The Tigris and Euphrates rivers have existed for as long as we can remember, with their names found in many historical texts of the past, even mentioned in prophecies of the future. The Tigris river runs parallel to the Euphrates River, eventually joining and flowing into the Persian Gulf in the lowlands in an area known as Shatt Al-Arab (Sweeney, 2022). These two rivers, along with river Nile of northeastern Africa supply the Fertile Crescent, which is a rich soil area of the Middle East, and the cradle of civilization. Both rivers are also known for their relation to Mesopotamia (a land between two rivers, namely Tigris and Euphrates), which is located in the Fertile Crescent (Figure 1).
These rivers are referenced in books like the Bible and Hadith during the creation of all things, and are even included in prophecies about the end of time, which gives testament to their longevity. But for the past few years, the great rivers Tigris and Euphrates of the Middle East are experiencing one of their lowest levels in history, with the threat of them both running completely dry within two decades due to human activity and climate change (figures 2). (Cheeseman, 2021)
Nevertheless, the drought arrived with some benefits, especially in the realm of archeology. Many artifacts are being unearthed from both the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which are dating back thousands of years, most notably a 3,400 year old city. This settlement emerged from the waters of the Tigris river, specifically the Mosul reservoir, which is located in northern Iraq (once known as Saddam Dam) earlier this year as the water levels dropped due to the extreme drought present in the area. Archeologists discovered sites and artifacts dating back to the Mittani Empire era of the Bronze Age, specifically between 1550 and 1350 BC, and that the urban center containing large buildings and palaces could be an ancient city called Zahiku. (Golder et al., 2022) The Mittani Empire was once a very prosperous nation, comparable to the likes of Assyria, Egypt and Babylon, and ruled over the northern Euphrates-Tigris region and stretched from present-day northern Iraq, through Syria and into Turkey. (Mark et al., 2021).
A class-based hierarchy existed in this kingdom, with the ruling class known as Maryannu. Their downfall was caused by the invasion and subsequent occupation of these neighboring kingdoms who sought to break their hold on their extensive trade routes. Due to fear of rising water levels in the dam once more, archeologists quickly mapped the city (figure 3), which was “astonishingly well preserved” despite being made of unfired clay, and survived more than 40 years of being underwater (UNIVERSITY OF TÜBINGEN, 2022). The city found in Mosul Dam was destroyed by an earthquake at around 1350 BC, and eventually submerged due to the rising water levels resulting from the construction of the dam in the 1980s (Tarzi, 2022).
On the Euphrates side of things, the receding waters have uncovered more than 80 historical sites that included jails and cemeteries belonging to an ancient city of Telbas, which date back to before Christ. According to Shafaqna Persian (2022) Telbas prison (figure 4) is actually a collection of graves belonging to the Assyrian period.
Even as the rivers are at threat of disappearing, they are still providing. At the threat of disappearing we are still being given valuable resources. If the water levels of these two rivers continue to lower, we will continue to find more historical artifacts and sites that bring a different value to the world, but at a great cost.
Cheeseman, Abbie. 2021. “Iraq’s mighty rivers Tigris and Euphrates ‘will soon run dry.’” The Times. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/iraqs-mighty-rivers-tigris-and-euphrates-will-soon-run-dry-q5h72g5sk.
Golder, Joseph, Newt Gingrich, Michael Medved, Daniel R. DePetris, and Josh Hammer. 2022. “Archaeologists Rush to Investigate 3,400-Year-Old City Emerging From Tigris River.” Newsweek. https://www.newsweek.com/archaeologists-rush-investigate-3400-year-old-city-emerging-tigris-river-1711827.
Mark, Joshua J., Simeon Netchev, and Gwendolyn Leick. 2021. “Mitanni.” World History Encyclopedia. https://www.worldhistory.org/Mitanni/.
Recker, Jane. 2022. “Drought in Iraq Reveals 3,400-Year-Old City | Smart News.” Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/drought-in-iraq-reveals-3400-year-old-city-180980188/.
Shafaqna Persian. 2022. “Iraq: Lowering Euphrates water level reveals underwater ancient areas.” International Shia News Agency. https://en.shafaqna.com/274459/lowering-euphrates-water-level-reveals-80-under-water-ancient-areas-in-western-iraq/.
Sweeney, Jane. 2022. “Tigris River.” National Geographic Society. https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/tigris-river.
Tarzi, Nazli. 2022. “Zakhiku, Iraq’s ‘Atlantis on the Tigris’ revealed by drought.” The New Arab. https://english.alaraby.co.uk/features/zakhiku-iraqs-atlantis-tigris-revealed-drought.
UNIVERSITY OF TÜBINGEN. 2022. “A 3400-year-old city emerges from the Tigris River | University of Tübingen.” Uni Tübingen. https://uni-tuebingen.de/en/university/news-and-publications/press-releases/press-releases/article/a-3400-year-old-city-emerges-from-the-tigris-river/.