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Armenia – In the Center of Civilization

File:Shengavit Settlement2.jpg

“The site of Shengavit in the hills above the Ararat Plain is one set of remains of an ancient culture called variously Kura Araxes, Early Transcaucasian, Karaz, Pulur, Shengavitian, etc.  Its full time period is still much under debate, but probably it starts somewhere around 3500 BC and ends 2500-2200 BC.  The homeland of this culture is in the Southern Caucasus, the current countries of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, along with a section of current northeastern Turkey from Erzurum through Kars provinces.  To fully understand the importance of this culture, its place in its contemporary world is essential to comprehend.  Its beginning is co-terminus with the establishment of the first states in southern Mesopotamia and the founding of the first international trading system, which covered an area from the Persian Gulf to the North Caucasus from modern western Iran to the Mediterranean Sea… “

– Dr. Mitchell Rothman, Professor of Anthropology and Archaeology at Widener University in Pennsylvania

The Kura Araxes Culture is a unique culture of the 4th and early 3rd millennia BC in the Transcaucasian area. Originally thought to be a minor village culture, it is now clear that it was part of an ancient globalization stretching from the Persian Gulf to the plains of the North Caucasus opening into eastern Europe and western China. Peoples from the Transcaucasus migrated into the Taurus and Zagros Mountains all the way to the north Jordan valley of modern Israel in the early 3rd millennium creating a unique blending of cultures.

The Shengavit Settlement is an archaeological site in present day Yerevan, Armenia located on a hill south-east of Lake Yerevan. It was inhabited during a series of settlement phases from approximately 3200 BC cal to 2500 BC cal in the Kura Araxes (Shengavitian) Period of the Early Bronze Age and irregularly re-used in the Middle Bronze Age until 2200 BC cal.

Excavations at Shengavit reveal at least 4 layers of civilization during a period extending up to 2,000 years. At the site are foundations for dwellings, some of them round, with hearths, pottery, remains of seeds, and animal bones, as well as tombs. Meanwhile, the amount of revealed horse bones at the territory has exceeded all expectations of the researchers. There has not been observed such a quantity of horses in the entire Ancient East.

A group of archaeologists studying the ancient city concluded that 4000-3000 BC Armenia was a highly developed state with exclusive culture. The work at Shengavit in the Aragats area, and of teams in neighboring countries, is just beginning to unravel the changes in social structure and inter-regional relationships that occurred over the span of the Kura Araxes Period.

Unique discoveries revealed as a result of excavations at Shengavit (4000-3000 BC) confirm that Armenia is the motherland of metallurgy, jeweler’s art, wine-making and horse breeding. Director of the Scientific and Research Institute of Historical and Cultural Heritage of the RA Ministry of Culture Simonyan said that for example, the glass beads discovered at the territory of Shengavit are of a higher quality than the Egypt samples.

Archaeologists so far have uncovered large cyclopean walls with towers that surrounded the settlement. Within these walls were circular and square multi-dwelling buildings constructed of stone and mud-brick. Inside some of the residential structures were ritual hearths and household pits, while large silos located nearby stored wheat and barley for the residents of the town. There was also an underground passage that led to the river from the town. Earlier excavations had uncovered burial mounds outside the settlement walls towards the south-east and south-west. More ancient graves still remain in the same vicinity.

A great number of stone tools have been found in workrooms. While the discovered evidences of copper production prove that a systematized iron production was established in Armenia. Amongst the finds during archaeological excavations at Shengavit were chert and obsidian stone tools, mace heads, hoes, hammers, grinders, spindle whorls, spearheads, flakers, needles, pottery, and crucibles (which could hold 10 kg of smelted metal). Storage containers for smelted metal were found as well that held far greater amounts than the town should have required. Large quantities of debris from flint and obsidian knapping, pottery making, metallurgy, and weapons manufacture indicate that the town had organized guilds which performed such tasks.

Its pottery makes it a type site of the Kura-Araxes or Early Transcaucasian Period and the Shengavitian culture area. Pottery found at the town typically has a characteristic black burnished exterior and reddish interior with either incised or raised designs. This style defines the period, and is found across the mountainous Early Transcaucasian territories. One of the larger styles of pottery has been identified as a wine vat but residue tests will confirm this notion.

A large stone obelisk was discovered in one of the structures during earlier excavations. A similar obelisk was uncovered at the site of Mokhrablur four km south of Ejmiatsin. It is thought that this, and the numerous statuettes made of clay that have been found are part of a central ritualistic practice in Shengavit.

The oldest archaeological layer at Shengavit is from the Stone Age in the 4th millennium BC. This was before the formation of Armenia and other nations in the region, although it is widely believed the society living there at the time must have played a part in the genesis of the Armenian people. Urartian tombs from a later period were found not far from the Shengavit site in Yerevan.

The area has been continuously inhabited since then. Later layers present a record of social and technological development from stone implements, to copper and bronze, after which Armenia became part of the Urartu Empire. The site presents a view of social development from tribal society to the development of a large organized community.

The site of Shengavit in the hills above the Ararat Plain is one set of remains of an ancient culture called variously Kura Araxes, Early Transcaucasian, Karaz, Pulur, Shengavitian, etc., and was the first site that exhibited what is often called Kura-Arax culture. This culture had contacts throughout much of the Middle East, as far as Mesopotamia and Palestine, and as far west as Malatia in western Armenia (Anatolia).

