Recent discoveries in Armenia is astounding the archeological community - September, 2014

Until recent years the international community was essentially clueless about the great historical significance of the Armenian Highlands. Until recently western academia was essentially clueless about the archeological treasures that the Armenian Highlands hid beneath its ancient soil. Recent discoveries in Armenia however is forcing historians and archeologists around the world to take another look at the origins of human civilization.  I believe additional finds within Armenia and throughout the Armenian Highlands (now encompassing parts of Turkey, Iran and Azerbaijan)  will continue to shake the field of archeology as Armenia begins to reveal more-and-more of its ancient secrets that were once laying dormant underneath its much trodden land. Although the Anglo-American-Jewish establishment (i.e. the Western academia) and their close friends in Ankara will continue doing their best to belittle and shed doubt, there is in fact little doubt that modern human civilization finds its prehistoric origin within the general vicinity of the Armenian Highlands. There is also little doubt that Armenians are amongst the most ancient of peoples and one of the earliest genetic and cultural influence on the populations of Europe and the Middle East. While our Russian friends have acknowledged the historical significance of the Armenian Highlands for a very long time, I am glad to observe that westerners are slowly beginning to do the same. I am confident that in time the entire world will eventually come to the realization that Armenia was where modern man first walked onto the pages of human history.



Earliest Known Winery Found in Armenian Cave

World's oldest, or earliest, known winemaking equipment, including a wine press (picture), as identified by a UCLA/National Geographic Society excavation

As if making the oldest known leather shoe wasn't enough, a prehistoric people in what's now Armenia also built the world's oldest known winery, a new study says. Undertaken at a burial site, their winemaking may have been dedicated to the dead—and it likely required the removal of any fancy footwear. Near the village of Areni, in the same cave where a stunningly preserved, 5,500-year-old leather moccasin was recently found, archaeologists have unearthed a wine press for stomping grapes, fermentation and storage vessels, drinking cups, and withered grape vines, skins, and seeds, the study says. "This is the earliest, most reliable evidence of wine production," said archaeologist Gregory Areshian of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). "For the first time, we have a complete archaeological picture of wine production dating back 6,100 years," he said. The prehistoric winemaking equipment was first detected in 2007, when excavations co-directed by Areshian and Armenian archaeologist Boris Gasparyan began at the Areni-1 cave complex. In September 2010 archaeologists completed excavations of a large, 2-foot-deep (60-centimeter-deep) vat buried next to a shallow, 3.5-foot-long (1-meter-long) basin made of hard-packed clay with elevated edges. The installation suggests the Copper Age vintners pressed their wine the old-fashioned way, using their feet, Areshian said. Juice from the trampled grapes drained into the vat, where it was left to ferment, he explained. The wine was then stored in jars—the cool, dry conditions of the cave would have made a perfect wine cellar, according to Areshian, who co-authored the new study, published Tuesday in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Wine Traces

To test whether the vat and jars in the Armenian cave had held wine, the team chemically analyzed pottery shards—which had been radiocarbon-dated to between 4100 B.C. and 4000 B.C.—for telltale residues. The chemical tests revealed traces of malvidin, the plant pigment largely responsible for red wine's color. "Malvidin is the best chemical indicator of the presence of wine we know of so far," Areshian said. Ancient-wine expert Patrick E. McGovern, a biomolecular archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, agrees the evidence argues convincingly for a winemaking facility. One thing that would make the claim a bit stronger, though, said McGovern, who wasn't involved in the study, is the presence of tartaric acid, another chemical indicator of grapes. Malvidin, he said, might have come from other local fruits, such as pomegranates. Combined with the malvidin and radiocarbon evidence, traces of tartaric acid "would then substantiate that the facility is the earliest yet found," he said. "Later, we know that small treading vats for stomping out the grapes and running the juice into underground jars are used all over the Near East and throughout the Mediterranean," he added.

Winery Discovery Backed Up by DNA?

McGovern called the discovery "important and unique, because it indicates large-scale wine production, which would imply, I think, that the grape had already been domesticated." As domesticated vines yield much more fruit than wild varieties, larger facilities would have been needed to process the grapes. McGovern has uncovered chemical and archaeological evidence of wine, but not of a winery, in northern Iran dating back some 7,000 years—around a thousand years earlier than the new find. But the apparent discovery that winemaking using domesticated grapevines emerged in what's now Armenia appears to dovetail with previous DNA studies of cultivated grape varieties, McGovern said. Those studies had pointed to the mountains of Armenia, Georgia, and neighboring countries as the birthplace of viticulture. McGovern—whose book Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages traces the origins of wine—said the Areni grape perhaps produced a taste similar to that of ancient Georgian varieties that appear to be ancestors of the Pinot Noir grape, which results in a dry red. To preserve the wine, however, tree resin would probably have been added, he speculated, so the end result may actually have been more like a Greek retsina, which is still made with tree resin. In studying ancient alcohol, he added, "our chemical analyses have shown tree resin in many wine samples."

Ancient Drinking Rituals

While the identities of the ancient, moccasin-clad wine quaffers remain a mystery, their drinking culture likely involved ceremonies in honor of the dead, UCLA's Areshian believes. "Twenty burials have been identified around the wine-pressing installation. There was a cemetery, and the wine production in the cave was related to this ritualistic aspect," Areshian speculated. Significantly, drinking cups have been found inside and around the graves. McGovern, the ancient-wine expert, said later examples of ancient alcohol-related funerary rituals have been found throughout the world. In ancient Egypt, for example, "you have illustrations inside the tombs showing how many jars of beer and wine from the Nile Delta are to be provided to the dead," McGovern said. "I guess a cave is secluded, so it's good for a cemetery, but it's also good for making wine," he added. "And then you have the wine right there, so you can keep the ancestors happy." Future work planned at Areni will further investigate links between the burials and winemaking, study leader Areshian said.

