In the summer of 1998, the joint Armenian-American Project for the Archaeology and Geography of Ancient Transcaucasian Societies (Project ArAGATS) conducted its inaugural season of archaeological research on the northern flanks of Mount Aragats and the adjacent Tsakahovit plain.
The goals of this research were twofold. The first was to examine the transformation of the regional landscape over the full scope of prehistoric and historic eras through the use of both systematic archaeological survey and site-based collections and mapping. We were particularly interested to define transformations in settlement and land use linked to the emergence of complex societies in the region during the Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages (LB/EIA) of the late second and early first millennia B. C.
Map of the Project ArAGATS Survey Quadrants in the Tsaghkahovit Plain
The second goal of our field investigations was to use archaeological soundings at a prominent settlement complex in order to begin to define the nature of the LB/EIA occupation of the region. To this end we conducted test excavations at Tsakahovit fortress and at adjacent settlement and cemetery complexes.
The primary focus of our 1998 research program was a systematic walking survey across 32.2 km2of the north slope of Mt. Aragats. This was the first time systematic regional survey techniques had been employed in Transcaucasia. The survey area was designed to surround the fortresses of Tsakahovit and Hnaberd as one of our goals was to define the landscape between fortress sites. The overall distribution of settlement in the region closely parallels that seen in the Shirak and Ararat plains. Fortified citadels set atop steep hills and outcrops were built on the margins of the plain and highlands, albeit at somewhat lower relative elevations compared to Ararat and Shirak plain sites.
We recorded settlements at Tsaghkahovit, Sahakaberd, and Hnaberd. The other settlements that we recorded during the course of our survey were rather enigmatic constructions. Confirming Marr’s supposition from a century earlier, our survey recorded a vast number of cemeteries spread across the north slope of Mt. Aragats. We recorded a vast number of discrete cemeteries composed of cromlechs typical of LB/EIA mortuary architecture. We also recorded other mortuary features in the area, including kurgans. On a demographic level, the sheer size of the population of the dead poses the problem of locating these individuals in life. As the evidence of settlements within the survey area dating to the Lchashen-Metsamor horizon was meager, we are left to hypothesize that these populations either left few traces or resided on the plain itself rather than in the foothills.
In the course of our survey we also discovered four carved stone monuments, or stelae, in the hinterlands surrounding Tsakahovit fortress. All of the stones were of roughly hewn basalt although they differ somewhat in form. In addition, we encountered a number of hydraulic features including reservoirs, canal traces, and check damns. Although it is difficult to accurately date these features, such irrigation works have long been considered a central feature of Late Bronze and Early Iron Age political formation (Kalantar 1994).