Category Archives: Fieldwork

Survey in the Kasakh Valley

This summer Project ArAGATS is continuing our preliminary survey of the upper Kasakh River valley, performing systematic pedestrian survey, aerial photography and photogrammetry, geophysical analysis, and test excavations between the villages of Alagyaz, near the Kasakh headwaters, and Kuchak, at the Aparan Reservoir.

Survey Walkers

Survey walkers in the upper Kasakh River valley. Mt. Aragats in the distance.

Survey walkers have been traversing the ridge tops and upland slopes of the Tsaghkunyats Range and Mt. Aragats, the broad Kasakh flood plains, and the river’s deeply cut gorge as it wends it way south, ultimately joining the Araxes River in the Ararat Valley. We record remains of human activity from the Paleolithic through the early 20th century, photographing and mapping architecture and cemeteries, collecting surface materials, and evaluating Soviet-era land management practices and their impact on the archaeological record.

Architectural Break

Surveyors talking a break amid some ancient architecture in the upper Kasakh River Valley.

The upper Kasakh Valley survey will be an ongoing project, so look for updates over the next several years!

Tsaghkahovit Update: Getting the Band Back Together

A crack team from the village of Tsaghkahovit has started work this week in what is lyrically known as Burial Cluster 12, a remarkably complicated Late Bronze Age cemetery south of the main fortress.

Abbey Road, Tsaghkahovit Style?

Abbey Road, Tsaghkahovit Style?

The excavations, led by Maureen Marshall (UChicago) and Levon Aghikyan (Institute of Archaeology, Armenia) are exploring mortuary remains from a bioarchaeological perspective.  We will post finds and discoveries here as they become available.

Aragats 2015: New Season, New Sites

Project ArAGATS began its 2015 season last week, continuing excavations at Gegharot and Tsaghahovit and continuing a new program of survey in the Upper Kasakh river valley.  We also initiated a new program of excavations at the site of Aparani Berd on the outskirts of the town of Aparan.

The site of Aparani Berd seen from the south.

The site of Aparani Berd seen from the south.

These new excavations represent the first systematic efforts to explore the remains of one of the largest sites in the upper Kasakh river valley.  Stay tuned for updates.

Gegharot Shrines, in the News

The Late Bronze Age shrines at Gegharot discussed in the recent American Journal of Archaeology article by Adam T Smith and Jeffrey Leon have made it into the mainstream scientific (and not so scientific) news.

West Terrace Shrine at Gegharot

LiveScience originated the article–thanks to Owen Jarus for a thoughtful, accessible piece.

The article was picked up by YahooNews, DiscoveryNews, Fox News, NBC News,  and the DailyMail.  The latter news outlet gave the shrines its own unique spin, proving that even the Bronze Age can be sensationalized!

UPDATE: Sensationalized headlines from the Late Bronze Age:

DailyMail: “How Bronze Age rulers got HIGH to predict the future: Armenian shrines reveal bizarre practices of fortune tellers 3,300 years ago”

Ancient Origins: “Despite possible efforts to alter the future, a greedy ancient polity went down in flames”

UPDATE 2: An additional story ran in the Cornell Chronicle

Project ArAGATS and “Drone” Archaeology

Ian Lindsay and Alan Greene pilot the Project ArAGATS drone.

The use of remotely controlled aerial photography platforms (or more sensationally, “drones”) has received a lot of press in the last few weeks.  The New York Times ran a story on the use of drones in archaeology last week focused primarily on work in the Andes.  This summer, Project ArAGATS deployed a DJI Phantom 2 to help document sites within our study area in central Armenia.

Cornell has posted a brief note about this work on their tumblr feed.  And now Purdue has released a more extensive story profiling our project pilot, Ian Lindsay.  In the article, Lindsay notes:

“It’s a good alternative to kites, balloons or sitting in the bucket of a crane with a camera trying to visually document these ancient sites. Drones offer a detailed aerial perspective that we’ve never had before, and by leveraging this technology archaeologists can be more efficient in the field as drones give us an immediate sense of spatial science scale useful for planning excavation.”

The first video project is now posted online on the vimeo feed of The Aragats Foundation and below:

Ancient Aragats: An Orientation from Aragats Foundation on Vimeo.

ArAGATS 2014

The 2014 season of Project ArAGATS is underway.  As usual, a number of research projects are being conducted under the Project ArAGATS umbrella.

At Gegharot, we are continuing work in the Early Bronze Age layers of the citadel where excavations continue to reveal remarkably well-preserved stratified levels of both the early and late phases of the Kura-Araxes.

Excavations underway in T30 at Gegharot

Below the citadel, we are continuing work in a remarkable field of kurgans that appear to have been constructed at the ear lies moments of the region’s Late Bronze Age.

Excavations underway on Kurgan 3

At the site of Aragatsi Berd, we have recommenced excavations on the terrace below the citadel in order to shed more light on the site’s Bronze Age occupations.

In addition to continuing work a critical sites, Project ArAGATS has also inaugurated a new phase of regional survey focused on the upper Kasakh Valley. The goal of these investigations is to provide a foundation for a comparative regional understanding of long term settlement history in order to place the patterns detected in the Tsaghkahovit Plain within a wider regional framework.

As part of this regional research, we are using a Phantom 2 Quad Copter Drone to capture new views of the region and our sites.  We will post updates on the work during the month of July.

Aerial View of Gegharot Citadel

Aerial View of Gegharot Citadel

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!

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!

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!