Winemaking as Revolution

The discovery is important, the study team says, because winemaking is seen as a significant social and technological innovation among prehistoric societies. Vine growing, for instance, heralded the emergence of new, sophisticated forms of agriculture, Areshian said. "They had to learn and understand the cycles of growth of the plant," he said. "They had to understand how much water was needed, how to prevent fungi from damaging the harvest, and how to deal with flies that live on the grapes. "The site gives us a new insight into the earliest phase of horticulture—how they grew the first orchards and vineyards," he added. University of Pennsylvania archaeologist Naomi Miller commented that "from a nutritional and culinary perspective, wine expands the food supply by harnessing the otherwise sour and unpalatable wild grape. "From a social perspective, for good and ill," Miller said, "alcoholic beverages change the way we interact with each other in society."

The ancient-winery study was led by UCLA's Hans Barnard and partially funded by the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration. (The Society owns National Geographic News.)


Areni Wine-Making Industry 6 Thousand Years Old

Digging Into the Future: Armenia -- pilot screener:

“If this is a wine-press, so we have really had a wine-making industry”,-informed Boris Gasparyan, the co-leader of the archaeological team from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the National Academy of RA. In the cave of Areni Birds, in Vayots Dzor Marz, during the excavations 50 liters clay jars, pitchers, samples of crockery, vines were found, which entitled the scholars to suppose that there was an industrial area of wine production there. According to the results of the examinations made in Oxford laboratory, the vine found in the cave dated to the end of the 5 century and beginning of the 4 century. “The results of the examination made in Oxford laboratory are out of doubt”, said Boris Gasparyan.

The Armenian small caves of volcanic origin, which are spread along the feet of Aragats, in the gorges of Qasakh and Hrazdan, are well-examined.

And the caves, which originate in case of the limestone structure of the massifs, now are being examined. The caves in Areni are suchlike and are of a great archaeological value. Since 2007 joint excavations are being held by the archaeologists of Ireland, California, Great Britain and Armenia. “The substances found in the caves mostly refer to Eneolith period, the end of the 5th century and the mid of the 4th century (4.100-4.200), i.e. 3 500 years, so we have the Middle Ages substances. Last year we found pieces of manuscripts in Armenian and Persian. Also we have some buildings and hearths of the Middle Ages”, - told Boris Gaspatyan.

In the niches of the caves the organic substances are well preserved, here the microclimate is not changing much in winter and summer. The caves in Areni are not exceptions. The archaeologist reminded about the Armenian tale of Anahit and Vachagan where the whole craftsmanship was held in the cave, and this was not groundless and had a historical basis. In the economy, the monument of Areni had an important role, and the caves served as places for living, cult worshiping and household activities. In the caves in Areni the skulls of young girls were found, which pointed to the fructification ritual funerals. Also the bones of goat and sheep were found. As montioned Boris Gasparyan the goats were mostly bred for milk and wool, and sheep were bred for meat and wool.

The archeologists dug to 4 meters and there the stratum of cultural activities of the Copper Stone Age ended, and the sediments of Pleistocene period started. “This little surface does not let us dig deeper and we could not widen the hall not to damage the nearby clay constructions”,-mentioned Boris Gaspartan. These archeological samples now are in different laboratories of the world. The archeologists are looking forward to the results, and the excavations of the caves in Areni are still going on.


Oldest Leather Shoe Steps Out After 5,500 years

World's Oldest Leather Shoe Found in Armenian Cave:!

About 5,500 years ago someone in the mountains of Armenia put his best foot forward in what is now the oldest leather shoe ever found. It'll never be confused with a penny loafer or a track shoe, but the well-preserved footwear was made of a single piece of leather, laced up the front and back, researchers reported Wednesday in PLoS One, a journal of the Public Library of Science. Worn and shaped by the wearer's right foot, the shoe was found in a cave along with other evidence of human occupation. The shoe had been stuffed with grass, which dated to the same time as the leather of the shoe — between 5,637 and 5,387 years ago. "This is great luck," enthused archaeologist Ron Pinhasi of University College Cork in Cork, Ireland, who led the research team.

"We normally only find broken pots, but we have very little information about the day-to-day activity" of these ancient people. "What did they eat? What did they do? What did they wear? This is a chance to see this ... it gives us a real glimpse into society," he said in a telephone interview. Previously the oldest leather shoe discovered in Europe or Asia was on the famous Otzi, the "Iceman" found frozen in the Alps a few years ago and now preserved in Italy. Otzi has been dated to 5,375 and 5,128 years ago, a few hundred years more recent than the Armenian shoe. Otzi's shoes were made of deer and bear leather held together by a leather strap. The Armenian shoe appears to be made of cowhide, Pinhasi said.

Older sandals have been found in a cave in Missouri, but those were made of fiber rather than leather. The shoe found in what is now Armenia was found in a pit, along with a broken pot and some wild goat horns. But Pinhasi doesn't think it was thrown away. There was discarded material that had been tossed outside the cave, while this pit was inside in the living area. And while the shoe had been worn, it wasn't worn out. It's not clear if the grass that filled the shoe was intended as a lining or insulation, or to maintain the shape of the shoe when it was stored, according to the researchers.

The Armenian shoe was small by current standards — European size 37 or U.S. women's size 7 — but might have fit a man of that era, according to Pinhasi. He described the shoe as a single piece of leather cut to fit the foot. The back of the shoe was closed by a lace passing through four sets of eyelets. In the front, 15 pairs of eyelets were used to lace from toe to top. There was no reinforcement in the sole, just the one layer of soft leather. "I don't know how long it would last in rocky terrain," Pinhasi said. He noted that the shoe is similar to a type of footwear common in the Aran Islands, west of Ireland, up until the 1950s. The Irish version, known as "pampooties" reportedly didn't last long, he said. "In fact, enormous similarities exist between the manufacturing technique and style of this (Armenian) shoe and those found across Europe at later periods, suggesting that this type of shoe was worn for thousands of years across a large and environmentally diverse region," Pinhasi said.

While the Armenian shoe was soft when unearthed, the leather has begun to harden now that it is exposed to air, Pinhasi said. Oh, and unlike a lot of very old shoes, it didn't smell. Pinhasi said the shoe is currently at the Institute of Archaeology in Yerevan, but he hopes it will be sent to laboratories in either Switzerland or Germany where it can be treated for preservation and then returned to Armenia for display in a museum. Pinhasi, meanwhile, is heading back to Armenia this week, hoping the other shoe will drop. The research was funded by the National Geographic Society, the Chitjian Foundation, the Gfoeller Foundation, the Steinmetz Family Foundation, the Boochever Foundation and the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA.

