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Bronze Age open-air temple-city of Agarak

The site of Agarak is lying in the southern foothills of Mt. Aragats , is located on the western bank of the Amberd River and covers an area of 200 hectares, a portion of which (118 hectares) has now been declared a historical and cultural preserve by the government of Armenia .

The site consists of horizontal flows of solidified tuff, which extend southward and have flat surfaces. They border on the East with the river, while in the West they turn into a hilly ridge. Taking into account the special characteristics of the local relief, formed by tuff flows, the inhabitants transformed the landscape at the cost of considerable effort, turning natural masses of tuff into a gigantic system consisting of collections of stone structures. Downstream along the course of the Amberd river for dozens of kilometers extend without a break tuff cliffs, passages, rocky hills, and natural plateaus, as well as freestanding blocks of stone. On their surfaces and sides, these formations bear the traces of intensive stone working. The sides of the cliffs and plateaus have also been carved. There are niches carved into the cliffs, as well as stair-like platforms leading to them, in addition tothe structures of yet other types.

All of these structures, including an unbroken series of round, horseshoe-shaped structures and channels linking them, plus trapezoidal "sacrificial altars," transform the natural landscape into a gigantic monument. This ensemble of cultic structures is complemented by artificial constructions located around the plateaus and in the spaces between them. Stratigraphic observations indicate that this ensemble of cultic structures and courtyards was created in the early Bronze Age. Within the limits of the Armenian Plateau and the territories bordering on it, no other such site is known. It is unique in terms of its unusual composition and design, as well as its volume and area.

For the time being, excavations are being conducted only at the first cliff plateau of the northern complex of Agarak. The results of field investigations in 2001-2002 show that Agarak was settled starting in the early Bronze Age. The street discovered at the northeast edge of the first plateau, and the presence along both sides of the street of houses with round floor plans and square external corners, indicate that, in the early Bronze Age, there existed here a town with a regular street plan. In all likelihood, the basic compositional elements of the town plan in the early Bronze Age were determined by the man-made town courtyards carved on top of the cliff, around which extended living quarters. During the course of the excavations, an enormous quantity of ceramic fragments, terra cotta statues, round and horseshoe-shaped portable hearths, and hearth stands was discovered. They permit us to date this section of Agarak to the middle cycle of the so-called Shengavit or Kuro-Araxes archaeological culture, which is nowadays dated to the 29 th through 27 th centuries BC.

The layers overlaying the strata of the early Bronze Age are disturbed. They contain material remains confirming that the site was subsequently inhabited in various archaeological epochs, from the middle Bronze Age to the early Iron Age, inclusive. An amphora burial with an Urartian seal and the presence of many Urartian ceramic fragments permit us to speak as well of Agarak being inhabited from the 8 th to the 6 th century B.C. After the fall of the Van Kingdom, Agarak experienced yet another period of intensive development, becoming a large settlement of the urban type.

The large quantity of wine presses and wine storage vats discovered in the excavated sectors indicates the predominant role of viticulture and winemaking in the economic life of the inhabitants of Agarak. As one of the most important points along the trade route leading from Airarat to Shirak and capital city of Ani, Agarak developed a flourishing economy and commercial sector, especially in the 3 rd and 4 th centuries BC and in the 2 nd through 4 th centuries AD. Evidence of this development is provided by the discovery of painted urban pottery, a drakhm of Alexander the Great, a silver denarius of Octavian Augustus, and several signet rings found in sarcophagi burials belonging to the late Antique period of the site.

The discovery of modest amounts of glazed and cooking pottery in the alluvium layer covering the plateau's Antique strata indicates that life continued at Agarak in the high middle Ages (12 th to 14 th centuries). The final phase of the history of Agarak's inhabitation is represented by the very modest aterial remains of the 17 th and 18 th centuries (ceramics, hearth bases, coins issued by the Khanate of Yerevan, etc.). The present utilization of the site can be understood only in the light of its entire historical development. Once it was a place for the creation and development of ancient thought, cult rituals, sacrifices, and an economically developed, vibrant life. In our day, parts of the site have been transformed into shrines, which by virtue of centuries-old tradition are still revered by the local peasants.

DETAILS

Excavations of the Early Bronze Age settlement on the Northern side of the first cliff complex, Hellenistic city, and the tomb filed, opening the first cliff plateau with worship rock-cut complexes and temples. Number of archaeologists 6-7, students 10, workers 35-40, technical personnel-20.

Summary

Location: Village of Agarak , Aragatsotn Province
20 km west of
Yerevan , Capital City of Armenia
Project Director: Dr. Pavel Avetisyan
Director, Agarak Foundation
 Dates: Session 1  May 15 - July 15
Session 2  September 15 - November 10
Volunteers: Must be over 18 years of age
No archaeological experience necessary
Minimum 1 week participation
Deadline: 30 days before start of session

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