Our fieldwork in 2015 covered a wide gamut of research foci and stretched from the Tsaghkahovit Plain south to the environs of Aparan and Lusagyugh Village. Participants included the ArAGATS co-directors, our material specialists and technical teams, and several new students from Cornell University and the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, NAS, RA.
Kasakh Valley Archaeological Survey:
2015 marked the second season of pilot investigations by our Kasakh Valley Archaeological Survey (KVAS), which is conducting surface survey, remote sensing, and test excavations from the headwaters of the Kasakh river to its middle reaches in the vicinity of Hartavan Village, co-directed by Ian Lindsay and Alan Greene. Work this year focused on the Aparan, Lusagyugh, and Nigavan survey areas, all in the vicinity of the town of Aparan. The Aparan results included the documentation of important hydrological features (check dams, contoured spring heads, etc.) of unknown date in the Tsaghkunyats foothills, as well as massive evidence of Soviet-era forest management and installation. The western slopes of the Tsaghkunyats range appear to have been incised with deep furrows for the planting of evergreens in order to fight erosional activity, impacting sites from Aparan north to Jarjaris. We also documented what is likely an extensive Paleolithic site that extends 30 m from the flat area at the base of the foothills up the Tsaghkunyats slopes.
In the Nigavan landscape, we documented several settlements and burial clusters in the foothills of Mt. Aragats, as well as significant evidence for Soviet land “amelioration” and industrial scale irrigation in the form of pipes, cisterns, and sprinkler heads scattered through fields devoid of other cultural material. We attribute a marked drop in site densities around these historic features to the radical transformation of the landscape. Closer to the river, among the rocky and disturbed terraces above the Kasakh gorge, we recorded numerous scatters of Paleolithic debitage, suggesting significant activity in the vicinity of the river in that era.
Finally, our work in the Lusagyugh quadrant identified a Medieval cemetery and possible village remains in heavily plowed fields, as well as several possible burial clusters and small artifact scatters.
Aerial Documentation and Mapping:
This season also saw the expansion of our aerial photography and photogrammetry initiatives. In 2014, we began using a DJI Phantom 2+ quadcopter (drone) to photodocument our excavations using high resolution still photography and video. This season, we added a photogrammetric component using Pix4Dmapper Pro software package, a tool that uses very large samples of drone-derived, geo-referenced aerial photos to generate 3D models and orthomosaic images. The resulting models can be used to create topographic and site feature maps for purposes of GIS-based documentation, site monitoring, and research planning, as well as fly-through videos that can be exported in .mp4 format. Arsho Mkrdchyan (IAE, NAS, RA) joined us in the last week of the field season to learn how to operate the drone and collaborate on the photogrammetry work. We conducted aerial-based photogrammetric survey at Aparani Berd fortress, Gegharot fortress, and Kuchak II fortress. In addition, we performed standard aerial photographic documentation using the drone at Aparani Berd, Gegharot, Gegharot Kurgans, Kuchak II, and Tsaghkahovit Burial Cluster 12. During the 2016 season, we intend to employ the more advanced DJI Phantom 3, with a longer flight range and higher resolution imaging capabilities.
Excavations continued in 2015 in Gegharot Kurgan Cluster 01, as we opened two kurgans, numbers 4 and 5. Our goals were to explore the relationship between these kurgan burials and the Gegharot Fortress shrines; the temporal, construction, and materials relationships between the different kurgans; and any common themes among such linkages. Both tombs presented central and smaller “side” chambers, as well as undisturbed Late Bronze Age assemblages containing poorly preserved human remains, ceramic vessels, and bead jewelry. Kurgan 4 also featured substantial chamber walls formed from local boulders and cut deeply into the paleo lake bed of the Tsaghkahovit Plain, as well as a single adult over 21 years of age. Kurgan 5 contained two internments: a 15-21 year old individual in the central chamber and an infant in the side chamber, the first human remains recovered from a side chamber in the cluster.
We completed our excavation efforts this year in the Gegharot citadel, supervised by Armine Harutounian. There, fourth, third, and second millennia BC contexts were recorded, a continuation of our long term investigations of the stratigraphically superimposed Early and Late Bronze Age occupations at the crown of the site. The earliest component included a rectangular room dating to the late fourth millennium and featuring floor portions covered in EB pottery. Spaces attributed to the first half of the third millennium produced another EB hearth and an interesting example of an obsidian dart. Our first millennium, LB investigations reached the westward turn of the citadel fortification wall and exposed a portion of a clay basin surrounded by at least one dozen ceramic vessels, as well as ceramic oven fragments and handstones.
Aparani Berd Test Excavations:
2015 also marked our initial test excavations at the site of Aparani Berd (Aparan I), overlooking the Kasakh gorge within the city limits of Aparan. Here, Lori Khatchadourian and Adam T. Smith supervised the excavation of three excavation units, collecting materials from the third-through-first millennia BC and collecting our first subsurface peak at the room blocks and architecture of the site. A significant amount of pottery was recovered during out work, as well as small finds familiar to us from our previous excavations in the Tsaghkahovit Plain: ceramic discs, ground and chipped stone tools, spindle whorls, and sewing notions.
Tsaghkahovit Burial Cluster 12:
Our research continued excavations in Tsaghkahovit Burial Cluster 12, under the direction of Maureen Marshall. This year’s fieldwork focused on documenting the interrelation between spatially associated, sometimes interlocking cromlech burials and other architecture associated with the structure of the burial cluster. The excavation unit incorporated 5 different internments of various types and sizes, of which four were excavated to completion. All included human remains. Of particular note was the identification of the first female individuals interred at TsBC12. While it was previously suggested that burials with pits and cists were built in different sub-groups within the cemetery, the work this year indicates that may not be the case, as we opened both types of tombs in close spatial and stratigraphic relation. Dr. Marshall will continue to analyze the materials from this fieldwork and extract more information about the lives and after-lives of the second millennium inhabitants of the Tsaghkahovit Plain and this important burial cluster.
Lusagyugh Test Excavations:
In addition to our survey efforts in the Lusagyugh quadrant, we also opened our first test excavation in Lusagyugh in 2015, supervised by Levon Aghikyan. Based on our discovery of Early Bronze Age pottery eroding out of the wall of a small stream bed in 2014, we opened an excavation unit to collect the visible pottery, define is stratigraphic context, and identify any broader site or features. Our work exposed the curious juxtaposition of a paleo-canal cut into the bedrock, into which five whole vessels dating to the second half of the fourth millennium BC had been deposited (two have now been reconstructed at the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography). Magnetic gradiometric study of the surrounding area in search of additional sub-surface features or architecture was inconclusive.
The context of this deposit remains unclear, as it does not appear to have composed a part of a wider Early Bronze Age occupation. However, it does resemble other isolated EB deposits such as the two storage vessels recovered from a single trench at the site of Aparan III, further down the Kasakh Valley.