Bronze Age palace and cuneiform tablets found in Iraqi Kurdistan

German and Kurdish archaeologists have discovered a Bronze Age palace on the eastern bank of the Tigris in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. The palace, found at a place called Kemune, can be dated to the time of the Mittani Empire, which ruled much of northern Mesopotamia and Syria between the 15th and 14th centuries BC.

The Mittani empire is one of the least explored states of the Ancient East. Scientists now hope to gain new insights into the empire’s politics, economy and history by analyzing cuneiform tablets discovered in the palace.

Last fall, the lowering of the water level of the Mosul reservoir in northern Iraq unexpectedly revealed the remains of an ancient city that had been known for a few years, but had not been able to be investigated because it was submerged.

The Mitanni Empire around 1400 BC / photo Javierfv1212 in Wikimedia Commons

An archaeological dig was quickly carried out on the exposed ruins, before they were once again covered by water.

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 Archaeological Organization.

Photo University of Tübingen

According to Ivana Puljiz of the Tübingen Institute for Ancient Eastern Cultures (IANES), It is a projected building with solid interior walls of up to two meters thick made of ceramic brick. Some walls are more than 2 meters high and part of the interior is plastered with plaster. We have also found remains of murals in bright shades of red and blue. In the second millennium BC, murals were probably a typical feature of the palaces of the Ancient East, but they have rarely survived. That is why the discovery of murals in Kemune is an archaeological sensation.

The remains of the palace are at least seven meters high. Two phases of use are clearly visible, indicating that the building was used for a very long period of time. Inside the palace, the team was able to identify several rooms, eight of which were partially excavated.

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

Photo University of Tübingen

The contents of one plaque indicate that Kemune was most likely the ancient city of Zachiku, which is already mentioned in an ancient Bronze Age Eastern source (circa 1800 BC). This would mean that the city would have existed for at least 400 years. Future text searches will show if this ID is correct.

In ancient times, the palace stood on a hill at the edge of the river valley, just 20 meters from the eastern bank of the Tigris, before the area was flooded. In Mittanian times, a monumental terrace wall constructed of clay bricks was erected in front of the west facade of the palace to support the sloping ground towards the river. Thus, the palace was enthroned over the Tigris valley.

Photo University of 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 to the north.

The Mittani Empire is one of the least researched ancient eastern empires, explains Puljiz: Information about the palaces of the Mittani era is only available at Tell Brak in Syria and at the cities of Nuzi and Alalach on the periphery of the empire. Furthermore, it has not yet been possible to locate the capital of the Mittani Empire without any doubt. The discovery of a Mittani palace at Kemune is therefore of inestimable scientific importance.

Mittani’s empire stretched from the 15th to the mid-14th centuries BC from the Mediterranean coast to the east of present-day northern Iraq. The core of this great empire was in present-day northeastern Syria, where its capital Waschukanni was probably located, which has not yet been located for sure.

Cuneiform texts from Tell el-Amarna in present-day Egypt show that the Mittan kings interacted on the same level with the Egyptian pharaohs and the great kings of Hatti and Babylon. For example, King Mittan Tuschratta is known to have given his daughter to Pharaoh Amenhotep III as his wife. Around the year 1350 BC Mittani lost its political importance. The territories controlled up to that time were under the control of the surrounding empires of the Hittites and the Assyrians.


University of Tübingen

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