from the Mittani Empire along the Tigris River last week. Due to a severe drought in Iraq, the settlement surfaced from the Mosul reservoir.

The city complex includes a palace that had previously been unearthed in 2018 as well as several large buildings that might comprise the city center, Zachiku. Researchers believe it may have been an important location under the Mittani Empire (ca. 1550–1350 BCE), which had control over large parts of northern Mesopotamia and Syria.

Since Iraq is one of the countries most impacted by climate change, and since its southern region had been impacted by extreme drought, the Mosul reservoir was used for emergency irrigation to keep crops alive.

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The University of Freiburg, which announced the find, used funds raised from the Fritz Thyssen Foundation to finance the work. The school said it had to complete work quickly, as it was unclear how fast the water would refill. The work was conducted in between January and February.

Researchers were able to reconstruct a plan of the city. They found a huge fortification with a wall and towers, a multistory warehouse building, and an industrial complex.

“The huge warehouse building is of particular importance because it must have stored enormous amounts of goods that were probably brought in from all over the region,” Ivana Puljiz, an archaeologist with the University of Freiburg, said in a statement.

Because the city was destroyed in an earthquake, causing the upper portions of structures to bury areas below them, adobe-structured building walls were discovered in a well-preserved condition, despite being underwater for more than 40 years.

Additionally, the team found five ceramic vessels with an archive of more than 100 cuneiform tablets inside dating to the Middle Assyrian period. Some clay tablets are still in their original clay envelopes. Researchers hope they will provide context for the end of the Mittani-period city and the beginning of Assyrian rule in the region.

“It is close to a miracle that cuneiform tablets made of unfired clay survived so many decades under water,” Peter Pfälzner, an archaeologist from the University of Tübingen, said in a statement.

The excavated buildings were covered with tight-fitting plastic sheeting and buried beneath gravel fill to prevent any further water damage to site. Since the excavation, the site has been completely submerged once more.