Category Archives: Archaeology

A treasure hunt, of sorts

I have not had much time to update the blog lately, but I was asked by the Social Sciences Division at the University of Chicago to contribute to their blog.  You can find the entry here: https://socialsciences.uchicago.edu/blog/student/treasure-hunt-sorts

More on pedagogy later this month!  I’ll be part of a panel on flexibility and adjustments in the classroom for the UChicago Workshop on Teaching in the College.  Details here: http://teaching.uchicago.edu/?workshops-and-seminars/workshop-on-teaching-in-the-college-2013.html

Another day, another period uncovered: Hellenistic remains at Armavir!

We had been focusing on removing the medieval (and modern) remains at Armavir, in order to expose the Urartian-period temple courtyard, when we started to uncover large flat stones with distinctive wedge-shaped holes.  The early first millennium BC architecture at the site (e.g. the Urartian temple) was constructed of well-worked stones laid next to each other, sometimes with joins that jogged slightly, but without mortar or clamps or other fasteners between the blocks.  In the Hellenistic period, throughout the Mediterranean world, a type of clamp frequently called “swallow-tail” was used. The name comes from the shape; a wedge-shaped hole was made in each block on either side of a join, and when you look at the two stones next to one another, the holes make a bow-tie or swallow-tail shape.  A fastener was then inserted across the two stones, linking them.  In many cases in the Mediterranean world, the fastener (clamp) was made of metal.  One of the reasons you see ruins now with ‘bites’ out of the ancient blocks is that the metal was valuable, and people would destroy the corners of the stones to dig the metal out.

But here in Armenia, it had been speculated that wood was used as the fastener.  And now—there is evidence!  We found wood in situ in the swallow-tail holes.  This discovery is interesting for three reasons: one, that we uncovered a Hellenistic-period layer at the top of the hill; two, that the lead excavator now has evidence for the use of wood in joining blocks; three, the fact that we found these blocks under what we thought was an Urartian-period courtyard forces us to reconsider the periodization of that courtyard (since it would be pretty difficult for a 8th- or 7th-century BC construction to lie on top of a later 3rd- or 2nd-century BC wall foundation).  I had to leave the site to work in Yerevan, but I assume that the archaeologists continued to unearth the Hellenistic wall foundation; when I left, they were debating in which direction to go, in order to find its extent.  Super exciting!

Swallow-tail clamps

Swallow-tail clamps joining multiple blocks

Armavir, day ummm…

I’ve lost track of on which day what happened, but here are some photos from the most recent day of ‘excavation,’ during which we began to take apart (by ‘take apart,’ I mean demolish w/ a sledgehammer) the Soviet-era military bunker.  In more interesting archaeology, however, work continues on opening the paved temple courtyard.

Evaluating which rocks need to be removed, as part of the courtyard-clearing process.

The bunker, in the process of being dismantled

The dismantling includes chucking very heavy reinforced-concrete posts over the side of the mountain, into the backdirt.

Excavation mascot

Armavir, day 1

Today, I got a personal tour of the Hellenistic-period capital city, Armavir.  In the Urartian period (early 1st millennium BC), there was a large temple, whose foundation still stands.  The city (which some have interpreted more as a sacred religious center than a true ‘city’) was still in use in the Achaemenid period (6th-4th centuries BC), and into the Hellenistic period (3rd-ca. 1st centuries BC).  Then there was a gap in occupation until the Middle Ages, at which point many of the well-worked stones from the Urartian temple were redeployed in a different construction.  It’s clear where the newer construction starts and where the older, Urartian construction lies next to it.  Those folks in the Middle Ages didn’t bother fitting the worked stones together well, leaving an overall impression of rather sloppy construction.

The well-worked black blocks are Urartian; the red stone wall in the center is medieval.

The summit of the hill is very interesting, partly because of the multiple periods of use, which also include the Soviet period, when some sort of military blind was erected on the medieval construction.  This year, the excavators are working to take down as much of that military construction as possible, in order to more completely expose the temple foundation.  So to do that, the work involves a lot of demolition with pickaxes and an absolutely enormous prybar.

There are also some inscriptions at Armavir that are quite interesting, although they are on a rock at the base of the hill, on the southern face.  More on those later.

The raised area to the right (to the left of the worker) is the paved floor.

Update: The medieval wall has been removed!  It was a chapel, whose floor likely consisted of some flat paving stones that had been in the courtyard for the Urartian temple. Some of the paving stones have been found, and the wall was removed to facilitate the search for the extent of the courtyard.