Category Archives: The Caucasus and Eurasia

Caucasus Connections Conference: April 4-5, 2014

Caucasus Connections, a conference sponsored by the American Research Institute of the South Caucasus, will be held April 4-5, 2014 at Indiana University, Bloomington in the Indiana Memorial Union.  the keynote address will be delivered by Dr. Harsha Ram (University of California, Berkeley) and featured Speakers include Dr. Ed Lazzerini (Indiana University), Dr. Christina Maranci (Tufts University), and Dr. Kevin Tuite (University of Montreal).

With scholarly contributions that span the humanities and social sciences, as well as pedagogy and innovative teaching, this interdisciplinary conference will focus on the institutions, languages, cultures and histories that connect (as well as divide) the various places and peoples of the South Caucasus. Presentations will cover the themes of Caucasus and Circulation, the Imagined Caucasus, Cultural Connections, and Crossroads and Peripheries.

For those of us unable to make it to Bloomington, the conference will be live streamed on the ARISC website.

Armenia and Archaeo-Tourism

A great post from Project ArAGATS member Elizabeth Fagan’s blog regarding US Ambassador to Armenia Heffern’s recent TedX Yerevan talk:

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 internationalcollaborations 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.

With the 2014 founding of the new ArAGATS Foundation, whose mission is to promote the co-development of regional archaeology and economic development, Ambassador Heffern’s approach is timely and extremely welcome. We look forward to more conversations on this very important issue here in the future.

Civilization, the Barbarian, and Crimea

To read dispatches from the ongoing geopolitical conflict occasioned by the revolution in Kiev and Russian military intervention in Crimea, one might understandably think that the world was facing what the late Samuel Huntington called a “clash of civilizations”: a … Read more »

Lumpers vs. Splitters: New Findings from Dmanisi, Georgia

Were Earliest Humans All 1 Species?  New research on the early hominid remains from Dmanisi have revived the fortunes of paleoanthropology’s lumpers in their age old battle with the splitters!

 To learn more about the roots of the human family tree, scientists investigated a completely intact, approximately 1.8-million-year-old skull excavated from the medieval hilltop town of Dmanisi in the Republic of Georgia. Archaeological excavations there about 30 years ago unexpectedly revealed that Dmanisi is one of the oldest-known sites for ancient human species out of Africa and the most complete collection of Homo erectus skulls and jaws found so far.

This new skull, called Skull 5, was discovered alongside the remains of four other skulls of ancient humans, all of them associated with the same location and period of time, which back 1.8 million years ago was a relatively temperate mix of forest and steppe near a river. The fossil is unlike any other Homo remains on record — it combines a long face, massive jaw and large teeth with a small braincase, just about a third the size of that found in modern humans and no larger than those of much more primitive African fossils and even modern gorillas. Scientists hadn’t observed such a combination of features in an early Homo fossil until now.

The level of variation seen in Homo fossils is typically used to define separate species. However, the scientists found the level of diversity now seen between the five sets of fossils at Dmanisi — Skull 5 and the four other specimens — is no greater than any seen between five modern humans or five chimpanzees.

Read More here: Were Earliest Humans All 1 Species? Oddball Skull Sparks Debate | LiveScience.

Extraordinary kurgan burial shines new light on Sarmatian life

Leonid Yablonsky reports on his new research into the Sarmatians based on a kurgan excavated in the Southern Urals.  The gigantic cauldron alone is worth a look, but the tatooing equipment is really fascinating.

See the full text here: via Extraordinary kurgan burial shines new light on Sarmatian life – Archaeology News from Past Horizons : Archaeology News from Past Horizons.

From Project ArAGATS: Happy 15th Birthday!

With the close of the 2013 field season, Project ArAGATS found a fitting way to celebrate 15 years of research.

via: http://aragats.arts.cornell.edu/?p=592.

From Project ArAGATS: Iron 3 Tsaghkahovit

In the last day of the 2013 field season at Tsaghkahovit, Lori Khatchadourian and her team recovered a remarkable artifact from Room S of the Iron 3 town. The object is a ceramic spout rendered in the form of what appears to be a bull.

For more, follow the link: http://aragats.arts.cornell.edu/?p=593

From Project ArAGATS: EB Gegharot

The last few days on Gegharot’s West Citadel have brought a flurry of new information about the Early Bronze Age occupation of the site.  The complex stratigraphy is still being worked out but a series of superimposed floors, all with distinct hearth or hearth/oven features are helping us to put together a clearer picture.  

For more, follow the link below to the Project ArAGATS website.

via Project ArAGATS: Archaeology in the South Caucasus | The Joint American-Armenian Project for the Archaeology and Geography of Ancient Transcaucasian Societies.

From Project ArAGATS: New Views on Gegharot’s East Citadel

An unfinished operation on Gegharot’s East Citadel has already yielded interesting results. In an area not far from the East Citadel shrine that we documented in 2011 we have opened a paved stone floor dating to the Late Bronze Age.

via Project ArAGATS: Archaeology in the South Caucasus | The Joint American-Armenian Project for the Archaeology and Geography of Ancient Transcaucasian Societies.

From Project ArAGATS: 2013 Field Season Underway

Today is the fourth day of fieldwork for the 2013 Project ArAGATS excavations.  We are working at three sites this year: Gegharot Fortress, the Gegharot Kurgans, and the town at Tsaghkahovit.  Follow the progress of our work here:

via Project ArAGATS | The Joint American-Armenian Project for the Archaeology and Geography of Ancient Transcaucasian Societies.