This Shoe Had Prada Beat by 5,500 Years

Think of it as a kind of prehistoric Prada: Archaeologists have discovered what they say is the world’s oldest known leather shoe. Perfectly preserved under layers of sheep dung (who needs cedar closets?), the shoe, made of cowhide and tanned with oil from a plant or vegetable, is about 5,500 years old, older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids, scientists say. Leather laces crisscross through numerous leather eyelets, and it was worn on the right foot; there is no word on the left shoe. While the shoe more closely resembles an L. L.Bean-type soft-soled walking shoe than anything by Jimmy Choo, “these were probably quite expensive shoes, made of leather, very high quality,” said one of the lead scientists, Gregory Areshian, of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

It could have fit a small man or a teenager, but was most likely worn by a woman with roughly size 7 feet. The shoe was discovered by scientists excavating in a huge cave in Armenia, part of a treasure trove of artifacts they found that experts say provide unprecedented information about an important and sparsely documented era: the Chalcolithic period or Copper Age, when humans are believed to have invented the wheel, domesticated horses and produced other innovations.

Along with the shoe, the cave, designated Areni-1, has yielded evidence of an ancient winemaking operation, and caches of what may be the oldest known intentionally dried fruits: apricots, grapes, prunes. The scientists, financed by the National Geographic Society and other institutions, also found skulls of three adolescents (“subadults,” in archaeology-speak) in ceramic vessels, suggesting ritualistic or religious practice; one skull, Dr. Areshian said, even contained desiccated brain tissue older than the shoe, about 6,000 years old.

“It’s sort of a Pompeii moment, except without the burning,” said Mitchell Rothman, an anthropologist and Chalcolithic expert at Widener University who is not involved in the expedition. “The shoe is really cool, and it’s certainly something that highlights the unbelievable kinds of discoveries at this site. The larger importance, though, is where the site itself becomes significant. You have the transition really into the modern world, the precursor to the kings and queens and bureaucrats and pretty much the whole nine yards.”

Previously, the oldest known leather shoe belonged to Ötzi the Iceman, a mummy found 19 years ago in the Alps near the Italian-Austrian border. His shoes, about 300 years younger than the Armenian shoe, had bearskin soles, deerskin panels, tree-bark netting and grass socks. Footwear even older than the leather shoe includes examples found in Missouri and Oregon, made mostly from plant fibers.

The Armenian shoe discovery, published Wednesday in PLoS One, an online journal, was made beneath one of several cave chambers, when an Armenian doctoral student, Diana Zardaryan, noticed a small pit of weeds. Reaching down, she touched two sheep horns, then an upside-down broken bowl. Under that was what felt like “an ear of a cow,” she said. “But when I took it out, I thought, ‘Oh my God, it’s a shoe.’ To find a shoe has always been my dream.” Because the cave was also used by later civilizations, most recently by 14th-century Mongols, “my assumption was the shoe would be 600 to 700 years old,” Dr. Areshian said, adding that “a Mongol shoe would have been really great.” When separate laboratories dated the leather to 3653 to 3627 B.C., he said, “we just couldn’t believe that a shoe could be so ancient.”

The shoe was not tossed devil-may-care, but was, for unclear reasons, placed deliberately in the pit, which was carefully lined with yellow clay. While scientists say the shoe was stuffed with grass, acting like a shoe tree to hold its shape, it had been worn. “You can see the imprints of the big toe,” said another team leader, Ron Pinhasi, an archaeologist at University College Cork in Ireland, who said the shoe resembled old Irish pampooties, rawhide slippers. “As the person was wearing and lacing it, some of the eyelets had been torn and repaired.” Dr. Pinhasi said the cave, discovered in 1997, appeared to be mainly used by “high-status people, people who had power,” for storing the Chalcolithic community’s harvest and ritual objects. But some people lived up front, probably caretakers providing, Dr. Areshian said, the Chalcolithic equivalent of valet parking.

Many tools found were of obsidian, whose closest source was a 60-mile trek away. (Perhaps why they needed shoes, Dr. Areshian suggested.) “It’s an embarrassment of riches because the preservation is so remarkable,” said Adam T. Smith, an anthropologist at the University of Chicago who has visited the cave. He said that distinguishing Chalcolithic objects from later civilizations’ artifacts in the cave had been complicated, and that “we’re still not entirely clear what the chronology is” of every discovery. “The shoe,” he said, “is in a sense just the tip of the iceberg.” (He probably meant to say wingtip.)

5,900 year old skirt found in Armenian Cave

An Armenian archaeologist says that scientists have discovered a skirt that could be 5,900 year old. Pavel Avetisian, the head of the Institute of Archeology and Ethnography in Yerevan, said a fragment of skirt made of reed was found during recent digging in the Areni-1 cave in southeastern Armenia. Avetisian told Tuesday's news conference in the Armenian capital that the find could be one of the world's oldest piece of reed clothing. Earlier excavation in the same location has produced what researchers believe is a 5,500-year-old shoe, making it the oldest piece of leather footwear known to researchers. Boris Gasparian, an Armenian archaeologist who worked jointly with U.S. and Irish scientists at the site, said they also found a mummified goat that could be 5,900-year-old, or more than 1,000 years older than the mummified animals found in Egypt.

Shengavit preserve offers glimpse to Armenia's pre-history

The foundation of Yerevan is often cited as 782 B.C., the year the Urartuan fortress of Erebuni was founded by Argishti I on a hill within the borders of the modern city of Yerevan. While Yerevan may be considered the direct descendant of Erebuni, mankind has lived there for many thousands of years before King Argishti I built his city.

