Mitanni Palace Discovered.

A University of Tübingen press release reports on an exciting discovery:

German and Kurdish archaeologists have uncovered a Bronze Age palace on the eastern bank of the Tigris River in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. As the international research team reports, the site of Kemune can be dated to the time of the Mittani Empire, which dominated large parts of northern Mesopotamia and Syria from the 15th to the 14th century BCE. The Mittani Empire is one of the least researched kingdoms of the Ancient Near East. The archaeologists now hope to obtain new information about the politics, economy, and history of the empire by studying cuneiform tablets discovered in the palace. […]

The palace ruins are preserved to a height of some seven meters. Two phases of usage are clearly visible, Puljiz says, indicating that the building was in use for a very long time. Inside the palace, the team identified several rooms and partially excavated eight of them. In some areas, they found large fired bricks which were used as floor slabs. Ten Mittani cuneiform clay tablets were discovered and are currently being translated and studied by the philologist Dr. Betina Faist (University of Heidelberg). One of the tablets indicates that Kemune was most probably the ancient city of Zakhiku, which is mentioned in one Ancient Near Eastern source as early as the Middle Bronze Age (ca. 1800 BC). This indicates the city must have existed for at least 400 years. Future text finds will hopefully show whether this identification is correct.

Oddly, they don’t say what language the tablets are in, but I presume it’s the too-little-known Hurrian. I have to admit I thought the press release was misspelling Mitanni, but the German Wikipedia article is Mittani, so it’s just a different convention (it occurs in cuneiform as both Mi-ta-an-ni and Mi-it-ta-ni).


  1. SFReader says

    I am so happy that Iraq is open for archaeology once again.

    Hope Syria will be next soon.

    There is so much there still undiscovered.

  2. David Marjanović says

    it occurs in cuneiform as both Mi-ta-an-ni and Mi-it-ta-ni

    Equally to my surprise, Dr. Faist really is spelled Betina and not Bettina. I wonder how she’s pronounced.

  3. SFReader says

    “Betina Faist studierte zwischen 1984 und 1991 Geschichte an der Fakultät für Philosophie und Literaturwissenschaften der Universidad de Buenos Aires.”

    Argentina would explain it

  4. I wonder how she’s pronounced.

    I tried my usual technique of doing a Google Video search, but she doesn’t seem to be one of those academics who participates in discussions or gives lectures that get filmed and put on YouTube.

  5. David Marjanović says

    Argentina would explain it

    Oh. So she’s actually the female version of a Beto. ^_^

    one of those academics who

    That wouldn’t be reliable anyway. I never take the time to correct the people who announce my talks at conferences.

  6. Not reliable, but better than nothing.

  7. Stu Clayton says

    It’s pronounced German-wise, right ? As if in English: MarYAnovitch – except maybe the “v” is an /f/ ?

  8. As if in English: MarYAnovitch

    That’s how I’ve always (mentally) said it, but now I too want to know what’s correct.

  9. David Marjanović says

    German-wise in the sense that I suck at [r] and almost always resort to [ʀ]. Otherwise it stays original, no [f] (and I’ve never before found anyone wondering if there is one).

  10. I dont have anything to add except that I’m intrigued by this find and glad you found and posted it.

  11. Stu Clayton says

    I’ve never before found anyone wondering if there is one

    Some Davids are Daffids.

  12. David Marjanović says

    That does happen on rare occasions.

  13. SFReader says

    What’s the worst mispronunciation you ever encountered?


  14. David Marjanović says

    That kind of thing, yes.

    The French never hesitate to just read it out loud by French spelling conventions.

    Instead of mangling the pronunciation much, German-speakers tend to misremember the spelling; -rj- is too weird.

  15. Stu Clayton says

    The forename Marja is not completely unknown, and presents no difficulties. If German speakers get your last name right, but misremember the spelling, that’s not too bad. Nobody ever spells my name correctly.

    German musical performer Marja Hennicke

  16. John Cowan says

    Stu: At least your name isn’t Haugh, like a close friend of my mother who spent many years in Germany, where he was called Hauk (with German vowels), though of course it was Haw back in the States.

