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Antiquity Vol 78 No 300 June 2004

Excavations of Bronze Age funerary sites in Azerbaijan

G. Goscharly, D. Maynard, R. Moore & N. Museibov


A number of archaeological sites are being excavated in advance of construction of the BTC pipeline in Azerbaijan. The Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Baku and British archaeologists are conducting the work. Up to the end of 2003, two sites had been completed: a kurgan burial mound in Goranboy Region and a cemetery at Zayamchai in Shamkir Region. Both sites are of Bronze Age date, although there is evidence of later use. Approximately 20 other sites have been examined during 2004.

Figure 1

Antique period jar grave. Click to enlarge.
Figure 2 (Click to view)

Detail of cutmarks on timber
Figure 3

Removing timbers over chamber

Borsunlu Kurgan Mound
The site lies within a group of approximately 60 kurgan mounds, with two large similar cemeteries noted to the south-east. A single burial was placed in a large chamber roofed by tree trunks and a stone cairn. This burial was accompanied by five leaf shaped obsidian arrowheads, a bronze dagger and arrowhead and also a horse burial. Dendrochronological analysis of the timber by Ian Kuniholm of Cornell University suggests that the trees were felled sometime after 1248 BC.

Later, two Antique period graves were inserted to the side of the mound. One was of a man placed in a large jar with 7 other pottery vessels and other grave goods. Three jars were placed outside the large jar; the grave is dated to the third Šsecond centuries BC. The remaining burial was a woman accompanied by a small jar and wearing a composite bronze leaf and bead necklace and dated to the fifth - fourth century BC.

Zayamchai Cemetery
An area of 2400 square metres was excavated, part of a much more extensive cemetery, although the east bank of the Zayamchai river. A total of 129 graves were examined together with what is interpreted as a shrine area. The graves appear to represent a previously unrecorded form of burial with the grave pit filled with large stones, some having above ground cairns. There is some evidence of examples with crescentic shaped cairns.

Figure 4

Zayamachai Grave 27 bronze dress ornaments

Figure 5

Zayamchai Decorated pottery vessel

There are several varying forms of burial represented, ranging from the simple deposition of four vessels with no other burial goods or body remains, to the human burial accompanied by over 25 vessels with grave goods such as bronze daggers and decorative dress fittings.

The site lies within a much larger area of small stone cairns and mounds, all of presumably similar function. To the east of the site, a settlement area was excavated, although this had been largely destroyed by soil erosion, hastened by recent ploughing.

Preliminary assessment of the material suggests that the site is of the Hajialy-Gedabey culture and dates to the period 1400-600 BC.

Figure 6

Zayamchai Grave 119
Figure 7

Zayamchai Grave 27
Figure 8

Zayamchai Pottery vessels

Goschar Goscharly: Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Academy of Science, Baku
David Maynard: BTC Co. Baku.
Richard Moore: BTC Co. Baku.
Najaf Museibov: Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Academy of Science, Baku

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