Author Archives: admin

Armenia and Archaeo-Tourism

A great post from Project ArAGATS member Elizabeth Fagan’s blog regarding US Ambassador to Armenia Heffern’s recent TedX Yerevan talk:

In 2013, the United States Ambassador to Armenia, John Heffern, gave a TedX talk in Yerevan about the wealth of archaeological remains just waiting to be excavated (and then conserved) in the modern Republic of Armenia. He argued that the vivid history in Armenia should be better known throughout the world, to bring development (i.e., tourist dollars and related construction projects) to Armenia, and also to heighten academic interest in its history, thereby also encouraging international collaboration.

To emphasize the value of bringing international attention to archaeology in Armenia, Ambassador Heffern pointed out a few somewhat recent finds from the caves near the town of Areni in Vayots Dzor, including the earliest known wine-making equipment and a remarkably well-preserved leather shoe that clocks in at 5,500 years old. He went on to discuss the wine-making equipment at length, because of its potential significance to development, as the region of Areni just happens to be the most famous Armenian region for wine production, suggesting marketing connections just waiting to be made.  Ambassador Heffern’s final exhortation to his audience was to look into the use of crowdfunding to help finance archaeological projects and conservation, and to promote the sites for education and tourism.

I am in such complete agreement with Ambassador Heffern’s main points that I have in fact spoken to audiences across the U.S. on numerous occasions about archaeology in Armenia, its origins, its history, and its current state.  In Armenia, if you walk through the countryside with one of the archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the National Academy of Sciences, the archaeologist will point out a historic or archaeological site to your left; an artifact to the right; a series of memorials behind you; or ancient walls directly in front.  The landscape is dotted with reminders of the past, artifacts and constructions like those found in the Areni cave that tell a tale of very early times, up through material remains that teach us about the medieval period and beyond.  The very landscape tells a story, a complex story of different times and different people, and that captivating story—or really, stories—should indeed be better known.

I have even led a group of tourists through every part of the country, telling those stories of the past by providing a unique look at material excavated long ago as well as excavations that are currently ongoing. I led the tour to do exactly what Ambassador Heffern is calling for, to bring tourist money into the country while at the very same time educating people about the past directly under their feet.

And so, I agree wholeheartedly with the spirit of the talk, and yet, I can’t help but wonder what impact crowdfunding might have on what is (and should remain) a social-scientific endeavor.  What happens if institutions like universities and organizations like the National Science Foundation are relieved of their responsibility to fund scientific projects like archaeology?  What happens if the model becomes, in fact, a business model?  Or even a privately-funded model?

I have other questions about the talk, such as why there was no mention of the many internationalcollaborations already going on in Armenia, some of which have lasted for many years.  There was not even a mention of the teams at UCLA and University College Cork who work at Areni, although to be fair, Armenian archaeologists also hardly figured in the speech except to be seen in the photo at the Institute.  My point, however, is that collaborations and academic interest in Armenia already do exist; why not lend support to these projects, which already have the relationships and even infrastructure in place that will allow them to expand their efforts to illuminate the archaeology and history hiding in Armenia’s soil?

In the end, TedX talks are meant to be thought-provoking, not necessarily problem-solving. This talk certainly made me think, but largely, about the proposed solution to the problem of funding archaeological research, and about the problems that the solution might in turn raise.

With the 2014 founding of the new ArAGATS Foundation whose mission is to promote the co-development of regional archaeology and economic development, Ambassador Heffern’s approach is timely and extremely welcome. We look forward to more conversations on this very important issue here in the future.

Project ArAGATS Receives Grant for Upgraded Data Management System

Thanks to a grant from the Dolores Zohrab Liebmann fund, Project ArAGATS will undertake a complete rebuilding of its data management infrastructure.  Our goal is to make available all of the Project ArAGATS survey, excavation, photographic, and analytic data in a publically accessible forum that is intuitive to use.  Working with the software development team at GORGES in Ithaca, we have outlined a new data management system that incorporates both an understanding of archaeological data workflows and digital data management best practices.

Benefits of the new software will include:

  • Reliability. Resolves the instability in the current data system and provides enhanced security;
  • Extensability. Incorporates all extant forms of data in the dispersed ArAGATS archive and allows for rapid extension to new/unforeseen data formats;
  • Openness. Extends public access to potentially all ArAGATS data;
  • Analytic. Bundled simple analytic modules open new interpretive possibilities and streamline the work flow from field to publication;
  • Mobile. Allows “trenchside” data entry and research.

The main elements of the new system will include:


  • The development of an interface design that allows for smooth response to information handling in the form of features and functions such as search tools with different filter sets, editable search returns, photographic returns, and means of data entry validation;
  • Deployment of a database design, which will entail migration and merger of existing ArAGATS datasets in the form of the survey database (and associated map function), photo archive, and excavation database, with its multitude of data categories (ceramics, metals, lithics, human remains, plant remains, animal remains, charcoal and dendrochronological samples, journals, etc.);
  • Creation of a document manager for uploading a range of document types;
  • Integration of reactive programming to ensure mobile device compatibility.