Visitors arriving at Yerevan's Zvartnots airport pass the U.S. Embassy on the way to Yerevan's center. In back of the embassy is a small, man made lake. Rising above the lake's opposite shore is the Shengavit Historical and Archeological Culture Preserve. Within the preserve are excavations revealing settlements from the end of the fourth to the beginning of the second millennium B.C., as well as a small museum containing artifacts found at the site. The neatly arranged artifacts are labeled in English, Armenian, and Russian. The actual archeological site spans an area of six hectares (about 15 acres). During the Soviet era a hospital was built over part of the site destroying forever the yet unexamined archeological evidence underneath. 

The Shengavit archeological record contains four layers, each about four meters (12 feet) in depth representing distinct phases of habitation. The lowest and oldest layer contains the archeological record of inhabitants living around 4000 - 3000 B.C., while the uppermost, most recent layer is dated to about 2000 B.C. Scholars believe the site was continually inhabited for over 2000 years.

Found within the oldest stone age layer were crude stone tools and other items, while the upper layer revealed sophisticated pottery, the presence of agricultural activity, cattle raising, and copper tools as well as stone molds used to cast copper implements. Buildings were constructed of unbaked clay bricks set upon stone foundations with connected circular and rectangular rooms. The inside walls of the rooms were plastered. There was evidence that the walls were painted, though that evidence no longer exists. Within the rooms were found triangular hearths set upon stands. The circular rooms contained centrally located stone pedestals upon which columns rested to support the roof. Floors were made of pebbles covered with clay. 

The Shengavit culture was spread throughout the Ararat valley and was influential as far as western Armenia, Cilicia, northern Mesopotamia, and Palestine. Obsidian tools from Armenia were found in the Middle East. Anthropologists, analyzing human remains from Shengavit tombs, believe the "Armenoid" skull type typical of current day Armenians evolved in this region.

Shengavit was linked to other settlements in the region, all of which demonstrated a similar culture and were connected by trade. While there is no record of the language used at the time, scientists believe that a non-Semitic, non-Indo-European language or family of languages was prevalent, traces of which remain today within the Armenian language. 

While it can not be stated that the early residents of Shengavit were "Armenian", as the Armenian nation, people, and language may not have been formed at that time, it is likely that the tribes living in the region ultimately coalesced to form the Armenian people and the Armenian language. At a much later time migrating tribes introduced Indo-European elements into the Armenian language. 

Initial excavation of the site began in 1936 by Joseph Orbeli (1887-1961) and Eugeni Bayburtyan (1898-1938) and lasted two years; then the site was abandoned. Orbeli was the director of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. Bayburtyan apparently was a bit too nationalistic; he was arrested by Stalin and was never seen again.

From 1945-1950 Sandro Sardaryan (1912-1995) studied the site and then, from 1950-1983, led a new excavation of Shengavit. Yuli Tamanyan, being an architect and member of the excavating team, performed the site's measurements. He was the son of famed architect Alexander Tamanian who, in 1925, developed the general layout of Yerevan. In 1967 Sardaryan published a study "Primitive Society in Armenia" in English describing Shengavit and other ancient settlements within the Armenian highlands.

Armenian Cave Yields Oldest Human Brain

Excavations have produced roughly 6,000-year-old relics of a poorly known culture existing near the dawn of civilization

In a cave overlooking southeastern Armenia’s Arpa River, just across the border from Iran, scientists have uncovered what may be the oldest preserved human brain from an ancient society. The cave also offers surprising new insights into the origins of modern civilizations, such as evidence of a winemaking enterprise and an array of culturally diverse pottery. Excavations in and just outside of Areni-1 cave during 2007 and 2008 yielded an extensive array of Copper Age artifacts dating to between 6,200 and 5,900 years ago, reported Gregory Areshian of the University of California, Los Angeles, January 11 at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America. In eastern Europe and the Near East, an area that encompasses much of southwest Asia, the Copper Age ran from approximately 6,500 to 5,500 years ago. The finds show that major cultural developments occurred during the Copper Age in areas outside southern Iraq, which is traditionally regarded as the cradle of civilization, Areshian noted.

The new cave discoveries move cultural activity in what’s now Armenia back by about 800 years. “This is exciting work,” comments Rana Özbal of Bogazici University in Istanbul, Turkey. A basin two meters long installed inside the Armenian cave and surrounded by large jars and the scattered remains of grape husks and seeds apparently belonged to a large-scale winemaking operation. Researchers also found a trio of Copper Age human skulls, each buried in a separate niche inside the three-chambered, 600-square–meter cave. The skulls belonged to 12- to 14-year-old girls, according to anatomical analyses conducted independently by three biological anthropologists. Fractures identified on two skulls indicate that the girls were killed by blows from a club of some sort, probably in a ritual ceremony, Areshian suggested. Remarkably, one skull contained a shriveled but well-preserved brain. “This is the oldest known human brain from the Old World,” Areshian said. The Old World comprises Europe, Asia, Africa and surrounding islands.

Scientists now studying the brain have noted preserved blood vessels on its surface. Surviving red blood cells have been extracted from those hardy vessels for analysis. It’s unclear who frequented Areshi-1, where these people lived or how big their settlements were. No trace of household activities has been found in or outside the cave. Whoever they were, these people participated in trade networks that ran throughout the Near East, Areshian proposes. Copper Age pottery at the site falls into four groups, only one of which represents a local product. A group of painted ceramic items came from west-central Iran. Some pots display a style typical of the Maikop culture from southern Russia and southeastern Europe. Still other pieces were characteristic of the Kura-Arax culture that flourished just west of Maikop territory in Russia.

Radiocarbon dating of pottery and other Copper Age finds pushes back the origins of the Maikop and Kura-Arax cultures by nearly 1,000 years, Areshian says. Additional discoveries at Areni-1 include metal knives, seeds from more than 30 types of fruit, remains of dozens of cereal species, rope, cloth, straw, grass, reeds and dried grapes and prunes. A hard, carbonate crust covering the Copper Age soil layers, along with extreme dryness and stable temperatures inside the cave, contributed to preservation of artifacts and, in particular, the young girl’s brain. Medieval ovens from the 12th to 14th centuries have also been excavated at the cave’s entrance, underneath a rock shelter. Areshian expects much more material to emerge from further excavations at Areni-1 and from explorations of the many other caves bordering the Arpa River. “One of these caves is much larger than Areni-1, covering about an acre inside,” he said.

