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Antiquity Vol 77 No 295 March 2003

Exploration and Survey of Pleistocene Hominid Sites in Armenia and Karabagh

T. King, Y. Fernandez-Jalvo, N. Moloney, P. Andrews, A. Melkonyan, P. Ditchfield, L. Yepiskoposyan & S. Karapetyan

Recent discoveries in the the Caucasus region indicate that hominids occupied this area over a period of nearly two million years. The earliest hominids outside Africa are known from the Georgian site of Dmanisi in the southern Caucasus (~1.8 Ma) (Gabunia et al., 2000). Human remains from Mezmaiskaya Cave in the northern Caucasus, provide evidence that Neanderthals were present in Eurasia at a later date than previously thought (~29000 years BP) (Smith et al., 2000).

Acheulian and Middle Palaeolithic tools recovered from sites in the Armenian Corridor (Figure 1) indicate the importance of this region in terms of the northward migrations of early humans from Africa, as well as for archaic and modern humans as they moved between Europe, the Levant and Africa. Yerevan I Cave, situated in the Hrazdan River Gorge has yielded Mousterian artefacts (Yeritsyan,1970). Lower and Middle Palaeolithic tools have been recovered during partial excavations of Azokh Cave in Karabagh (Lublin & Bosinski, 1995). In addition, sites situated on the southern and western edges of the Aragats volcano have yielded significant lithic assemblages (Y. Sayadyan, 2001, op cit.).

Figure 1 (Click to View)

Figure 1: Map showing sites in the Armenian Corridor from which Acheulian and Middle Palaeolithic tools have been recovered.
Figure 1 (Click to View)

Figure 2 (click to enlarge)

Despite these discoveries, little in the way of human remains and fauna have been discovered in the Armenian Corridor. Yerevan I Cave has yielded a cranial fragment and molar tooth thought to belong to a child dated to between 47,800 and 49,000 BP and associated faunal remains (Boriskovskij, 1984; Yeritsyan,1970). Older mammalian faunas have been discovered from the Leninakan basin (Aslanian et al., 1973). At Azokh Cave in Karabagh faunal remains were discovered during the initial excavations, as well as a hominid mandibular fragment thought to be comparable to human remains from Arago and Mauer (Charitonov, 1989; Gabunia, 1992).

In order to increase our understanding of the Armenian Corridor and to investigate possible migration routes from Africa into Eurasia, we conducted reconnaissance fieldwork in Armenia and Karabagh during 1999 and 2002. This fieldwork was undertaken as part of a long-term collaboration agreement between The Armenian Academy of Sciences, The Institute of Man, Yerevan, The Natural History Museum, London, The Institute of Archaeology, London, and The Museo de Ciencias Naturales, Spain.

The area investigated encompassed northern and western Armenia, as well as the region surrounding Azokh cave in south eastern Karabagh. In northern Armenia localities were examined in the Javacheti mountain range where the Georgian site of Dmanisi is also situated. At Medzavan, close to the border with Georgia quartz tools were found on the surface of deposits. The localities examined are situated on Quaternary lavas, and display more marked erosion than those to the north on the Georgian side of this volcanic range. To the east, between Alaverdi and Ijevan, Quaternary deposits and caves yielded lithics and in situ charcoal remains. In northern Armenia continental sediments were located but no evidence of human occupation was found. Several cave sites were surveyed in south eastern Karabagh. The partially excavated cave at Azokh was found to contain undisturbed sediments at the sides of the entrance and deeper within the cave. Another partially excavated cave at Tughlar contained an abundance of fossils and Upper Palaeolithic obsidian tools. As obsidian is not local to this region, its presence may suggest interchange between human groups.

The Djachavketi and Karabagh regions of the Armenian Corridor explored have great potential for the discovery of further human remains, stone tools and associated fauna. Excavations at Azokh Cave were re-opened by us in the summer of 2002 and will continue in 2003. A preliminary publiction on the 2002 season is currently being prepared. In addition, we are continuing to survey cave sites and open-air localities in both these regions.

Figure 1 (Click to View)

Figure 3 (click to enlarge)

We are grateful to Louise Humphrey and Chris Stringer for commenting on an earlier draft of this manuscript. The 1999 and 2001 surveys were supported by British Airways/British Mediterranean Airways, Institute of Archaeology Awards (University of London), The Harold Hyam Wingate Trust, The Spanish Ministry of Science &Technology, The Royal Society and University of London Graduate School Research Projects Fund.


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  • Gabunia, L., Vekua, A., Lordkipanidze, D., Swisher, C.C., Ferring, R., Justus, A., Nioradze, M., Tvalchrelidze, M., Anton, S. C., Bosinski, G., Joris, O, de Lumley, M-A., Majsuradze, G., Mouskhel ishvili, A. 2000. Earliest Pleistocene cranial remains from Dmanisi, Republic of Georgia: taxonomy, geological setting, and age. Science 288: 1019-1025.
  • Lublin, V.P. & Bosinski, G. 1995. The earliest occupation of the Caucasus region. Roebroeks & Van Kolfschoten (eds.) The Earliest Occupation of Europe. Proceedings of The European Science Foundation Workshop at Tautavel (France) 1993: 208-245.
  • Sayadyan, Y. 2001. op cit. Invited lecture. The Natural History Museum, London.
  • Smith, F. H., Trinkaus, E., Pettitt, P. B., Karavanic, I. & Paunovic, M. Direct radiocarbon dates for Vindija G1 and Velika Pecina Late Pleistocene hominid remains. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 96: 12281-12286 (1999).
  • Yeritsyan, B.G. 1970. The Erevan cave site and its position among the Palaeolithic sites of the Caucasus. Moscow.

  • King, Andrews: Human Origins Group, Department of palaeontology, The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, U.K.
    Fernandez-Jalvo: Departamento de Paleobiologia, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, Jose Gutierrez Abascal, 2, 28006 Madrid, Spain.
    Moloney: Institute of Archaeology, University College London, 31-34 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PY, U.K.
    Ditchfield: Research Laboratory for Archaeology & the History of Art, University of Oxford, 6 Keble Road, Oxford, OX1 3QJ, U.K.
    Melkonyan, Karapetyan: Institute of Geological Sciences, Armenian Academy of Sciences, Marshall Bagramian Street, 375019 Yerevan, Republic of Armenia.
    Yepiskoposyan: Institue of Man, 15 Charents Street, 375025 Yerevan, Republic of Armenia

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