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Palace From Mysterious Ancient Empire Exposed by Drought in Iraq

From 1475 BCE to 1275 BCE, the Mitanni Empire ruled over the northern Euphrates-Tigris region in what is now Iraq. It’s only rival at that time was Egypt, but when the Hittite Empire began gaining power, they joined together against it. That wasn’t enough, and Mitanni was eventually defeated by the Hittite and assimilated so completely that very little is known of the dynasty. That may change with the discovery of a MIttani palace in Iraqi Kurdistan after drought exposed it in a reservoir.

“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.”

Cooperation is always a good thing, especially at archeological sites in areas of political strife. Kurdish archaeologist Hasan Ahmed Qasim was working with Dr. Hasan Ahmed Qasim and Dr. Ivana Puljiz on a joint research project between the University of Tübingen and the Kurdistan Archaeology Organization (KAO) in cooperation with the Duhok Directorate of Antiquities after a drought caused the water level of the Mosul Reservoir in northern Iraq to drop unexpectedly and substantially, revealing the remains of a Bronze Age palace which is believed to have once stood on the edge of the Tigris River valley in the Mitanni town of Kemune. The site was first discovered in 2010, but the recent drop in water level was the first change archeologists had to do some serious digging.

According to the press release by the University of Tübingen, the palace was a solid structure with two-meters thick mud walls, some standing over two meters high. A number of rooms were identified and those contained items that may finally shed some light on the Mitanni empire. One contained ten cuneiform clay tablets which suggest that Kemune may have once be the ancient city of Zachiku, which was thought to have existed in that area 400 years before. (Photos of the site here.) However, it’s what was on the walls that got the archeologists most excited, according to Puljiz.

“We also found remnants of murals in bright shades of red and blue. Mural paintings may have been a typical feature of palaces in the 2nd millennium BC, but they have seldom been preserved. Therefore, the discovery of murals in Kemune is an archaeological sensation.”

This is yet another important archeological site covered by the waters of a dam – in this case, the Mosul Reservoir of the Mosul Dam, the largest dam in Iraq. Completed in 1986, provides electricity to the 1.7 million residents of Mosul … and also some anxiety. The dam was briefly taken over by ISIS in 2014 and it has required constant maintenance and repairs due to being built on top of gypsum, a soft mineral that dissolves in contact with water. Whose bright idea was this? Saddam Hussein.

Mosul Dam hydro power plant

“The Mittani empire is one of the least-explored ancient Near Eastern empires. So far, information about the palaces of the Mittani period has only been found in Tell Brak in Syria and in the cities of Nuzi and Alalach on the outskirts of the empire.”

Saddam may be gone, but instability remains – both in the dam and the region. This appears to be an important central palace of the Mittani Empire, and could help locate its capital, which has remained a mystery in an empire of mysteries.

Will the researchers be able to uncover the secrets of the Mittani Empire and outrace the instability of the governments and the dam? Cooperation will help. So will luck. And don’t forget the climate change that caused the drought.

Archeology is a complicated science.

Source: Mysterious Universe

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Ancient

Oldest human skull found outside Africa

Image Credit: NPS – PD

Our ancestors ventured out of Africa much earlier than thought. 

Scientists have identified the earliest known evidence of modern humans outside of the African continent.

The skull, which was discovered in Apidima Cave in Greece back in the 1970s, was so damaged and incomplete that at the time palaeontologists struggled to make sense of it.

More recently however, a new study using modern tomography scanning and uranium-series dating has revealed that the skull is not only that of a modern human, but also dates back 210,000 years to a time long before our ancestors were thought to have migrated out of Africa.

The find adds to the growing body of evidence suggesting that modern humans made several forays in to Eurasia long before they started to colonize the continent around 60,000 years ago.

Other evidence of this has previously been found in Israel and China.

“Now our scenario was that there was an early modern group in Greece by 210,000 years ago, perhaps related to comparable populations in the Levant, but it was subsequently replaced by a Neanderthal population (represented by Apidima 2) by about 170,000 years ago,” said study co-author Prof Chris Stringer of the London Natural History Museum.

