Tsaghkahovit Plain Survey

In 1998 and 2000, the joint Armenian-American Project for the Archaeology and Geography of Ancient Transcaucasian Societies (Project ArAGATS) conducted a systematic intensive survey that ultimately covered 98.31km2 of the mountain slopes surrounding the Tsaghkahovit Plain (Aragatsotn Marz) of central Armenia.  This was the first time systematic regional survey techniques had been employed in Transcaucasia.

The Tsaghkahovit  plain is a high elevation intermontane plateau set between the northern slope of Mt. Aragats (4090m), the southwestern slopes of the Pambak range, and Mt. Kolgat (a.k.a. Mets Sharailer, 2474m) in central western Armenia. It is the smallest and the highest (2100m above sea level) of the three major plains—along with the Ararat and Shirak—that nestle at the base of Mt. Aragats.

The survey area was designed to surround the fortresses of Tsaghkahovit and Hnaberd as one of our goals was to define the landscape between fortress sites (fig. 5). The eastern and western boundaries of the survey area were set where the mountain slope turns south to face the Aparan basin and Shirak plains respectively. The southern boundary of our area was defined by a substantial decrease in the density of cultural materials observed and by the leading edge of a series of steep rubble fields created by more recent lava flows. Our activities in the northern portion of the survey area were restricted by active cultivation on the plain and by the profound disturbance to visible features caused by an artillery range.

We used transects set at 25 m intervals as our primary mode of operation. This recovery strategy offered us a compromise between breadth and intensity of coverage particularly appropriate for an area where we had little idea what we should expect to find. Based on the formulae outlined by Sundstrom (1993: 92-93) we estimate a site discovery probability of 1.0 for sites with radii of 12.5 m or more. We calculate the total direct coverage of the survey to have been 16% of the total ground surface.

We walked transects across four major survey zones between fortified centers: the north slope of Mt. Aragats, the southwest foothills of the Pambakh range, Mt. Kolgat, and Mt. Vardablur. In the course of this survey we discovered several new fortified settlements, including a cluster of small outposts in the Pambakh slopes (Tsilkar, Ashot-Yerkat, and Poloz-Sar) and two unrecorded fortresses on the Aragats slope (Gekhadzor and Sahakaberd). In 1998, we recorded settlements at Tsaghkahovit, Sahakaberd, and Hnaberd. The other settlements that we recorded during the course of our survey were rather enigmatic constructions. In addition to the Medieval settlement north of Sahakaberd mentioned above, we recorded three unfortified habitation sites: Zoyashen, Susanashen, and Marsiyakert. The remains encountered in the hinterland beyond the fortresses were primarily architectural, including small settlements, extensive irrigation networks, carved stone markers, and above all, cemeteries.

In total, we recorded 193 discrete cemeteries within the two survey provinces on the Aragats and Pambakh slopes. 184 of these cemeteries were composed of cromlech tombs–stone circles surrounding earthen or stone-lined chambers–typical of Late Bronze and Early Iron Age mortuary architecture, a density of 5.3 cemeteries per sq. km. Although a true census of the cemeteries is not feasible due to site formation processes, a conservative estimate of 30 cromlechs per cemetery yields a total of 4860 burials within the survey area. Despite the impressive size of the region’s Late Bronze Age mortuary population, the most compelling feature of the cromlech cemeteries is their spatial distribution. While the cemeteries are tightly packed within the central 30 km2 of the north Aragats slope, extending in an east-west line from 0.5 km west of Hnaberd fortress to 3 km east of Tsaghkahovit fortress, they virtually disappear beyond these limits.

The report on the ArAGATS survey was published in 2009 by the Oriental Institute Press.  You can purchase or download a copy here.