In what is being called a “surprising discovery,” archaeologists have unearthed a 3,400-year-old, Bronze Age palace at a reservoir in the Kurdistan region of Iraq after water levels dropped because of drought.
The palace, known as Kemune, dates back to the Mittani Empire, which dominated large parts of northern Mesopotamia and Syria from the 15th to the 14th century BCE, according to the University of Tübingen.
A team of German and Kurdish archaeologists made the find on the eastern bank of the Tigris River. They now hope to obtain new information about the politics, economy, and history of the empire — one of the least researched kingdoms of the Ancient Near East — by studying cuneiform tablets discovered in the palace.
“The find is one of the most important archaeological discoveries in the region in recent decades and illustrates the success of the Kurdish-German cooperation.” said archaeologist Hasan Ahmed Qasim, who co-led the mission.
The palace would have originally stood just 65 feet from the river on an elevated terrace. A terrace wall of mud bricks was later added to stabilize the carefully designed building, which overlooked the Tigris Valley.
According to Dr. Ivana Puljiz of the Tübingen Institute for Ancient Near Eastern Studies (IANES), some of the rooms in the palace have plastered walls and surprisingly well-preserved paintings.
“We have also found remains of wall paintings in bright shades of red and blue,” Puljiz said. “In the second millennium BCE, murals were probably a typical feature of palaces in the Ancient Near East, but we rarely find them preserved. So discovering wall paintings in Kemune is an archaeological sensation.”
The team identified several rooms in the palace and partially excavated eight of them. In some areas, they found large fired bricks which were used as floor slabs. Ten Mittani cuneiform clay tablets were discovered and are currently being translated and studied.
One of the tablets indicates that Kemune was most probably the ancient city of Zakhiku, which is mentioned in one Ancient Near Eastern source as early as the Middle Bronze Age (ca. 1800 BC). This indicates the city must have existed for at least 400 years.
Archeologists actually first became aware of the site in 2010 when water levels in the reservoir were low, but this is the first time they have been able to excavate.
The Mittani Empire covered an area reaching from the eastern Mediterranean coast to the east of present-day northern Iraq from the 15th century to the middle of the 14th century BCE. Its heart was in what is now northeastern Syria.
Mittani lost its political significance around 1350 BCE, when its territories came under the control of the neighboring empires of the Hittites and Assyrians. The Mittani culture is known for its typical painted ceramics.