The primary backend database will remain in MySQL, a flexible open access product.  The new front-end work flow management system will be written in Ruby on Rails (aka Rails), an open source web application framework that runs on Linux OS and works with multiple free databases and web servers, thus minimizing long term operating costs.

Our thanks to The Dolores Zohrab Liebmann fund for their support of this initiative and their continued commitment to making the research of Project ArAGATS available to the world.


Empire in the Everyday: Just out in AJA

The current issue of the American Journal of Archaeology includes a new preliminary report on the Project ArAGATS excavations at Tsaghkahovit.  You can access the article on the AJA website or follow the link on Lori Khatchadourian’s page.  The article includes Lori’s account of the 2008-11 field seasons as well as appendices by ArAGTS team members Belinda Monahan and Roman Hovsepyan on the archaebotanical and zoo archaeological results.


An important side note to the article.  This issue of the AJA marks the first time they have put an image on the cover.  The image chosen for this consequential moment in the journal’s long and storied history?  Room I at Tsaghkahovit.  Congratulations to Lori, Roman, Belinda, and the whole Tsaghkahovit team!

New ArAGATS PhD: Dr. Alan Greene

On August 23, Alan Greene successfully defended his PhD Dissertation at the University of Chicago entitled: “The Social Lives of Pottery on the Plain of Flowers: An Archaeology of Pottery Production, Distribution, and Consumption in the Late Bronze Age South Caucasus”.  The abstract to the dissertation is below the photo.

Alan’s is the third Project ArAGATS dissertation to be successfully defended.  Congratulations to Dr. Greene from the whole ArAGATS team!

Part of Project ArAGATS celebrates Greene's PhD Defense (from left: I. Lindsay, A. T. Smith, M. Marshall, E. Fagan, H. Chazin, L. Khatchadourian, A. Greene w/Gretchen Greene, T. Nussbaum

Part of Project ArAGATS celebrates Greene’s PhD Defense (from left: I. Lindsay, A. T. Smith, M. Marshall, E. Fagan, H. Chazin, L. Khatchadourian, A. Greene w/Gretchen Greene, T. Nussbaum


Archaeological accounts of the political economies of emergent complex polities consistently rely on models of commodity redistribution, particularly that of foodstuffs, made possible by the privileged position of powerful sovereigns. Such a specific depiction of the “economic” side of political economy leaves little room for the conception of ancient publicity as established through accumulations of individual material transactions occurring in a variety of meaningful social contexts. This dissertation follows the production of mass political subjectivity through alternative political-economic avenues among the earliest complex polities in southern Caucasia, specifically those of northwestern Armenia and the Tsaghkahovit Plain (Plain of Flowers), during the Late Bronze Age (LBA), ca. 1500–1150 B.C. It is argued that the LBA political economy in the Tsaghkahovit Plain depended on the politically authorizing and subjectivizing practices of a rather disparate population of corporate sub-groups in semi-public contexts, practices which incorporated ceramic containers and equipment during rituals, feasts, productive acts, and transactions of prestation and tribute.

By relying on a biographical conception of economic life as opposed to formalist, substantivist, or subsistence-based models of socioeconomic and biological reproduction, the dissertation discusses how pottery produced at several loci around the LBA plain was distributed between local fortresses, necropolises, hilltop shrines, and workshops—both as containers of agropastoral goods offered to hilltop “total-institutions” and empty ceramic commodities—where textiles and metal adornments appear to have been rather essential craftmaking foci. In forging a “critical archaeometry,” the author presents the results of the visual, compositional, and structural analysis of a pottery collection derived from new excavations at the site of Aragatsi Berd, as well as the previously excavated sites of Gegharot and Tsaghkahovit. The study presents an analysis of the particular chains of transactions in the economy of ceramic containers and equipment as they were arranged during a period in which essential political forms of significant social inequality were institutionalized into local and regional political vocabularies of the everyday. It pursues the social lives of individual containers, equipment, and manghal pyrotechnical items as they traced rather specific and regular trajectories in spite of their differentiation across what appear to have been several different sociotechnical regimes of production. Multiple new methods for the assemblage-based, non-destructive analysis of archaeological pottery, developed specifically to analyze the pottery collections relevant to this investigation, are also outlined.

Happy 15th Birthday Project ArAGATS!

Celebrating the 15th anniversary of Project ArAGATS

Celebrating the 15th anniversary of Project ArAGATS

Thanks to Roman Hovsepyan and his family, we had a fitting celebration for the last day of the 2013 field season, the culmination of Project ArAGATS’s 15 years. Happy Birthday Project ArAGATS and thanks to everyone who has shared in our work so far.  Here’s to the next 15 years!