Tracing the Origins of Indo-European Languages to Armenia

Biologists using tools developed for drawing evolutionary family trees say that they have solved a longstanding problem in archaeology: the origin of the Indo-European family of languages.The family includes English and most other European languages, as well as Persian, Hindi and many others. Despite the importance of the languages, specialists have long disagreed about their origin.

Linguists believe that the first speakers of the mother tongue, known as proto-Indo-European, were chariot-driving pastoralists who burst out of their homeland on the steppes above the Black Sea about 4,000 years ago and conquered Europe and Asia. A rival theory holds that, to the contrary, the first Indo-European speakers were peaceable farmers in Anatolia, now Turkey, about 9,000 years ago, who disseminated their language by the hoe, not the sword.

The new entrant to the debate is an evolutionary biologist, Quentin Atkinson of the University of Auckland in New Zealand. He and colleagues have taken the existing vocabulary and geographical range of 103 Indo-European languages and computationally walked them back in time and place to their statistically most likely origin.

The result, they announced in Thursday’s issue of the journal Science, is that “we found decisive support for an Anatolian origin over a steppe origin.” Both the timing and the root of the tree of Indo-European languages “fit with an agricultural expansion from Anatolia beginning 8,000 to 9,500 years ago,” they report.

But despite its advanced statistical methods, their study may not convince everyone.

The researchers started with a menu of vocabulary items that are known to be resistant to linguistic change, like pronouns, parts of the body and family relations, and compared them with the inferred ancestral word in proto-Indo-European. Words that have a clear line of descent from the same ancestral word are known as cognates. Thus “mother,” “mutter” (German), “mat’ ” (Russian), “madar” (Persian), “matka” (Polish) and “mater” (Latin) are all cognates derived from the proto-Indo-European word “mehter.”

Dr. Atkinson and his colleagues then scored each set of words on the vocabulary menu for the 103 languages. In languages where the word was a cognate, the researchers assigned it a score of 1; in those where the cognate had been replaced with an unrelated word, it was scored 0. Each language could thus be represented by a string of 1’s and 0’s, and the researchers could compute the most likely family tree showing the relationships among the 103 languages.

A computer was then supplied with known dates of language splits. Romanian and other Romance languages, for instance, started to diverge from Latin after A.D. 270, when Roman troops pulled back from the Roman province of Dacia. Applying those dates to a few branches in its tree, the computer was able to estimate dates for all the rest.

The computer was also given geographical information about the present range of each language and told to work out the likeliest pathways of distribution from an origin, given the probable family tree of descent. The calculation pointed to Anatolia, particularly a lozenge-shaped area in what is now southern Turkey, as the most plausible origin — a region that had also been proposed as the origin of Indo-European by the archaeologist Colin Renfrew, in 1987, because it was the source from which agriculture spread to Europe.

Dr. Atkinson’s work has integrated a large amount of information with a computational method that has proved successful in evolutionary studies. But his results may not sway supporters of the rival theory, who believe the Indo-European languages were spread some 5,000 years later by warlike pastoralists who conquered Europe and India from the Black Sea steppe.

A key piece of their evidence is that proto-Indo-European had a vocabulary for chariots and wagons that included words for “wheel,” “axle,” “harness-pole” and “to go or convey in a vehicle.” These words have numerous descendants in the Indo-European daughter languages. So Indo-European itself cannot have fragmented into those daughter languages, historical linguists argue, before the invention of chariots and wagons, the earliest known examples of which date to 3500 B.C. This would rule out any connection between Indo-European and the spread of agriculture from Anatolia, which occurred much earlier.

“I see the wheeled-vehicle evidence as a trump card over any evolutionary tree,” said David Anthony, an archaeologist at Hartwick College who studies Indo-European origins.

Historical linguists see other evidence in that the first Indo-European speakers had words for “horse” and “bee,” and lent many basic words to proto-Uralic, the mother tongue of Finnish and Hungarian. The best place to have found wild horses and bees and be close to speakers of proto-Uralic is the steppe region above the Black Sea and the Caspian. The Kurgan people who occupied this area from around 5000 to 3000 B.C. have long been candidates for the first Indo-European speakers.

In a recent book, “The Horse, the Wheel and Language,” Dr. Anthony describes how the steppe people developed a mobile society and social system that enabled them to push out of their homeland in several directions and spread their language east, west and south.

 Dr. Anthony said he found Dr. Atkinson’s language tree of Indo-European implausible in several details. Tocharian, for instance, is a group of Indo-European languages spoken in northwest China. It is hard to see how Tocharians could have migrated there from southern Turkey, he said, whereas there is a well-known migration from the Kurgan region to the Altai Mountains of eastern Central Asia, which could be the precursor of the Tocharian-speakers who lived along the Silk Road.

Dr. Atkinson said that this was a “hand-wavy argument” and that such conjectures should be judged in a quantitative way.

Dr. Anthony, noting that neither he nor Dr. Atkinson is a linguist, said that cognates were only one ingredient for reconstructing language trees, and that grammar and sound changes should also be used. Dr. Atkinson’s reconstruction is “a one-legged stool, so it’s not surprising that the tree it produces contains language groupings that would not survive if you included morphology and sound changes,” Dr. Anthony said.

Dr. Atkinson responded that he did indeed run his computer simulation on a grammar-based tree constructed by Don Ringe, an expert on Indo-European at the University of Pennsylvania, but that the resulting origin was, again, Anatolia, not the Pontic steppe.

Armenia, Cradle of Indo-European Civilization

Recent discoveries of Armenian archeologists could lead to rewriting history of the Ancient World in the near future. In the study of ancient civilizations Armenia often remained on the sidelines, as if she had not been involved in major historical turnovers. The researchers’ interest was almost always confined to the territory of ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. But, naturally the “factor” of Armenia could not be excluded in the formation of ancient civilizations. There is much evidence to prove it. Nevertheless, for one reason or another Armenia, yet, was left out from the list of possible leaders.