Source: BBC News

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Ashur – First Capital And Powerful Religious Center Of The Assyrian Empire

A. Sutherland  – AncientPages.com – The beginnings of the city of Ashur, (also known as Assur) date back to the third millennium. The city was located about sixty miles to the south of the city of Mosul, Iraq, where today, there is a small village named Shergat (or Qalat Shergat), built of stones and bricks taken from the ruins of the city of Ashur (Asshur).

Ruins of the Assyrian city of AshurRuins of the Assyrian city, Ashur. Image source

From the 14th to the 9th century BC, Ashur was a thriving city. It developed fast and became an important trade center with trade routes leading to Anatolia (modern Turkey). The city exported tin from western Iran, textiles in return for copper, and provided transport of timber from Syria. Many merchants frequently visited the city, and the inhabitants of Ashur themselves began to deal with trade, who even founded their own trade colonies.

Around 1800 BC, the Amorite ruler Shamshi-Adad I included Ashur into his domain, where it became a ceremonial center and the first imperial capital of the Assyrian Empire, unquestionably, one of the greatest of the ancient world.

In Genesis 10:11 we read: “Out of that land came forth Asshur and built Nineveh, and the city Rehoboth, and Kalah…”  Asshur was the second son of Shem and a grandson of Noah, however, in this case, the name Asshur is often used to refer to the place where his descendants dwelled (Ezekiel 27:23, Numbers 24:22, 24).

Ashur (its name was at the same time, the name of a god) was not particularly large city; it had probably no more than 15,000 inhabitants and was situated south of Nineveh and on the western bank of the river Tigris, in northern Mesopotamia, corresponding to modern country of Iraq, northeastern Syria northwestern Iran and southeastern Turkey.

Assyrian’s Vulnerable Location

Assyria had a vulnerable location in the vicinity of the major trading and raiding routes connecting north and east and stretching from Anatolia in the north to Babylon in the south. All cities near Ashur, located on the eastern side of the Tigris valley, in the foothills of Zagros, were easily accessible to foreign intrusions or armed invasions of mountain tribes, so the Assyrians still had to be ready for combat.

Ashur, the chief god of the Assyrian pantheon in Mesopotamian religion, worshipped mainly in the northern half of Mesopotamia, and parts of north-east Syria and south-east Asia Minor (old Assyria Ashur, the chief god of the Assyrian pantheon in Mesopotamian religion, worshipped mainly in the northern half of Mesopotamia, and parts of north-east Syria and south-east Asia Minor (old Assyria).

It was crucial to build a perfectly functioned self-defense in order to survive both in cities and within the borders of the empire. And yet, the city of Ashur was better situated strategically and easier to defend.

Fortifications were massive and the strongest of them were built on the southern part of the city as it was definitely its most vulnerable point. From one side, the city was well-protected by the cliffs and later in front by an immense high wall with eight huge gates and a 15-meter-wide moat.

On the other three sites, the first capital of Assyria was almost invincible.

Ashur – Important Religious Center

The city was Assyria’s oldest capital, which was already known during Akkadian and Sumerian times. It was also an important religious center for worship of the supreme god Ashur, who became the national god of Assyria and protected the Assyrian kings. He was venerated along with Enlil and Ninurta, god of agriculture, scribes, hunting, and war. Several Assyrian kings had the god Ashur’s protection in their names.

Ziggurat at AshurRuins of ziggurat at Ashur. source

In the city, there was an early cult of the gods Adad, Assur and the goddess Ishtar. Ashur contained a large number of important religious buildings, and a handful of palaces (more exactly three of them and thirty four temples, based on ancient sources dated to 7th century BC).

Many ruined structures (many of them had never been excavated) include several major buildings such as the double-temple of Anu and Adad (the god of storms), another was that of Bel, the lord and of the Sumerian goddess of love and war, Ishtar, known to the Hebrews as Ashtaroth and the Starte of the Greeks. There are also ruins of the Old Palace with its royal tombs and several living quarters scattered across the city.

