Armenia: At the Crossroads
Armenia: At the Crossroads


by Phillip L. Kohl

During the decade of the 1980s American archaeologists participated on field programs in the Soviet Union with increasing frequency. In 1986 my own research interests shifted westwards, and I decided to familiarize myself with the results of years of excavations in the various republics north and south of the main Caucasus. My work consisted of meeting archaeologists active in the area and studying and photographing museum collections in Moscow, Leningrad, Yerevan, Tbilisi, and Baku.

One product of this initial six month visit was to initiate chemical analyses of obsidian (volcanic glass) artifacts and geological samples from sites and source deposits scattered throughout the Caucasus. This work, which today is nearing completion, has involved irradiating more than 500 samples with neutrons to yield a highly accurate trace element profile or 'fingerprint', which, in turn can identify the precise geological origin of-artifacts of different periods and regions and, thus, allow for the reconstruction of ancient exchange routes. Through this project, I met Dr. Ruben Badaljan of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography in Yerevan and Dr. Zaal Kikodze from Tbilisi, Georgia.

In 1989 they both visited the United States and it was at that time that we first discussed initiating a combined archaeological project among Armenian, Georgian, and American archaeologists - what I now call WAPAG or the Wellesley Archaeological Project in Armenia and Georgia.

As luck would have it, Dr. Kikodze's work had been concerned with the collection of Stone Age materials from an area surrounding Lake Paravani in southern Georgia, while Dr. Badaljan had worked for years just over the Georgian/ Armenian border on the Shirak plain of northwestern Armenia. The entire contiguous region was relatively incompletely investigated and also rich in obsidian. Thus, the focus for developing a cooperative field project seemed natural.

Planning of the project also was facilitated by the political changes that had occurred throughout the Soviet Union. While my earlier efforts at working in the Soviet Union always had necessitated approval both by local institutes and by Moscow, now the process became more direct and less cumbersome, involving negotiations only with local authorities.

Funded initially by grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society, WAPAG commenced in summer 1990 with the initial surveying and mapping of prehistoric sites in southern Georgia and the beginning of actual excavations at the unique Bronze and Iron Age site of Horom, c. 15 km. southeast of Leninakan/Gumairi in northern Armenia.

Because of the devastation of the 1988 earthquake, only Dr. Edens, a Harvard colleague, and I made the trip to Leninakan. We lived, like the vast majority of the population, in a small ";temporary"; metal wagon for three weeks without basic amenities, such as running water. Our ability to travel and investigate broad areas also was constrained by the depressing lack of petrol, a product of the economic blockade initiated in Azerbaijan. We knew of these difficulties in advance and were not overly troubled for we had already decided on concentrating our work at the unique urban site of Horom, which Dr. Badaljan mapped shortly after his return from the States in 1988.

Horom was easily the largest and richest prehistoric site we visited in 1980; quite possibly, it is the largest pre-Urartean site in Transcaucasia, the physiographic rocky massif or complex that Dr. Badaljan and his colleagues had mapped sprawling over a c. 400 ha. (or 1000 acre) area. While stone architecture and circular stone ringed tombs could be traced across most of this vast area, our intensive surface collecting of the site determined that most of the artifactual debris - broken ceramics, obsidian tools and flakes, and faunal remains - was limited largely to the northwestern quarter of the site and, specifically, was focused around two dominant hills, which we called ";citadels"; 1 and 2. since both were encircled by rings of cyclopean stone fortification walls.

The prehistoric site, thus, probably was not occupied over the entire 400 ha. area but was still more than respectfully ";urban"; by Bronze and Iron Age standards, covering what we minimally estimate now as c. 50 ha. In addition, we opened two 3x5 m. trenches along the southeastern slope of "citadel 1", digging down through roughly 3 m. of deposit to reach bedrock or virgin soil. One trench was almost perfectly bisected by a monumental stone wall that began more than 50 cm. beneath the surface of the mound or that, in other words, was completely invisible prior to excavations.

The material recovered from these soundings essentially confirmed what we had collected from the surface: the site was primarily occupied during two periods - first in the Early Bronze period or roughly contemporaneous with the site of Satlkhe in southern Georgia (early to mid-3rd millennium B.C.- and secondly during what is termed the Early Iron period or immediately pre-Urartu, the last centuries of the 2nd and first centuries of the 1st millennia B.C.

Since our stone wall dated to this later occupation, we believe that most of the monumental structures visible on the surface of Horom (as well as those that are undoubtedly buried) probably date to this Early Iron period, but this hypothesis can only be confirmed through much more extensive operations which we plan to begin in 1992.

It is hoped that Armenian archaeologists will also participate in the planned excavations in southern Georgia, such participation representing a unique example of international collaboration within Transcaucasian archaeology.

Our investigations are regionally focused in an area not only divided by the Georgian and Armenian border but contested by the local populations. Reasons for these tensions are historically complex and are related to current demographic distributions in which Armenians outnumber Georgians on the eastern portion of the Djavekheti plateau. However indirectly and naively, our work also hopes to address these ethnic tensions so sadly characteristic of today's southern Georgia by demonstrating that scholars with different specialties and from different ethnic backgrounds can work together to solve mutually defined problems of historical interest. At this moment of their history in particular, Georgians and Armenians need to mutually understand one another and work together. WAPAG modestly hopes to contribute to that goal.

Originally published in the June 1991 ​issue of AGBU Magazine. Archived content may appear distorted on your screen. end character

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