  17. David Marjanović says

    German musical performer Marja Hennicke

    Never heard of her, or any other Marja other than a Finn named Marja-Leena, or any other musical performer for that matter.

  18. Trond Engen says

    Oddly, they don’t say what language the tablets are in, but I presume it’s the too-little-known Hurrian.

    Too little known, but not for lack of corpus, I think. The significance of the ten tablets may rather be that they are from a previously sparsely documented region and may add to the understanding of regional variation.

    The WP article on Hurrian mentions a Hurrian-Akkadian creole, Nuzi, in the eastern city of Arrapha (but links to the town of Nuzi close to Arrapha). The language of the new tablets could conceivably be influenced by that.

  19. Ruling dynasty of Mittani is supposed to be Indo-Aryan.

    Maybe the tablets are written in pre-Vedic Sanskrit

  20. David Marjanović says

    Is it actually clear that it’s Indic and not some other kind of sufficently early Indo-Iranian? The only evidence I can think of is the fact that “1” is a-i-ka instead of the unambiguously Iranian *a-i-wa; but apparently the /k/ form is present in Iranian, too – just not in Avestan or Old Persian.

    (Scroll about halfway down that page; the pertinent part starts just above the picture-quote from

  21. Well, as it’s said there, the -k- forms in Modern Iranian go back to *aiwaka- in those cases where we know the predecessor. So that’s what I would assume for those Iranian languages where the older stages are not attested, at least until better evidence to the contrary shows up.

  22. David Marjanović says

    Better evidence to the contrary may be included in the same post: a diminutive of a numeral doesn’t make a lot of sense, and the forms that look like they come from *aiwaka- may be compromise forms between *aiwa- and *aika- (much like how Old Upper Franconian her is a compromise form between Old Saxon he and Old Upper German er).

  23. I saw that, but that’s speculation and reasoning, not evidence. Evidence would be an attested form that cannot be explained from *aiwaka-. As for the reasoning, -ka- is a suffix with many uses besides diminutive. Just to throw out a speculation of my own, *aiwaka is parallel to Latin unicus and may have gone from meaning “only” to “one”. As for the contamination, if we assume that this is the origin of the Iranian form, it may as well have happened between Indic and Iranian, which were neighbours for millennia and probably mutually comprehensible until into the first millennium BC, instead of inside Iranian.

  24. David Marjanović says

    parallel to Latin unicus

    Good point.

  25. Sure it’s speculation; the question is whether it is worse speculation than the idea of an early Indic “wave” going without traces southwest into Mitanni? aika could be also used to support a theory where this form comes about already in Proto-Indo-Iranian, or for some reasons in parallel more than once, or even that it shows a development from *aiwaka.

    In any case Mitanni Aryan definitely lacks the “defining” Indic innovation of eliminating voiced sibilants (*VzD > V̄D, *ź > ɦ) and can be at most para-Indic, not strictly Indic.

  26. Do you have an example for this from Mitanni? I remember having seen only a handful of words, none of which would be a witness for or against that development.

  27. Lipp in Palatale cites wašanna ‘(riding) lane, track’ from PII *wa/ādźana-.

  28. That could conceivably be ź, and so just represent a somewhat earlier stage. No need to multiply entities or ascribe forms to Iranian without need.

  29. That’s what I said also: this retained *ź shows that even if Mitanni does group with Indic in particular, it represents an older stage i.e. is at most a sister/stem-line variety and not a proper member.

    So nope – no “Sanskrit” in Mitanni, provided that we wish to retain this term for Indic high-register varieties specifically.

  30. Oh, I agree on that one, Indic, but not Sanscrit.

  31. Anyone know or translate to English the name Zakhiku???

  32. It’s just an ancient city name — it doesn’t have a translation.

  33. A 3,400-year-old city emerges from the Tigris River (May 30, 2022):

    A team of German and Kurdish archaeologists have uncovered a 3,400-year-old Mittani Empire-era city once located on the Tigris River. The settlement emerged from the waters of the Mosul reservoir early this year as water levels fell rapidly due to extreme drought in Iraq. The extensive city with a palace and several large buildings could be ancient Zakhiku—believed to have been an important center in the Mittani Empire (ca. 1550–1350 BC). […]

