The 12,000-year-old ancient Mesopotamian town of Hasankeyf set to submerged by new dam
Hasankeyf, Turkey, is one of the oldest ancient sites in the world with evidence of human settlement. Dating back 12,000 years, it has been home to virtually every major Mesopotamian civilisation, and it has seen huge transformations over its long life-span, from a Byzantine bishopric to an Arab fortress and an outpost in the Ottoman Empire. But all this history is about to be lost. The Turkish Republic has ordered the construction of a hydroelectric dam which will submerge the ancient town beneath 60 metres of water.
The 12,000-year-old settlement of Hasankeyf is located on the banks of the Tigris River in south-eastern Turkey, not far from the border with Syria. Scheduled for completion in late 2014, the Ilisu Dam, which is now under construction 100 kilometres downstream from Hasankeyf, will generate nearly 2% of Turkey’s electricity and create an 11-billion-cubic-meter reservoir, sinking the ancient city and dozens of towns on the Tigris River in the process.
A map showing the location of Hasankeyf and the dam site. Photo credit: NG Staff
In total, the reservoir will inundate 300 historical sites and displace more than 25,000 people in Turkish towns along the Tigris. Only one-fifth of the archaeological sites around Hasankeyf have been unearthed so far, and local archaeologists predict that 85 percent of the remainder will be flooded before they can finish excavating.
Ancient monuments in Hasankeyf will be submerged under water
In February 2013, Turkey's highest administrative court ordered construction to halt until an environmental impact assessment had been carried out. However, the Turkish government changed the regulation so that the dam would not require the assessment.
In 2010, a team from Turkey's Middle East Technical University proposed an alternative plan to Ilısu: five smaller hydroelectric dams along the Tigris that would leave Hasankeyf completely above water. Government officials did not respond specifically to the proposal, but declared that all efforts would be made to preserve Hasankeyf's culture and history. That clearly has not happened.
Nearly 1,000 miles downstream, communities in southern Iraq will face a different threat from the Ilisu Dam. The Mesopotamian marshes, fed by waters of the Tigris, may disappear completely once the dam is complete.
The Mesopotamian marshes of southern Iraq, which once covered one-fifth of modern Iraq's landmass and which have hosted human civilization since ancient Sumer, now sustain the local population through agriculture. But now all this is under threat.
"There won't be any more marsh in Iraq" if Ilısu and the other remaining dams in Turkey's Southeastern Anatolia Project are built, says Al-Asadi. Iraqi officials estimate that the project will dehydrate 670,000 hectares of arable land in the country.
Last week, we featured an article on the submersion of the ancient ‘Lion City’ to build a dam in China fifty years ago. One of our Facebook readers, Enrique Velchado, responded with the question: “Who in their right mind sinks an ancient city?” Sadly, it seems it has become common practice to put money and power ahead of the preservation of our ancient past.