a Kura Araxes Culture Site in Yerevan on the Ararat hills, Republic of Armenia
Hakop Simonyan, 2000-2008 season field director
Mitchell S. Rothman webmaster 2009-2010 seasons field director
The site of Shengavit lies in the Ararat Plain within the city of Yerevan.
It was first excavated in a trial trench by Bayburtian in 1938 (Bayburtian 1939). S.A. Sardarian took over excavations in 1958, but left little provenience information to indicate where his finds came from (Sardarian 1967). Simonyan re-opened excavations in 2000 at a very small scale (Simonian 2002, click below for complete text in English or Armenian) and quickly realized its continuing potential. Simonyan therefore extended excavations with a second short season in 2005. He dug stratigraphic trenches at the edges of Sardarian’s and Bayburtian’s old trenches. In those trenches he isolated four distinct strata, the earliest from the late fifth millennium and the latest from the early to mid-third millennium BC.
The site had been damaged by the building of a Soviet Hospital ward. It and a small museum sit at the apex of the mound, but 2 hectares of the mound and areas currently under illegal orchards, another hectare, remain open (these are areas with dots in the accompanying site map).
The most important levels are the top two representing Early Bronze 1 and 2 or Kura Araks I and II in Badalyan and Smith's chronology, or Early Bronze 1 and 2 and Kura-Araks II and III in Sagona's chronology.
Excavators at the site discovered a series of round and square buildings in apparent compounds.
Some had large silos for grains (see Burney and Lang 1971: figure 24 for a picture of charred wheat and barley still inside them). The site was surrounded by a large wall, as were other sites, even half hectare village ones, in the Ararat Plain (Areshian 2006). Excavators also found crucibles for potentially 10 kg of smelted metal and storage containers for much greater quantities of smelted metal than the Shengavit community would likely need.
metallurgy, crucibles and slag
Excavators at Jrashen some kilometers from Yerevan recovered a hoard of early third millennium axes and adzes representing typical products (Areshian 2006). In addition, crews at Shengavit unearthed large concentrations of debris from flint and obsidian knapping, pottery making, and making weapons, mostly maceheads. The craft concentrations Simonyan described as organized workshops (“guilds”). One of the larger pottery forms was identified as a wine vat (we hope to do residue analysis next year to confirm this). Specialized craft production then appears to mark Shengavit.
Graves were found in earlier excavations and more apparently remain in the open area near the wall (marked as “cemetery?” on the site map above).
The settlement pattern known from the Ararat Plain is also suggestive of developing societal complexity. Four smaller village sites are located outside the large wall at Shengavit: Moukhannat Tepe, Khorumbulagh, and Tairov (Simonian 2002). These clusters form a two-tiered settlement pattern, which re-occurs south of Shengavit at Dvin, a huge medieval mound with remains of perhaps a 10 hectare Early Bronze Age site beneath (Areshian 2006).
With the large silos, the wall, many finds of maceheads (weapons), craft workshops, as well as satellite sites Shengavit appears to be a center, albeit more a town than a city. This is unusual for a culture normally characterized by small villages and pastoral camps.
Its pottery remains have long made it a type site the Early Transcaucasian culture (hereafter ‘ETC’) of the Armenian south. The typical black burnished exterior and red interior with incised or raised designs is common at Shengavit as it is across the Easrly Transcaucasian mountain territotries. The Badalyan Smith Kura Araks II is marked by a jar shape (below right) with 2 grooves and slight carination first identified at Shenganvit. Other shapes and incised or raised designs also define the period.
At the end of the fourth into the third millennia BC, people carrying Early Transcaucasian cultural traditions migrated over a wide mountain arc from western Iran to Eastern Turkey and down into the Jordan Valley (see Rothman 2003 [reference below]). In sites to which Early Transcaucasian peoples migrated in highland Eastern Turkey and Western Iran, clearly southern Armenian forms are quite common. both in pottery and architectural style, although both are classified as Early Transcaucasian (Sagona 1984). Tracing the movement of people from specific areas then becomes possible, especially if a larger, more comprehensive and well excavated comparative sample of ceramics were available
The site, as mentioned above, appears to be a center. Whereas each home and its hearth with decorated andirons has been proposed as the basis of religious ritual Shengavit and Mokhra Blur each has a large obelisk, at mokhra Blur on a brick tower, which indicate some central ritual or social institution.
A variety of statuettes, mostly of clay may well be part of the ritual life of the Shengavit people.
Many other objects that clearly were the product of local production have been recovered. These include metallurgy and lithic industries (note the bitumen on the sickle (right picture 2nd row to the right).
chert and obsdian stone tools
The site yielded many other artifacts of every imaginable category.
Macehead hoe, hammer, grinder
Bone spearhead, flaker, and needle
Articles referred to above
Areshian, Gregory. 2006. Early Bronze Age settlements in the Ararat Plain and its Vicinity. Archäologische Mitteilungen aus Iran und Turan. 37 (2005): 71-88.
Bayburtian Eugenie, 1939 The Succession of Ancient Cultures of Armenia, on the basis of the archaeological material, manuscript, The Archive of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, - RA, (90)148, Yerevan.
Burney, Charles and David Lang. 1971. Peoples of the Hills. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
Rothman, Mitchell S. 2003 Ripples in the Stream: Transcaucasia-Anatolian Interaction in the Murat/Euphrates Basin at the Beginning of the Third Millennium B.C. in Archaeology in the Borderlands: Investigations in Caucasia and Beyond. A. Smith and K. Rubinson, eds. pp. 95-110. Los Angeles: Cotsen: Institute of Archaeology, UCLA.
Sagona, Antonio. 1984. The Caucasian Region in the Early Bronze Age. Oxford: BAR International Series 214.
Sardarian S. H. 1967 The Primitive Communal System in Armenia. Yerevan.
Simonyan article in English
Simonyan article in Armenian
Season 2010 results
Plans for the Future
New extensive excavations over the next 10 years will be conducted to understand the social, economic, political, and religious organization of not only the Shengavit site but the southern Armenian area better. From the work of Badlayan and Smith, Areshian, Sagona, Kohl, and others, we know that this organization is likely to be different than the Mesopotamian or north Caucasus societies that bracket it to the south and north. However, the details of our analysis will add to a more nuanced understanding of these differences. The new data we collect should also help us trace the routes of Early Transcaucasian migrants into western Iran, Eastern Turkey, all the way into the Jordan Valley, and explain its relationship to the Transcaucasian homeland.
Museum and Archaeological Park
A small rather meager museum currently is located at the site. Because of its location on Lake Yerevan in the heart of the Armenian capital, the site can be easily accessed by most citizens. We therefore hope to do two things to educate the local population and enhance public interest in archaeology.
First we hope to find a home for an expanded museum to be part of an archaeological park where people can come and see the excavations, picnic, relax and learn.
That project will include building a gate to protect the site from the road and an open roof cover over the excavations like at Catal Hoyuk in Turkey.
These additions will preserve the site and open it to a wider public as excavations continue. If you are interested in these projects contact the webmaster and American field co-director whose e-mail you can click on above.
Other places to look for Early Transcaucasian sites and information:
The Aragats Project of Badalyan and Smith
Georgian Muesum Collections
Early Trancaucasian Cultures