Reaching after the truth, scientists have always faced many fundamental questions. The first - where did the ancient civilizations get their unique knowledge from? The second - development of sciences and arts is not recorded in the annals of ancient civilizations (Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, Iran, etc.). Technological revolution seems “instantaneous”. But technological advance is a long-term development, which should be reflected in the evolution of applied technologies. The process of phased development should be reflected in the cultural layers of this or that civilization. It must have been shown on artifacts, which would affirm the “copyright” of these civilizations on the “know-how” ancient inventions. The third - in early years, objects reflecting the advanced state of Mesopotamia, Egypt and other regions were often imported. It has been proved by laboratory studies, using the methods of exact sciences (spectral and radiocarbon tests, etc.). It seems that the known so far advanced civilizations lived on some unknown source that provided them with cultural and technical growth. Historians have always wrestled with the question where this amazing knowledge was obtained from.

The latest facts of Armenian archaeology fill this gap.

On the southern slopes of Mount Aragats in the territory which has been called Naver since the earliest times, ancient necropolis (Nerkin Naver - lower graves and Verin Naver – upper graves) was discovered still back in 1975. This finding immediately attracted the archaeologists’ attention. Soon it was clear where the name of this place came from. In many ancient European languages “Nav” or “Nef” not only meant a ship, but also a grave. Apparently, in ancient times this concept was associated not only with sea voyages. It also had a sacred meaning: ships carried the souls of the dead to the netherworld. The whole “flotilla” of these “ships” revealed to the world such an abundance of unknown facts that the researchers were just stunned. Burial mounds date back to the 3000-2000 B.C. This was proved by a series of radiocarbon analyses of artifacts held in laboratories of Germany and the USA. These data wonderfully confirm the written information given by ancient Armenian historians, in particular, Movses Khorenatsi (“History” 5th c.), who states that the son of Hayk (ancestor of the Armenian people), Aramanyak and his family settled down on the southern slopes of Aragats, near a river. It happened after the victory of Hayk over the Mesopotamian king - tyrant Bel. According to the chronology of the Armenian historian Ghevond Alishan (19th c.) it was in 2492 B.C.

Nerkin Naver was the burial place for high-ranking people. Verin was for peasants. In the upper graves there has been excavated an area of 7000 m2 and 70 burial mounds of common people are discovered, while in the lower graves there were excavated only 8 princely burial mounds.

“The collected material suggests that Armenia is the ancestral home of Indo-European civilization,” says Director of the Scientific and Research Institute of Historical and Cultural Heritage of the RA Ministry of Culture, candidate of historical sciences Hakob Simonyan. “This is the most ancient burial site, where information about the Aryan way of life and Aryan thinking is recorded. Here we find evidence of goods production, which was unique for those times. The findings provide a new interpretation of the development of civilizations,” Simonyan says. In the burial site there were also found lots of gold decorations, weapons, bones of revered animals, well-ornamented black- and red-glossed pitchers. This was a “traditional” set typical for the graves of that period. However, the sensational findings mark out his necropolis from others of this kind. This message canned in centuries gives a fair idea about the role and significance of the ancient Armenian civilization.

“Here we find all types of Indo-European burials: cremation (for VIPs), gnawing of corpses by specially trained dogs (for retinue of the king) and the simple burials (for peasants). The latter were buried on their side: men on the right and women on the left,” continues Simonyan. “And in every royal grave we usually find bones of two sacrificed horses. But the most striking thing that we found here is the iron bits, whose composition, according to chemical analysis, is similar to the oldest metal products from Dorak and Alagja-Uyuk (Asia Minor, the end of 3000 B.C.). In fact, this is the third such discovery in the world, dating back to the 23c. B.C. In the burial mound N2 there has been discovered a black hydria (a large jar), on the “shoulders” of which there are depicted six pairs of chariot wheels. The wheels have 4 spokes. It is typical of the earliest chariot wheels. Another startling discovery is the red-glossed pitcher. It shows a herd of thoroughbred domesticated horses. An eloquent proof of it is their hair-cut manes and braided tails. An image of a herd of such antiquity is unique in the whole Near East. This information is a weighty argument in favor of the fact that Armenia, among other things, is the home of horse breeding. Excavations revealed also fine pieces of jewelry and beads of colored glass. Some products are made of quartz. However, it’s striking, taking into consideration that the melting temperature of quartz is 1700 °C. How our ancestors did it remains a mystery. Such quality of glass is exclusive throughout the ancient East of 3000 B.C.! Glass beads were also found in the ancient settlement of Shengavit (4000-3000 B.C.) and were over 1000 years older than these findings. Patterns on gold products are quite similar to the ornaments on ceramics. And because ceramics is of local production, it would be logical to assume that gold jewelry is the handiwork of the same local craftsmen.”

Many facts indicate that Armenia at that time was involved in international trade relations. Examples of this are Mesopotamian clam shells, agaltomelit beads (deposits of this stone are found only in Korea, China and Japan), lapis lazuli beads from Badahshan (Central Asia), imported goods from the East Coast of the Mediterranean Sea, etc. Hence, it can be concluded that trade relations were already regulated by certain legal norms, such as purchase contracts, exchange contracts, etc.

Another finding of special importance is the rapier, which was the first professional military weapon. It dates back to the XXIII c. B.C. Spectral analysis showed that the found rapier is made of tin bronze. The content of tin in the rapier is 11-12%. It’s the classic formula. According to isotopic analysis, the copper ore is of Armenian origin. It was extracted from Alaverdi (Lori Region). The tin is imported (presumably from Central Asia). It should be noted that all these artifacts have something in common with the samples obtained from the ancient city of Shengavit. 

There is also observed rapid development of crafts and technology (pottery, metallurgy, wine-making).

In this regard, involved in the excavation works in Shengavit, Mitchell S. Rothman, Professor of Anthropology and Archaeology at Widener University in Chester, Pennsylvania declared that all these data suggest that approximately in 3000 B.C. the culture of ancient Armenia spread across the world. “Armenia is the missing piece of the mosaic of building civilizations of the ancient world. Shengavit and Naver have completed those missing “chains” that we faced while studying the ancient culture of Mesopotamia,” says Rothman.

