45 degrees and twelve hours of work daily
By Michael Seifert
“Tübingen archaeologists discover a 3500-year-old palace in northern Iraq” – a recent headline. Sameer Ibrahim, Mostafa Elyasian and Michael Seifert from the TüNews International editorial team visited the excavation’s leader, Ivana Puljiz, in her office in the attic of Schloss Hohentübingen.
She reports: “In September of last year we spontaneously started a rescue excavation in Dohuk province in Kurdish northern Iraq. The palace hill was discovered as early as 2010, through on-site searches of Dohuk’s antique district. Remains of murals were also found. It became clear that this was an important location. The hill above the Tigris was flooded with water from the Mosul Reservoir. Last summer, due to drought, the water retreated, and the ruins became free. In August we did not know that we would be able to dig there in September. We did not even know what to expect, which culture it would be from.” The Tübingen and Iraqi scientists from the Kurdistan Archeology Organization in Dohuk worked together in a joint project, in which the philologist Betina Faist from the University of Heidelberg joined in the examination of writing found on clay tablets. “We were all very excited!”
“We found the remains of a palace at least seven meters high,” says Puljiz. “Inside the palace, we were able to identify several rooms, of which eight were partially uncovered. What we have uncovered comes from the time of the Mittan Empire, which existed from about 1500 to 1350 BC. The Mittani empire is one of the least explored ancient oriental empires”, continues Puljiz. “We know that this culture was one of the great powers of the late Bronze Age. They dominated a huge region that stretched from Syria to east of the Tigris in Iraq. We know several cities and palaces that belonged to this state. Many things are still completely unclear, such as how much was provinces and how much was part of the core empire. The Mittani Empire was in contact and competition with the other great powers of the time, the Hittites, the Egyptians and the Babylonians.”
What happens to the palace now? Can it be preserved Ivana Puljiz answers: “At the moment it is not possible to preserve the site as long as the excavations continues. We only dug up a small part of the palace. And in the winter, rainfall flooded it again. But the water does not harm the ruins, on the contrary, they are protected by it.”
Puljiz is already preparing for their next trip to Iraq and hopes to dig further during the Fall. “But we do not know if this will be possible, at the moment the site is, again, completely covered with water.” Puljiz’s actual research project, which is completely independent of the water level of the Mossul Reservoir, deals with village settlements in the second millennium BC in northern Mesopotamia. There, they are digging up a small locality in the province of Dohuk, which is only about 16 km from the Mittan Palace.
As an Iraqi, Sameer knows that temperatures rise to 45 degrees in northern Iraq around this time. How long has the team been working in these temperatures? “We always work eleven-hour days, six days a week. We get up at 3:40 in the morning and leave for the dig site at 4:30. From 5am to 1pm we work onsite. Lunch goes to 2pm, which means taking a shower, eating and sleeping. And then another three hours of documentation in the excavation house. The time over 40 degrees is tough, but relatively pleasant compared to southern Iraq, where temperatures often exceed 50 degrees.” The 31-year-old with a Croatian background is looking forward to this year’s digs and confirms our suspicion that archaeologists are addicted the annual digging season in autumn. Since 2009, she has been there, at that time at the famous Qatna excavation in Syria, where the Tübingen scientists dug up a royal palace and made fantastic finds, until the war led to the end of the work.