    This unforeseen event put archaeologists under sudden pressure to excavate and document at least parts of this large, important city as quickly as possible before it was resubmerged. The Kurdish archaeologist Dr. Hasan Ahmed Qasim, chairman of the Kurdistan Archaeology Organization, and the German archaeologists Jun.-Prof. Dr. Ivana Puljiz (University of Freiburg) and Prof. Dr. Peter Pfälzner (University of Tübingen) spontaneously decided to undertake joint rescue excavations at Kemune. These took place in January and February 2022 in collaboration with the Directorate of Antiquities and Heritage in Duhok (Kurdistan Region of Iraq). […]

    Of particular interest is the discovery of five ceramic vessels that contained an archive of over 100 cuneiform tablets. They date to the Middle Assyrian period, shortly after the earthquake disaster struck the city. Some clay tablets, which may be letters, are even still in their clay envelopes. The researchers hope this discovery will provide important information about the end of the Mittani-period city and the beginning of Assyrian rule in the region. “It is close to a miracle that cuneiform tablets made of unfired clay survived so many decades under water,” Peter Pfälzner says.

    I don’t get it. Was this discovered in 2019 or 2022? What’s going on??

  34. In other ‘ancient cities revealed’ news. 2019/2022 Mosul, today Bolivia (though nothing like so old).

  35. Trond Engen says

    The story is also told (not particularly well) by the Norwegian online science magazine forskning no :


    Fant palass i 2018
    Det arkeologiske funnstedet, som kalles Kemune, ble ikke undersøkt før det ble oversvømt for flere tiår siden. Ruinene ble oppdaget i 2010. Da var det også lav vannstand.

    Byen dukket opp igjen i en lignende situasjon i 2018.

    Da gravde forskere frem palasset. Det lå på en terrasse, opprinnelig 20 meter fra elven Tigris. Veggene var opptil sju meter høye og to meter brede, skrev NRK.

    I tillegg ble det funnet rester av veggmalerier i rødt og blått og ti skrifttavler.

    Lagerbygning og forsvar
    Da vannstanden sank igjen i starten av 2022, kastet forskere seg rundt. I januar og februar gjennomførte de utgravinger.

    I tillegg til palasset har de nå avdekket en befestning med murer og tårn. De fant også et stort bygg med flere etasjer som skal ha blitt brukt til oppbevaring og et industrielt kompleks.

    – Den store magasinbygningen er spesielt viktig fordi det må ha vært lagret enorme mengder varer i den, trolig brakt fra hele regionen, sier Ivana Puljiz, i pressemeldingen.


    My translation:

    Discovered palace in 2018
    The archaeological dig, called Kemune, was not investigated before it was inundated several decades ago. The ruins were discovered in 2010. The water level was low also then.

    The city resurfaced in a similar situation in 2018.

    Researchers then dug out the palace. It was situated on a terrace , originally 20 m from the river Tigris. The walls were up to 7m high and 2m wide, [the Norwegian public serice broadcaster] NRK reported.

    In addition, remnants of murals in red and blue, and ten tablets with writing were discovered.

    Warehouse and defence

    When the water receded again in early 2022, the researchers responded quickly. In January and February they performed excavations.

    In addition to the palace they have now uncovered a fortification with walls and tower(s). They also found a large building with several floors that may have been used for storage and an industrial complex.

    – The large warehouse is especially important because huge amounts of goods must have been stored there, probably brought in from the whole region, says Ivana Puljiz in the press release.

    Edit: Oh, the article links to the press release.

    Edit 2: …which is identical to the article at Oh, well. So I’ll give the journalist at credit for putting the story into context.

  36. Trond Engen says

    OP: Oddly, they don’t say what language the tablets are in, but I presume it’s the too-little-known Hurrian.

    The 2019 paper says the language is Akkadian, but the personal names listed are mostly Hurrian.

  37. Thanks!

  38. David Marjanović says

    much like how Old Upper Franconian her is a compromise form between Old Saxon he and Old Upper German er

    Meanwhile I’ve come across the more parsimonious idea that it’s the cognate of he, just with the southern West Germanic retention of *z at the ends of monosyllabic words. (Otherwise it disappears word-finally instead of merging into *r.)

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