Category Archives: Education

Engaged Archaeology: Elementary School Math Night


Dr. Ian Lindsay (ArAGATS co-director) and a Purdue University colleague assist students with a geocaching game at Cumberland Elementary School’s annual Math Night (West Lafayette, IN).

In an age where assisted navigation systems are available in every new car and standard in our mobile devices, it’s not hard to imaging how the spatial reasoning skills that humans have honed over our long evolutionary history might begin to decline. Indeed the weakening of wayfinding skills is a phenomenon that is being documented in ethnographic cases across the globe, and is part of a broader debate in society about the degree to which modern technology is enhancing human cognition or stunting it (see for example Nicholas Carr’s The Glass Cage [Norton, 2014] vs Clive Thompson’s Smarter Than You Think [Penguin, 2013]). However, even as advanced satellite imagery and navigation technologies help archaeologists document ancient sites with increasing precision and accuracy, map reading and spatial reasoning remain fundamental skills in archaeological fieldwork and analysis. So who better than an archaeologist to instill the value of maps to young people?

With this in mind, I spent an evening at Cumberland Elementary School’s annual Math Night on September 25, using a simple geo-caching game to teach K-3rd graders about the importance and fun of map skills. First, I employed a mock pirate’s treasure map to teach the students about locating places using a set of spatial coordinates (i.e., latitude/longitude). Students were then presented with a map of their school overlaid with a grid and provided with three sets of coordinates that would guide them to secret prizes at each location, usually a classroom. It was an entertaining and rewarding way to enhance applied spatial reasoning and basic math skills relying on kids’ inherent desire to find stuff!

Of course, it didn’t hurt to have Project ArAGATS’ DJI Phantom 3 quadcopter (or, drone) on the table to spark their imagination!

Excursion to Tavush

This past Monday, Project ArAGATS performed its first excursion of the
season to Armenia’s Tavush Province and the alpine monasteries of
Goshavank and Haghartsin. Both complexes, built in the 12th and 13th
centuries AD, have either undergone recent restoration or are in the
process of receiving important conservation efforts.

Team at Haghartsin

Aragatsiner on their day off at Haghartsin Monastery.

Project members enjoyed the
ancient architecture, the beautiful highland settings, and the fog that provided
some additional dramatic background.

Engaged Archaeology, Ithaca Edition

From Assemblages:

Elementary school students dig archaeology | Cornell Chronicle.

The week of June 15-19, professors Adam T. Smith, anthropology, and Lori Khatchadourian, Near Eastern studies, led a mini-course on archaeology at the Elizabeth Anne Clune Montessori School of Ithaca. Nine children ages 5-8 spent five mornings exploring aspects of archaeological research.

“It was an opportunity for students to learn about the research being done by archaeologists at Cornell’s Institute of Archaeology and Material Studies and begin to understand the importance of studying and preserving humanity’s deep past,” said Smith….

The excavations in plastic tubs were a highlight! More at the link.

Project ArAGATS, Aragats Foundation, and Engaged Archaeology

The Aragats Foundation is committed to utilizing Armenia’s heritage as a basis for educational initiatives both in the US and in Armenia.  When you teach archaeology, you teach not only history, but also mathematics, language, architecture, materials science, zoology, botany, economics, anthropology….  The list goes on.  Any subject can be taught through the lens of archaeology.
Last summer, under the auspices of an Engaged Anthropology grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, Aragats Foundation Advisory Board member Maureen Marshall led a workshop in the village of Tsaghkahovit that brought the results of her analysis back to the community where her research had been conducted.

Dr. Maureen Marshall working with students in the village of Tsaghkahovit

Dr. Marshall conducted her PhD research in Armenia under the auspices of Project ArAGATS, receiving her degree from the University of Chicago Department of Anthropology in 2014.  Upon completion, she was eager to return the results of her work back to the communities in Armenia where we work.  In her workshop, Dr. Marshall was joined by two other members of The Aragats Foundation, Dr. Lori Khatchadourian and Dr. Ian Lindsay.

The 2014 workshop in Tsaghkahovit was an important first step in our mission of promoting an engaged archaeology that brings the benefits of research directly back to the communities that live amidst Armenia’s extraordinary ancient heritage.  The Aparan Heritage Center, when it is a reality, will become a center for teaching heritage to communities throughout the region.

US Ambassador Visits Project ArAGATS

John A. Heffern, the Ambassador of the United States of America to Armenia, visited the excavations of Project ArAGATS this week.  Touring excavations at Gegharot Kurgans, Gegharot Fortress, and Tsaghkahovit, the Ambassador tweeted his experience on his twitter feed:

Ambassador John A. Heffern with the Mayor of Gegharot Smbat Bayrakhtaryan at Gegharot Kurgan 3

Ambassador John A. Heffern (l) with Mayor of Gegharot Smbat Bayrakhtaryan (r) at Gegharot Kurgan 3

Thank you Mr. Ambassador for giving your time and attention to Armenia’s archaeological heritage.

Spring PhDs from ArAGATS: Kathryn Franklin and Maureen Marshall

This spring welcomed two new PhDs to Project ArAGATS.

Kate Franklin completed her dissertation in the Anthropology Department at the University of Chicago entitled “This World is an Inn: Cosmopolitanism and Caravan Trade in late Medieval Armenia”.

Kate Franklin surveying research at the Medieval site of Arai

Kate Franklin surveying research at the Medieval site of Arai

The work examines the intersections of global trade and social life as constituted along the highways between late medieval (AD 12-15th c) towns and cities. Based on her excavations at the caravanatun at Arai, Franklin’s dissertation explores how medieval subjects (traders, princes, villagers, city dwellers) negotiated multiple, frequently contradictory, models of the world as they traveled.

Maureen Marshall’s dissertation, entitled “Subject(ed) Bodies: A Bioarchaeological Investigation of Late Bronze – Iron 1 (1500-800 BC) Armenia,” was also completed in the Anthropology Department at the University of Chicago.

Maureen Marshall excavating a Late Bronze Age tomb on the Tsaghkahovit Plain, Armenia

Maureen Marshall excavating a Late Bronze Age tomb on the Tsaghkahovit Plain, Armenia

The dissertation provides the first bioarchaeological investigation of Late Bronze and Iron 1 period mortuary complexes in the South Caucasus.  While her original fieldwork centered on excavations in a tomb complex adjacent to the fortress of Tsaghkahovit, in Armenia’s Tsaghkahovit Plain, her dissertation ranges far more broadly in both its engagement with data and its wider intellectual concerns.  Part reflection on traditions of skeletal studies in Armenia, part biographies of recovered lives from the Late Bronze Age, Marshall’s dissertation provides our most intimate portrait to date of lives lived in the region’s ancient landscapes.

Congratulations to both Kate and Maureen!

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.

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.