Prehistoric Sites in Northern Armenia

Pavel Dolukhanov, Stepan Aslanian, Evgeny Kolpakov & Elena Belyaeva

Figure 1
Figure 1. Investigated area. WS - Metsavan (Chakhmakhkar) 'workshop'



Acheulean, Mousterian and Post-Palaeolithic sites were known in various parts of the Republic of Armenia, predominantly on the outcrops of volcanic rocks (de Morgan 1909; Panichkina 1950; Sardarian 1954; Lyubin 1961; 1984, 1989; 2002; Kazarian 1986, Yeritsian 1970, 1975). Several Stone Age occurrences on the slopes of the Aragats Mountain are currently being studied (B. Gasparian, personal communication). King et al. (2003) have recently reported several new Palaeolithic sites in Armenia and Nagorny Karabakh.

In October 2003 the authors carried out an intensive field survey in Northern Armenia (Figure 1), assisted by Mr G. Sarkisian, from Armenia's National Heritage, and Mr Samvel Nahapetyan from the Department of Geology, University of Yerevan.

Metsavan. An ovate Acheulean biface (Figure 2), a sub-triangular Levallois flake and a large fossilised tibia of a wild horse were collected from the outcrops of the lacusrtine clay, exposed in the valley of a stream on the slope of the Somkhetian Ridge. These deposits rest on the dolerite basalt lava, which may be tentatively correlated with the 'Mashavera basalt' in the Dmanisi area of neighbouring Georgia with the radiometric age of 1.85±0.01 MA (Gabunia et al. 2000).


Figure 2
Figure 2. Acheulean biface.


A Pechka rock-shelter has been found in the limestone outcrops of the Somkhetian Ridge, near the village of Kruglaya-Shishka. The rock-shelter is located on the left bank of a dry stream, 16 m above its bed, at the altitude of 1680 m above sea level (Figure 3). Stone Age artefacts have been collected on the slope of the valley immediately beneath the rock-shelter. Several artefacts manufactured from andesine and dacit may be classified as Mousterian; they include an exhausted core, two blades, a flake, four points, side scraper, and an end-scalper (Figure 4).

Metsavan (Chakhmakhkar) 'workshop'. The slopes of the Chakhmakhkar Mountain, east of Metsavan village, are littered with artefacts, manufactured predominantly from the local dacite rocks. They include Mousterian tools: single-platform Levallois cores, Levallois flakes and blades. The Post-Palaeolithic series consist of prismatic cores, end-scrapers, small-size points, notched and combined tools.

Katnakhpyur. A rock-shelter was identified in the lower part of the Metsaru River canyon, on its left bank, 40 m above the river bed, at a height of 1630 m above sea level. A retouched fragment of an obsidian blade, possibly a point of post-Palaeolithic age, was found on the floor of the rock-shelter.

Kurtan. A large fortified settlement with the pottery of Bronze and Early Iron Ages was identified on the elevated terrace of the Ghergherchay River west of the Kurtan village (Figure 5).


Figure 3
Figure 3. Pechka rock-shelter.
Click to enlarge.
Figure 4
Figure 4. Pechka. Mousterian tools. Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

Figure 5
Figure 5. Kurtan settlement.


Pagakhpyur and Atkalich. Artefacts including cores, flakes and fully accomplished tools were collected on the banks the lake of Atka (Ettik-Gel), west of the Khurda-Jalal Mountain, at an altitude of 1830 m. The clear dominance of the Levallois-type flaking is remarkable. Thick and crude flakes with either plain or oblique unfaceted striking platforms were also noted. The tools include three simple side scrapers, one angular (déjeté) side-scraper, three points (including a Levallois point with a thinned base, and another one with the alternative retouch) and a single notched tool. Most blanks and tools may be classified as Mousterian, but two crude side scrapers and several flakes attest Acheulean features. Several slightly weathered obsidian artefacts, including one notched tool and three flakes, are thought to be post-Palaeolithic.

The new evidence supports the view that Armenia was part of the corridor via which early hominids were expanding from Africa into the Eurasian landmass. Our survey identified at least one cave site (Pechka) with the Mousterian industry. This implies a possible occurrence of more stratified sites in the vicinity. Open-air sites ('workshops') with the materials attestable as Acheulean, or Mousterian, or both, equally suggest an intensive Early and Middle Palaeolithic occupations with a probable occurrence of dwelling sites. The total absence of authentic Upper Palaeolithic assemblages is equally significant. Earlier writers (Panichkina 1950; Sardarian 1954) reported the finds of prismatic cores and blades with flat striking platforms which they identified as 'Upper Palaeolithic'. In view or the recent experience all these tools may be classified as 'post-Palaeolithic' with their probable age ranging from the Neolithic to Chalcolithic. This implies that, due to the severity of climatic conditions, Armenia was totally abandoned by humans during the Last Glacial Maximum and was resettled again starting with the Neolithic.

This project was partly sponsored by the British Academy Black Sea Initiative (BABSI).

The full report may be found on http://www.staff.ncl.ac.uk/pavel.dolukhanov/.


References

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  • LYUBIN (Lioubine), V.P. 2002. L'Acheuleen du Caucase. In D. LORDKIPANIDZE, O. BAR-YOSEF & M. OTTE (eds.) Early Humans at the Gates of Europe. Liège: Etudes et Recherches archéologiques de l'Université de Liège, p. 134.
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  • YERERTSIAN, B.G.1970. Yerevanskaya peshchernaya stoyanka i e_ mesto sredi drevneishih pamyatnikov Kavkaza.(The Yerevan Cave Site and Its Position Among the Early Sites of the Caucasus). Moscow: PhD Dissertation Abstract (in Russian).
  • YERERTSIAN, B.G.1975. Novaya nizhnepaleoliticheskaja stojanka Lusakert I, Armeniya (New Early Palaeolithic Site of Lusakert I, Armenia). Kratkie soobshcheniya Instituta arheologii AN SSSR, vol. 141(in Russian).

Authors

  • Pavel Dolukhanov