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Tell Leilan is situated near the Wadi Jarrah in the Khabur river basin in northeast Syriamarker. The site has been occupied since the 5th millennium BC. During the late third millennium, the site was known as Shekhna. Around 1800 BC, the site was renamed Shubat-Enlil by Shamshi-Adad I and it became the capital of his state of northern Mesopotamia. Shubat-Enlil was abandoned around 1700 BC.

Early history of Tell Leilan

The city originated around 5000 BC as a small farming village and grew to be a large city in the Akkadian Empiremarker. A 3-foot layer of sediment containing no evidence of human habitation offered clues as to the cause of the demise of the Akkadian Empire — analysis indicated that at around 2200 BC, a drought had occurred that was so severe that even earthworms had not survived. This was among the earliest evidence that climate change could be responsible for the rise and fall of civilizations.

The city of Shubat-Enlil

The conquest of the region by the Assyrian king Shamshi-Adad I (1813–1781 BC) revived the abandoned site of Tell Leilan. Shamshi-Adad saw the great potential in the rich agricultural production of the region and made it the capital city of his northern Mesopotamian kingdom. He renamed it from Shehna to Shubat-Enlil, or Šubat-Enlil, meaning "the residence of the god Enlil" in the Akkadian language. In the city a royal palace was built and a temple acropolis to which a straight paved street led from the city gate. There was also a planned residential area and the entire city was enclosed by a wall. The city size was about . Shubat-Enlil may have had a population of 20,000 people at its peak. The city prospered until the king Samsu-Iluna of Babylonmarker sacked it in 1726 BC. Shubat-Enlil was never to regain its power. It later became a provincial Hurrian town in the kingdom of Mitanni.

Research history

The mound of Tell Leilan was excavated by a US team of archaeologists from Yale universitymarker. The excavation started in 1979 led by Harvey Weiss and the study of the site is continuing. The most important discovery at Tell Leilan is an archive of 1100 cuneiform clay tablets kept by the rulers of the city. These tablets date to the eighteenth century BC and record the dealings with other Mesopotamian states and how the city administration worked.


  • The Climate of Man — II: The curse of Akkad. Elizabeth Kolbert. The New Yorker. May 2, 2005.
  • Marc van de Mieroop: The Mesopotamian City. Oxford University Press 1999. ISBN 0-19-815286-8
  • Science Direct, Quaternary Research, Volume 67, Issue 3 (May 2007), pp. 337–348, Fluvial Environmental Contexts for Archaeological Sites in the Upper Khabur Basin (northeastern Syria)

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