The homeland of this culture is in the southern Caucasus, the current countries of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, along with a section of current northeastern Turkey from Erzurum through Kars provinces. Its beginning is co-terminus with the establishment of the first states in southern Mesopotamia and the founding of the first international trading system, which covered an area from the Persian Gulf to the north Caucasus from modern western Iran to the Mediterranean Sea. In the north Caucasus this is the time of the earliest Maikop Cultures.

Its end is near the time of the founding of the first territorial empire of the northern Mesopotamian Akkadians, and the dominance of mobile pastoralist societies known for their kurgans (stone tombs) in Eurasia. This culture shared strong traditions, represented in part by unique black burnished, handmade pottery, often bearing incised or raised designs.

First at about 3500 BC., migrants bearing these markers of identity appeared in the Upper Euphrates River valley (Malatya), and after approximately 3000 B.C. spread across the Taurus and Zagros mountain fronts and down into the North Jordan Valley in modern Israel. The nature of the Kura Araxes societies are unique and different from either the Mesopotamian or Western Iranian ones to the south or the Maikop ones of the north.”

A popular press source unfortunately has been cited misstating information from a 2010 press conference in Yerevan. In that conference Mitchell S. Rothman, a Professor of Anthropology and Archaeology and founder of the Anthropology Department at Widener University in Chester, Pennsylvania, said that all the discoveries prove that around 6,000 years ago the culture of Shengavit has spread over the ancient world.

He described the Uruk Expansion trading network, and the likelihood that raw materials and technologies from the South Caucasus had reached the Mesopotamian homeland, which somehow was misinterpreted to say that Armenian culture was a source of Mesopototamian culture, which is not true. The Kura Araxes (Shengavitian) cultures and societies are a unique mountain phenomenon, evolved parallel to but not the same as Mesopotamian cultures.

“All that was known in Mesopotamia came from Armenia. Armenia is the absent fragment in the entire mosaics of the ancient world’s civilizations construction. Shengavit has supplemented the lacking chains, that we had been facing while studying the ancient culture of Mesopotamia,” concluded Rothman.

At the end of the fourth into the third millennia BC, people carrying Early Transcaucasian cultural traditions migrated over a wide mountain arc from western Iran to Eastern Turkey and down into the Jordan Valley. Tracing the movement of people from specific areas then becomes possible, especially if a larger, more comprehensive and well excavated comparative sample of ceramics were available.

The cultural developments at Shengavit were contemporary with similar developments as far away as Mesopotamia, Malatia in Western Armenia, and southern Russia. In sites to which Early Transcaucasian peoples migrated in highland Eastern Turkey and Western Iran, clearly southern Armenian forms are quite common both in pottery and architectural style, although both are classified as Early Transcaucasian.

Shengavit’s population traded with these areas and was at the geometric center of these cultural developments. The population was likely making wine and stored tons of grain. Estimates of the maximum population inhabiting the Shengavit settlement range from 2,000 to 6,000 individuals.

The Kura–Araxes culture or the early trans-Caucasian culture was a civilization that existed from 3400 BC until about 2000 BC, which has traditionally been regarded as the date of its end, but it may have disappeared as early as 2600 or 2700 BC. The earliest evidence for this culture is found on the Ararat plain; thence it spread to Georgia by 3000 BC (but never reaching Colchis), and during the next millennium it proceeded westward to the Erzurum plain, southwest to Cilicia, and to the southeast into an area below the Urmia basin and Lake Van, and finally down to the borders of present day Syria. Altogether, the early Trans-Caucasian culture, at its greatest spread, enveloped a vast area approximately 1,000 km by 500 km.

The name of the culture is derived from the Kura and Araxes river valleys. Its territory corresponds to parts of modern Armenia, Azerbaijan, Chechnya, Dagestan, Georgia, Ingushetia and North Ossetia. It may have given rise to the later Khirbet Kerak ware culture found in Syria and Canaan after the fall of the Akkadian Empire.

The earliest kurgans occur in the northwestern and southern Caucasus and precede by several centuries those of the Pit-Grave (Yamnaya) cultures of the western Eurasian steppes (cf. Chernykh and Orlovskaya 2004a and b). The Maikop ‘culture’ seems to have had a formative influence on steppe kurgan burial rituals and the later development of the Pit-Grave (Yamnaya) culture on the Eurasian steppes (Chernykh and Orlovskaya 2004a: 97).

The archaeological record seems to document a movement of peoples north to south across a very extensive part of the Ancient Near East from the end of the 4th to the first half of the 3rd millennium BCE. Although migrations are notoriously difficult to document on archaeological evidence, these materials constitute one of the best examples of prehistoric movements of peoples available for the Early Bronze Age.

The spread of this pottery, along with archaeological evidence of invasions, suggests that the Kura-Araxes people may have spread outward from their original homes, and most certainly, had extensive trade contacts. Jaimoukha believes that its southern expanse is attributable primarily to Mitanni and the Hurrians.

Hurrian and Urartian elements are quite probable, as are Northeast Caucasian ones. Some authors subsume Hurrians and Urartians under Northeast Caucasian as well as part of the Alarodian theory. The presence of Kartvelian languages was also highly probable. Influences of Semitic languages and Indo-European languages are also highly possible, though the presence of the languages on the lands of the Kura–Araxes culture is more controversial. It might be the homeland of the Indo-European languages, with Armenian language remaining.

Shengavit Settlement

U.S. Archaeologists Return to Shengavit Preserve

Shengavit: Archaeology, Renovations Progressing

Shengavit – a Kura Araxes Culture Site in Yerevan on the Ararat hills, Republic of Armenia

Shengavit – Armenia

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