An email from a journalist inquiring about the Garni Temple pointed me to an interesting project: My Armenia, a collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution, USAID, and Armenia itself. The project seeks to document the cultural heritage of Armenia. The Smithsonian’s website has also increased the attention it pays to the country, running articles on the Garni Temple, as well as on issues of the biology and geography of Armenia.
We had a great “Archaeology of the Black Sea and Caucasus” session this year at ASOR, with excellent talks from Tiffany Earley-Spadoni, Nat Erb-Satullo, Walter Crist, and Hannah Chazin. We also announced the opening of our online forum, generously supported by the American Research Institute of the South Caucasus.
To join the conversation, please follow the instructions here: South Caucasus Forum Registration.
Groundtruthing, or checking out on the ground anomalies and architecture seen in the satellite imagery, is a necessary step in identifying cultural remains. We went high on the slopes of Mt. Aragats yesterday, to take a look at a site that looked like a settlement with some recent activity. Amongst the architecture, we found a fascinating series of stacked and standing stones picking out a roughly north-south line across the summits of multiple slopes.
However, we were already high up on the flank of the mountain, high enough that the “scree” drainages in this photo are actually made of boulders — and high enough that the cloud obscuring the summit was worrisome.
One way to conduct an archaeological survey is to examine satellite imagery as a way to focus attention on particular areas. This summer, the Kasakh Valley Archaeological Survey looked at high resolution satellite images of the area east of Mt. Aragats and identified a number of intriguing sites.
In this case, I found a series of rooms that seem to be enclosed by a wall, to the south of the shallow gorge in the upper third of this image. We established that it was within our survey area and the next morning, off we went to take a look. After a first attempt to drive there in our UAZ, we circled around from the north and hiked in across the gorge.
This is looking northwest from the settlement, across the gorge–which was not very deep, and the rivulet at the bottom, like many water courses in Armenia, had many conveniently-placed stones useful for crossing. Continue reading
Project ArAGATS, the joint Armenian-American project on the Archaeology and Geography of Ancient Transcaucasian Societies, has begun surveying the Kasakh River valley in central Armenia over the past couple of years. We’re recording burials, burial clusters, settlements, fortresses, stelae, evidence of Soviet-era land amelioration practices, and more. This year, we’re working around the northeastern foothills of Mt. Aragats, to continue the project of understanding the relationship of ancient architecture and material culture to ancient life.
Ian Lindsay and Alan Greene are co-directing the survey this year, with multiple team members from Project ArAGATS, including Salpi Bocchieriyan, and Karen Azatyan, pictured here with Ian and Alan on a well-deserved coffee break after a morning of tromping around the mountains.
One of the best things about the twenty-first century has to be how our ability to research and keep in touch with colleagues has changed dramatically. I’ve been trying to do my part to help build community amongst scholars who study the South Caucasus. As one project meant to work on this goal, I co-chair an annual session on the archaeology of the Black Sea and Caucasus regions, at the ASOR annual meeting. At the 2015 meeting, we crowdsourced ideas for an online community, and so I’ve built a forum on this website as a beta test, before going live on the American Research Institutes of the South Caucasus site, where the forum will eventually be housed.
I had the most useful laundry day ever. Spacing out, folding t-shirts, and suddenly Science Friday’s discussion reaches my active brain through the laundry daze – they’re talking about crowdfunding science projects! The interviewee started a website, experiment.com, where scientists can appeal to funders for their projects. Some of the projects are ridiculous (“does potato salad taste good” earned its PI $104!), but the choices also include many interesting-looking social science projects. While I wonder about a crowdfunding bubble, the possibilities seem boundless right now, and especially important when governmental funding is in danger.
The Project ArAGATS crew must have very photogenic trenches – we are on the cover of the American Journal of Archaeology for the second time in 2014. Last time, it was for a trench I excavated in 2011 at Tsaghkahovit, in the Iron Age complex. This time, it is a photo of a shrine area, one of many excavated at Gegharot, an Early and Late Bronze Age fortress on the flanks of the Pambak Mountains bounding the Tsaghkahovit Plain. Project ArAGATS has been working in Armenia since 1998, making it one of the longest-running collaborative projects still working in Armenia.
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 international collaborations 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.