The American scientist’s words overlap with ancient Mesopotamian information sources (such as the Epic of Gilgamesh 3000 B.C.), which states that from the knowledge of at least 5 branches: construction, metallurgy, grain cultivation, gardening, and wine making spread from Armenia to Mesopotamia (see Artak Movsisyan, “Armenia in 3000 B.C.”). Considering all these latter-day facts, it can be assumed that in the near future the history of the Ancient World will have to be rewritten. However, there is a time for things.


Armenian Archeologists Unearth Third Millennium B.C. Aryan Burial Mounds

Archeologists said Wednesday they have unearthed burial mounds dating back to the third millennium B.C. which they believe contain remains and trinkets from ancient Aryan nomads. Historian Hakob Simonian said Wednesday that the four mounds were among 30 discovered about 35 miles west of the Armenian capital Yerevan, containing beads made of agate, carnelian and as well as the remains of what appears to be a man, aged 50-55. Also found were remains of domesticated horses and glazed pottery appearing to show chariots, Simonian said.


German scholars suggest recognizing Armenian petroglyphs as world’s cultural value

A group of German scholars who have studied Armenian petroglyphs suggest recognizing Armenian petroglyphs as a world cultural value and have them registered by UNESCO. They have promised to support Armenia in this effort. This is what Armenologist Hamlet Martirosyan said during today’s press conference, but informed that there have to be some corrections made in the studies prior to appealing to UNESCO.

“The new data show that the petroglyphs in the Syunik region were created 14-15,000 years ago, meaning that they belong to the Stone Age. The studies conducted in the 1970s show that those petroglyphs were created in the Bronze Age. In addition, the researchers of the past didn’t consider the petroglyphs writing, but now there are grounds for considering them writings. If these two corrections are made in the current studies, there will be answers to many historical questions, particularly the questions related to the origin of mankind and the specific location where that took place,” said Martirosyan.

Martirosyan also informed that the few monographs and studies about the Armenian petroglyphs are only in Armenian and that it could be said that the world knew nothing about them before 2010. The scholar also mentioned that it all depends on what steps Armenia’s cultural structures and organizations will take and that someday the world will be able to decode all that is hidden in the Armenian petroglyphs.

Armenian Petroglyphs

The Rock Arts of the Armenian Elevation are the Primary Source of the Armenian, Egyptian, Indian and Hettitian Ideograms (Hieroglyphs)

It is known, that with the appearance and the development of language the man is becoming a unique “symbolic animal”, passing a way from a biological being to a thinking one. But the reason is that the language, as an informatics object is a developing, open, huge library of interactive symbols, elements. Each of the elements is modeling, projecting and means one appearance of the world, out of the edges of the human race particularly and entirely. Taking in set that symbols and elements are summarized in one image of the space, environment, where live and create the users of that language. As the natural conditions, in which our forefathers lived, and the situation, which is expressed by the representatives of that culture, in many cases are changed from one ethnos to another, in the result we observe differences in the languages of various ethnic groups, and, in some cases, the differences are not essential in one ethnic group.
As the authors think, these differences obviously appeared in the stages of the development of rock art, rock images and pictures. Sometimes the graphical languages (executive manners, typical forms, etc.) of various ethnic groups are non-similar. It is supposed, that the complexes of the rock images, which were discovered on the historical territory of Armenia, are differed from each other in a measure of mental characteristics and dialect differences of the representatives of Armenian people from various parts and regions of Armenia. The graphical language, symbols and signs are available. They are invariant and never depend on time, geographical and natural coordinates. Many nations had successfully learned and developed this language. Language symbols are general and understandable basically in the limits of one ethnic group, in determined geographical space and time. The authors think that just the moment of the investigation of the graphical archetypes is supposed to be the start of the civilization. The graphical image, picture, symbol or sign, which is fixed on the stone, exists singly, never depends on its creator - «is alienated from him». All this systems possess by the feature of autonomy and independence. Linguist V.V. Martinov call the language – “Actuality – 2'', in diversity of “Actuality – 1”, which is the world environment.
The graphical language, the language of petrography and rock pictures allowed a floating, harmonic and efficient (less actions) passing from ''Actuality – 1'' to ''Actuality – 2''. The construction of ''Actuality – 2'' relative to the objective, real or imaginable process, weighing of negative and positive features, hesitation in sincerity of thoughts, projection and development of the structure of logical constructions, choice of more acceptable decisions and their spreading – for all mentioned the man and the human language are obliged to the features of graphical language, as well as to simultaneity, invariance, reflectiveness, regularity, totality, etc. The hieroglyphs or the symbols (the word “ideogram” comes from the Greek words “idea” and “I’m writing”) have a significant place in the history of letter writing. Hieroglyphs usually considered to be the first step in the development of letter writing and were on the lowest development degree, as if they do not express sounds or syllables. They express whole words or parts of them and, naturally, do not submit any grammatical rule and cause serious difficulties in reading. Egyptians, Shummers and Chinese implemented this kind of letter writing. The ancient nations, such as Armenian, also had hieroglyphs in their letter writing...


A Brief History of the Armenian Gampr

The Armenian Gampr dog today has more similarity to the historical origin breed of all mollosser type dogs than other more well-known breeds. Historical evidence shows the development of livestock and companion dogs to have been in existence on the Armenian plateau before other ancient civilizations. Anthropological findings indicate that the current gampr type became what it is today at least 3000 years ago (Richard Ney, n.d.), and as the breed was developed out of necessity and continues to be a necessary part of human survival in its native area, the gampr has retained a surprising amount of its original characteristics. Various central Asian countries have closely related strains of the original shepherds’ dog. However, some of the other breeds also have had genetic manipulation in the last 200 years, which in most cases has meant the loss of the primitive soundness and depth of instinct that remains today in the gampr. Located in a very fertile zone, at the crossroads of travel between ancient Persia, Asia, and Europe, the Armenian plateau has given rise to some of the earliest milestones of civilization. Armenian innovations and products have been at the forefront of the development of humanity, and many steps of human progress appeared first here. Armenia was the first country to define the zodiac, adopt Christianity, use astrology, create an astronomical observatory and a calendar with a 365-day year, and the Armenians even built a Stonehenge thousands of years before the well-known European site (Ney, n.d.).

