Drought Reveals Stunning Ancient Palace In Dried-Up Water Reservoir In Iraq

Published June 28, 2019
Published June 28, 2019

Kemune Palace was part of the mysterious Mittani Empire that ruled Syria and northern Mesopotamia thousands of years ago.

Kemune Palace

University of Tübingen eScience Cente/Kurdistan Archaeology OrganizationArchaeologists discovered ruins of the Kemune Palace after a severe drought hit Iraqi Kurdistan.

There is no arguing that climate change has impacted the environment for worse, but it has also had some unexpected consequences for researchers and scientists in their quest to dig up history.

As CNN reported, a drought that caused a severe reduction in water levels in the Mosul Dam reservoir along the Tigris river has revealed a 3,400-year-old palace that was buried below the dam. A team of Kurdish-German archaeologists are now working carefully to dig out the palace ruins from underneath the earth.

“The find is one of the most important archaeological discoveries in the region in recent decades,” lead archeologist Hasan Ahmed Qasim said in a press statement on the discovery.

The existence of the palace underneath the dam was first discovered in 2010. However, rising water levels, as well as the looming threat of ISIS, made it difficult to continue work on the site. This year marks the first time that the dam was dry enough for experts to finally begin excavation.

The ancient structure is known as Kemune Palace and was constructed using mud-brick walls.

According to Ivana Puljiz, co-lead of the excavation and an archeologist from the University of Tübingen’s Institute for Ancient Near Eastern Studies, the walls of the palace were about 6-feet thick and stood more than 6.5 feet tall. The palace extended at least 20,000-square-feet.

In ancient times, Kemune Palace would have been standing on an elevated terrace overlooking the Tigris valley, only 65 feet away from what was then the eastern bank of the river. To help stabilize the structure on the sloping valley terrain, a large terrace wall was built against the palace’s western front to keep it steady.

The stunning discovery is believed to have been part of the Mittani Empire that once ruled parts of Syria and northern Mesopotamia from the 14th to the 15th century BC. Based on ancient scripts found in archaeological sites in present-day Egypt, the Mittani kings were revered as equals to the Egyptian pharaohs and the kings of Hatti and Babylonia.

To this day, not much is known of the Mittani Empire and it remains one of the least-researched empires of the Ancient Near East.

“Even the capital of the Mittani Empire has not been identified,” Puljiz said.

The only information archaeologists have regarding this lost empire came from the ruins of Tell Brak in Syria, one of the world’s earliest cities that boasted a complex urban design by the early 4th millennium BC.

Experts have also uncovered other things from the cities of Nuzi and Alalakh, both of which were located at the fringes of the empire’s rule. Researchers hope that the ruins of the ancient palace will help them learn more about the long-lost Mittani Empire.

An aerial view of the new archaeological site by drone gives a glimpse at what the facade of the ancient palace might look like, but researchers have discovered even more interesting findings inside the site.

So far, the team has found large fired bricks which were used as floor slabs in some parts of the palace. The ancient building had various rooms with plastered walls and decorations, such as murals made up of bright shades of red and blue.

Artistic decorations like these have never been found in such a well-preserved state before so they are as significant of a finding as the palace itself.

“In the second millennium BCE, murals were probably a typical feature of palaces in the Ancient Near East, but we rarely find them preserved,” Puljiz explained. “Discovering wall paintings in Kemune is an archaeological sensation.”

Kemune Palace Excavation Site

University of Tübingen eScience Cente/Kurdistan Archaeology OrganizationThis year marks the first time that the dam has dried up enough for researchers to begin excavating the site.

The team has also found ten clay tablets with an ancient system of writing known as cuneiform written all over them. The tablets are currently being analyzed in Germany for translations.

In some cases like this, the extreme change in weather has allowed research teams to excavate archaeological sites that were previously inaccessible. But in the grand scheme of things, climate change is doing significantly more damage than good to historical sites like this.

In 2017, a study found that almost 20,000 recorded archaeological sites along the U.S. coast from Maryland to Louisiana are in danger of being destroyed by rising sea levels.

“Whilst there are many very negative connotations with sea-level rise for global society in general, the issue is already having severe impacts on cultural heritage world wide,” archaeologist Matthew Meredith-Williams, who co-authored the study, said.


Next, read how ISIS accidentally uncovered an ancient Assyrian palace — then looted it. After, learn the story of Sigiriya, Sri Lanka’s stunning rock palace.

Natasha Ishak
Natasha Ishak is a staff writer at All That's Interesting.