Today we are going to take a trip to the site of Gegharot in Armenia. This area is currently under excavation as part of the ArAGATS – American-Armenian Project for the Archaeology and Geography of Ancient Transcaucasian Societies. The project which was developed in 1998 by Dr Adam Smith and Dr Ruben Badalyan focuses in the investigation of the Tsaghkahovit Plain of Central Armenia under the northern slopes of Mt. Aragats. Their aim is to understand the cultural diversity and historical issues in Armenia since ancient times and up to the modern age. Gegharot, is one of the specific field projects of the ArAGATS since 2005. In order for you to get the picture, I’ll give you first of all an overview of the site.
This is a Bronze Age settlement, with a fortified wall and a cemetery which was the main area of research upon its discovery in the late 1950s. However, the ArAGATS project is now focused on the actual fortress with the purpose of understanding the sociopolitical interactions of ancient Armenian groups. One of the latest discoveries within the site was a large village dating to the early Bronze Age and part of the Kura-Araxes culture. If you are not very familiar with the cultures from the Caucasus, you may want to know that these people inhabited the region from 3400 BC to 2000 BC – although there are theories that suggest the disappearance of the Kura-Araxes may have begun around the 2600 BC. This culture moved northwards from the Ararat plain, and then southwards all the way to modern-day Syria, comprising a total area of 1,000 km by 500 km. In addition, the name of the culture is taken from the two main rivers that nourish this land: Kura and Araxes. Abundant archaeological finds and stable sediments up to the late Bronze Age prove that Gegharot was a prolific settlement, with a decent production of pottery and bronze work. In fact, recent studies in the area such as the work presented by by Alan F. Greene suggests that the vast majority of the pottery was used I the export of goods from Gegharot, which suggests this was indeed an active area in term of commerce (The Archaeology of Power and Politics in Eurasia: Regimes and Revolutions, p.317 – 318). However, it seems that this area of Armenia became suddenly vacant and unoccupied following the destruction of a nearby citadel: Tsakahovit. Scholars working on this field of study are still trying to understand the reasons behind this phenomenon, which they believe key to unveil the rise of early politics around the second millennium BC.
The research at Gegharot is still work in progress, and news from the site appear with frequency. The latest took place earlier on this year with the announcement of 3 shrines from 3300 years ago that had been found within the settlement. It seems that these were used for divination and prediction of the future. The archaeological team has found idols, and items made out of clay, as well as bones. Presumably these were used for osteomancy as well as lithomancy. Moreover, flour for aleuromancy as well as bread making for the ceremonies was discovered there too. Other quirky finds show stamp seals, potentially used to give shape to the dough at the shrines. Adam Smith (Cornell University), who is currently investigating the site, believes these shrines may have been a place for the practice of the occult, where rulers would have gone in time of need. They seem to have been in use for an entire century, but were eventually destroyed alongside the fortress in Gegharot during a time of political unrest in the Caucasus.
So once again, a pretty unknown piece of the past served in W.U Hstry for you.
And in case you are interested in finding out more about the project itself and the cultures of the Caucasus, please visit the http://www.aragats.org/ website.