Iron 3 Tsaghkahovit

In the last day of the 2013 field season at Tsaghkahovit, trench supervisor Cynthia Gosselin recovered a remarkable artifact from Room S of the Iron 3 town. The object is a ceramic spout rendered in the form of what appears to be a bull. The execution of the nostrils combined with the incised arcs above the eyes are reminiscent of bull iconography in the art of the Achaemenid Empire, while the black burnished surface treatment of the vessel invokes the silver zoomorphic amphorae of the empire. The bull spout from Room S belongs to a wider corpus of animal handled vessels discovered at Tsaghkahovit (see 2010 field season).

Black-burnished ceramic bull spout from Tsaghkahovit

Black-burnished ceramic bull spout from Tsaghkahovit

bull spout in profile

bull spout in profile

The artifact was found in a room with several internal features never before encountered at Iron 3 Tsaghkahovit, including stone lined cooking installations and various circular and rectilinear enclosures, perhaps for storage.

Southwest view onto Room S

Southwest view onto Room S

Stone-lined hearth in the east corner

Stone-lined hearth in the east corner

EB Gegharot

The last few days on Gegharot’s West Citadel have brought a flurry of new information about the Early Bronze Age occupation of the site.  The complex stratigraphy is still being worked out but a series of superimposed floors, all with distinct hearth or hearth/oven features are helping us to put together a clearer picture.

Armine Harutyunyan and the 3 EB hearths of T30.

Armine Harutyunyan and the 3 EB hearths of T30.

The upper most hearth has the distinctive tri-lobed form of many Kura-Araxes hearths (mid-distance on the left and below).

The remains of a tri-lobed Kura-Araxes hearth from Gegharot Operation T31.

The remains of a tri-lobed Kura-Araxes hearth from Gegharot Operation T31.

In the middle layer, a round undecorated hearth on one side of the room (pedestaled at back of trench) operated alongside a sub-rectangular oven (near corner of room in photo).  In the adjacent operation, an even deeper layer (not visible) revealed another circular hearth.

But perhaps the most eye-catching remnant of Early Bronze Age Gegharot that we encountered today was the obsidian spear point pictured below.  The point is quite massive and similar to one we uncovered several years ago in T17.

Project ArAGATS co-founder Dr. Ruben Badalyan and an Early Bronze Age obsidian spear head found in operation T30.

Project ArAGATS co-founder Dr. Ruben Badalyan and an Early Bronze Age obsidian spear head found in operation T30.

Coming up: updates on kurgan excavations and continuing work at Tsaghkahovit.

New Views on Gegharot’s East Citadel

T34 Floor

Project Architect Lilit Ter-Minasyan and an assistant from the village of Gegharot map the features uncovered in Gegharot’s Operation T34

An unfinished operation on Gegharot’s East Citadel has already yielded interesting results.  In an area not far from the East Citadel shrine that we documented in 2011 we have opened a paved stone floor dating to the Late Bronze Age.  Adjacent to the floor were three surviving (and possibly two other unpreserved) curvilinear stone-lined features.   The floor and features were later covered during the site’s first destruction episode.  A new wall was then subsequently built atop the destruction debris.

Ethnographic analogies traditionally hold that narrow paved galleries such as the one we’ve uncovered served as pens for young animals.  The small adjacent basins would then make sense as feeding troughs.  What is perhaps most interesting about such a reconstruction is the room’s proximity to the shrine.  Did young animals figure prominently in the ritual practices of the shrine?  We are hoping that expanded excavations and faunal analysis might shed some light on the question.


2013 Excavations Underway

Today is the fourth day of fieldwork for the 2013 Project ArAGATS excavations.  We are working at three sites this year: Gegharot Fortress, the Gegharot Kurgans, and the town at Tsaghkahovit.  The Gegharot fortress excavations are off to a quick start thanks to an operation on the east citadel that we closed at the end of the 2011 season just as things were getting interesting.  As we suspected, after just a bit of cleaning, we appear to be moving into a well-preserved Late Bronze Age deposit reminiscent of other destruction levels that we have encountered on the site.  Here is our first small find from the operation–a fitting testament to destruction.

A Late Bronze Age Obsidian Arrowhead from Gegharot Operation T34

A Late Bronze Age Obsidian Arrowhead from Gegharot Operation T34

At the Gegharot Kurgans, we are cleaning a relatively large burial adjacent to the tomb we excavated in 2005.  These excavations will serve as pilot research for Hannah Chazin’s planned dissertation research on the circulation of animals in the Late Bronze Age regional political economy.

Tsagh 2013 Day 4

At Tsaghkahovit, work is concentrating this year in Precinct C in the shadow of the fortress hill.

We will continue to post updates on the progress of our work throughout the field season.

New Publication Alert


Now in press at the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology:
Lindsay, I. and A. Greene
2013  Sovereignty, mobility, and political cartographies in Late Bronze Age southern Caucasia. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology.