BAGHDAD (Al Jazeera) – As the climate crisis causes water levels to plummet, riverbeds to dry and glaciers to melt, artefacts like old warships, an ancient city and human remains have emerged.
Around 3,800 years ago, traders in the ancient city of Zakhiku would wait for wooden beams, cut down from the forests in the mountains in the north and east of Mesopotamia – spanning what is today Iraq, Kuwait and parts of Turkey, Iran and Syria – to float down the Tigris River. Once the logs reached Zakhiku, they were collected and taken to storehouses.
From the same mountainous regions in what is present-day Turkey and Iran, merchants transporting metals and minerals such as gold, silver, tin and copper would travel by donkey or camel to Zakhiku. To protect against bandits, they would make the difficult journey as caravans of travelers. After selling their wares in Zakhiku, the merchants would cross the Tigris before continuing on to the borderlands.
Zakhiku was founded around 1,800 BC by the Old Babylonian Empire that ruled Mesopotamia between the 19th and 15th centuries BC. With only water and soil in the area, Zakhiku was established to take advantage of the traffic of caravans and a flourishing trade route in the Near East, which includes the present-day Middle East, Turkey and Egypt.
The trading post grew into an important commercial city in the region for about 600 years before it was hit by an earthquake and later abandoned.
Zakhiku disappeared altogether in the 1980s, when – as part of the Mosul Dam project, built under the late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein – it was flooded and submerged. Previously known as Saddam Dam, it is Iraq’s largest and most important water reservoir used for downstream irrigation.
Iraq is one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change, and its southern governorates, where temperatures surpass 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) in the summer, have faced severe drought since 2019, forcing farmers to abandon their dying crops. Last December, water was released from the dam to irrigate farmland.
As the water levels fell, Zakhiku emerged earlier this year in the Kurdish region of Iraq. A team of local and German archaeologists sprang into action to excavate the site, uncovering new details about the city following a brief initial excavation in 2018 that revealed a palace.
“With the recent excavation the local people have become aware of Zakhiku; they visit the site … it was broadcasted on the local television … and people start knowing their history [more deeply] and they’re proud of it,” says Peter Pfälzner of the University of Tübingen, Germany, an archaeologist working at the site, known as Kemune.