However, the most striking construction among the ruins of Ashur is the ziggurat, built of backed bricks on the top of a rectangular platform composed of several layers, dedicated to the god Ashur, as well as the ground temple nearby devoted to the same god and called “Temple of the Universe”. There are also temples devoted to the gods of the sun and the moon, and one with two towers sacred to Anu, god of the sky, and Adad, god of storms. Assyrian rulers were buried in vaulted tombs beneath palaces, ancient records say, but these places were already robbed in antiquity.

Mesopotamia in 2nd millennium BC

Mesopotamia in 2nd millennium BC. source

Many clay tablets and bricks, covered with cuneiform inscriptions about historical events, conquests, eulogies of rulers, were discovered in the excavated ruins of Ashur.

When Assyria’s strategical value increased in the region, the capital of the empire was transferred from Ashur to Kalah and later to Nineveh about 880 BC, but Ashur still remained a highly prestigious city for a long time.

Civil wars tormented and significantly weakened the region, including  the city of Ashur, especially under the reign of Shamshi Adad (824-811 BC). Later, under the next kings who followed including Tiglath Pileser III (745-727 BC) and Ashurbanipal (668-627 BC), the city was rebuilt and its walls strengthened.

Ashur was finally captured and destroyed by the Babylonians in 614 BC and did not fully recover until the Parthian Empire controlled the city from the 1st century AD until the Romans sacked it in 257. Then, the city was populated again until the 14th century before Timur (1336-1405), the founder of the Timurid Empire (1370-1507) sacked the city and murdered its inhabitants.

The city today serves as an important example of the past Assyrian Empire.

Written by – A. Sutherland  – AncientPages.com Senior Staff Writer

Copyright © AncientPages.com All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or part without the express written permission of AncientPages.com

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References:

Kriwaczek, P. Babylon: Mesopotamia and the Birth of Civilization

Claude Hermann Walter Johns, Ancient Assyria

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3800-Year-Old Teen Skeleton Found Buried With Fortune-Telling Game

The Ouija board was invented in 1890 and was probably played by teens at parties from day one. However, that teen fascination with fortune-telling games has been around for thousands of years. Need proof? A skeleton dating back 3,800 years was unearthed recently in Russia and the teen was buried with the animal bone pieces of an ancient fortune-telling game that’s still played in Mongolia today. Did the teen see this coming?

“(The game) was probably the most popular among the kids in the Bronze age.”

Georgy Stukalov, a scientific researcher for the Astrakhan History museum, says the game was discovered next to the remains of a teen (it’s unknown if it was male or female) buried in a fetal position in the Bogomolnye Peski necropolis. This multi-layered burial site is located near the village of Nikolskoye near the Caspian Sea. The remains and the game were buried below layers which recently revealed the 2,000-year-old skeleton and elongated skull of a man who appeared to be laughing. Was he playing the game too?

“And this game – shagai – came to us through the centuries. Even 50 to 60 years ago our granddads and grannies used to play this game.”

Possible positions of shagai bones – Camel, Horse, Sheep, Goat (Wilkipedia)

Stukalov explains that the fortune-telling game is called “Shagai,” a name that refers to the astragalus, which is the lower part of the ankle bone (sometimes called the ‘hock’) of a sheep or goat. The four sides of the bone are uniquely shaped — the convex sides are called ‘horse; and ‘sheep’ and are the lucky sides, while the concave faces are ‘goat’ and ‘camel’ and considered unlucky. More than one of the bones are thrown at a time and the up-facing surfaces determine the outcome, moves or fortune, depending on which version of Shagai is being played. In the simple fortune-telling game, rolling four bones and having one of each animal showing is the best (luckiest) roll. Not much is known of the Bronze Age Srubnaya culture which inhabited the area between the 18th and 12th centuries BCE other than it survived on livestock breeding – which explains the plentiful supply of game pieces.

If it sounds vaguely familiar, Shagai is thought to have been a predecessor to many throwing games and is played in other parts of the world under the name Knucklebones or Jacks. The knobby shape of the bones may have inspired the 3D asterisks that are modern jacks. In Mongolia where the game is still played with the real thing, the bones are considered to be good luck charms and often given as gifts.

Was the person in the grave playing Shagai for fun or for fortune? Being a teen, it was probably both.

Source: Mysterious Universe

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