Dropping water levels over the past three years have drawn dozens of archaeological sites out from the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers.

The most recent site to be revealed is a large burial site that dates to Byzantine times, in Syria’s Raqqa Governorate, on the eastern bank of the Euphrates Dam. The newly revealed area stretches from the northwestern countryside area of Raqqa to the administrative border between Raqqa and Aleppo, Al-Monitor reported last week.

“Many cemeteries are located in this area, which is also believed to include [hundreds] of Syriac Christian monasteries,” Abdul Razzaq al-Aliawi, the former director of Syria’s maintenance department for the Euphrates River, told Al-Monitor. 

“A few cemeteries have been found on the right bank of the lake in the western region of Raqqa, but the left bank is more rocky, making it difficult to carry out digging works,” al-Aliawi said. “The cemeteries that are still submerged can be seen clearly when it is sunny and the lake water is clear.”

Archaeological entities that have appeared have included gravesites dating to the Assyrian Empire. In July, the ancient city of Talbes appeared from the part of the Euphrates River that runs through the ancient Iraqi town Anah. It seems only a matter of time before more archaeological sites emerge, as the water level continues to fall.

“The decrease in the water level in the Euphrates catchment area, like before the construction of the Haditha Dam, has led to the emergence of at least 80 ancient and historical sites from underwater,” said Mohammed Jassim, an Iraqi archaeologist.

In June, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, the Department of Antiquities in Duhok said that a city from the mysterious Mitanni Empire had been discovered on the banks of the narrowing Tigris River. According to Antiquities Director Becs Privkani, the  city discovered was called Zakhiko. 

Privkani reported that archaeologists discovered a palace in Zakhiko, in addition to other buildings, a large fence and cuneiform texts.  

In 2019, in Iraqi Kurdistan, archaeologists announced finding the ruins of a palace dating to the Mitanni Empire in a place called Kemune. The Mitanni were believed to be contemporaries of the Hittites, with their empire positioned in parts of northern Mesopotamia and Syria between 1500 and 1300 B.C., but little is known about their civilization. 

Last year, in eastern Turkey’s Ağın region, the shrinking Euphrates River revealed Hastek Castle, which features Greek inscriptions and is thought to be a temple from the pre-Christian era.  

The discovery of archaeological sites in the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers in recent years is not a new development, according to Saad Fansa, who worked for nearly 30 years as director of the photographic and Syrian-antiquities documentary archives at the National Museum of Damascus. 

“Similar sites resurfaced in the 1980s when the dam lake water level dropped,” Fansa told Al-Monitor. “One of the most important sites that was flooded by the Euphrates Dam water when Lake Assad was established was the site of Mureybet, an ancient settlement mound dating back to the Neolithic Era. This discovery provided insights on the development of agriculture in the region along with the deification of women at the time.”

“The Euphrates River crosses Syria and Iraq; the Tigris flows from Turkey to Iraq. Due to the global drought, [submerged] archaeological sites will keep resurfacing in these countries,” Fansa said. 

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