As these developments spread across Asia, so too did the early breed of dog, protecting livestock and people as they traveled. Historical records show early breeds of domesticated livestock to have existed in Armenia 25,000 years ago, roughly 10,000 years before their existence elsewhere (Ney, n.d.). Although the oldest archeological evidence of settlements in Armenia are 90,000 years old (Ney, n.d.), under the current city of Yerevan, many early peoples were nomadic, and wealth was measured in possessions, including livestock. A dog such as the gampr is invaluable in protecting one’s possessions, particularly livestock. Even now, it is common knowledge among owners of sheep or goats and livestock guardian dogs that a good dog will save the owner thousands of dollars in prevented losses. During the thousands of years of nomadic herding and trading, a good dog could easily have meant the difference between life and death. According to early petroglyphs beginning ca. 15,000-12,000 in the Armenian highlands, specifically “at Ughtasar and on the Geghama mountain range, up to 20% of the carvings resemble the modern gampr, while others show a remarkable diversity of dog that no longer exists.”(Ney, n.d.)

The continued existence of domesticated animals at that time was most likely restricted to those which were particularly useful and relatively self-sustaining. Archeological records of early dogs are somewhat concurrent and very widespread. Many archaeological finds indicate that the “first” domesticated dog came from several origins. One fairly recent find is of two skulls that are quite similar to the gampr and other central asian shepherd breeds, and it is postulated that this may be the first link between wolves and ancient dogs (Viegas, Jennifer, May 2003). Russian scientist Mikhail Sablin reported that the two dogs found were very similar to the wolves in the area at the time, but had shorter snouts, wider palates, and measured about 27.5 inches at the shoulder, which is about average for the gampr. Found near Bryansk, which is at the westernmost tip of the Russian Federation, the dogs were in a cave at the edge of the broad plain stretching through the Ukraine, northeast through Poland and south to the Caucasus mountains, Georgia and Armenia. The skulls are reported to be about 14,000 years old (Viegas, 2003). Another possible origin of the domestication of the dog is southeast Asia. Extensive genetic mapping indicates a genetic “age” of the domestication process, 12,000-15,000 years old. A landmark study lead by Peter Savolainen and involving a team of scientists from several continents organized mitochondrial DNA clades from modern dogs into 5 main groups. Since ninety- five percent of the dogs studied were from three clades, Savolainen’s team looked to the remaining clades which included the first three but had more genetic diversity, indicating a longer age of genetic development. The greatest differences in mitochondrial DNA were apparently from southeast Asia, indicating to the analysts that this was where the original domestication process had begun (Savolainen et al, November 2002).


Stone Tool Discovery in Armenia Gives Insight into Human Innovation 325,000 Years Ago

An analysis of about 3,000 stone tools from a 325,000-year-old archaeological site near the village of Nor Geghi in the Kotayk Province of Armenia challenges the theory held by many scientists that the so-called Levallois stone tool-making technique was invented in Africa and then spread across the world as the human population

Named after flint tools discovered in the 19th century in the Levallois-Perret suburb of Paris in France, Levallois technique is a distinctive style of flint knapping developed by early humans during the Paleolithic. This technique involves the multistage shaping of a mass of stone in preparation to detach a flake of predetermined size and shape from a single preferred surface.


Many anthropologists argue that Levallois technique was invented in Africa more than 300,000 years ago and spread to Eurasia with expanding human populations, replacing a more basic type of technology - biface technique - in which a raw block of stone is shaped through the serial removal of interrelated flakes until the remaining volume takes on a desired form, such as a hand axe.

But now a team of archaeologists and anthropologists from the United States and Europe led by Dr Daniel Adler of the University of Connecticut has discovered at the Armenian archaeological site of Nor Geghi that Levallois tools already existed there between 325,000 and 335,000 years ago, suggesting that local populations developed them out of biface technique, which was also found at the site. The co-existence of the two techniques provides the first clear evidence that local populations developed Levallois technique out of existing biface technique.

"The discovery of thousands of stone artifacts preserved at this unique site provides a major new insight into how Stone Age tools developed during a period of profound human behavioral and biological change", said Dr Simon Blockley of Royal Holloway, University of London, who is a co-author of the paper describing the discovery in the journal Science.

"The people who lived there 325,000 years ago were much more innovative than previously thought, using a combination of two different technologies to make tools that were extremely important for the mobile hunter-gatherers of the time."

Moreover, the chemical analysis of several hundred obsidian tools from Nor Geghi shows that early humans at the site utilized obsidian outcrops from as far away as 120 km, suggesting they must have been capable of exploiting large, environmentally diverse territories.


Modern Armenian Genetically Cosest to Humans Living 4-2 Millenia BC

The human being, who had lived since the end of the BC 4th millennium till the end of the 2nd millennium, has been the biological ancestor of the Eurasian modern area’s societies, excluding the residents of Sardinia and Sicily. And the modern Armenian is genetically closest to the human millennia BC 4-2 by its modern genetics. As “Armenpress” reports, on 05 June, the Director of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography Pavel Avetisyan and the Head of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology Institute, Historical Sciences Doctor Professor Levon Yepiskoposyan stated this during the meeting with the reporters, representing the results of the research conducted in cooperation with the University of Copenhagen. 101 DNA samples were subjected to the laboratory analysis for the study, which were brought from different countries - Denmark, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Montenegro, Poland, Russia and Sweden. For the first time, 8 human samples excavated from various sites of Armenia Bronze-Iron Ages were included in the study.

Armenians have a high genetic affinity to ancient Europeans, new study reveals

A new study into Armenian genetics reveals that present day Armenians are a mixture of local Bronze Age people who have retained homogeneity for over three thousand years, and show great affinity to Neolithic Europeans, PeopleOfAr reports. 

Armenians are an ethno-linguistic-religious group distinct from their surrounding neighbors. They have their own church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, which was founded in the 1st century CE, and became in 301 CE the first branch of Christianity to become a state religion. They have also their own alphabet and language which is classified as an independent branch of the Indo-European language family.

The historical homeland of the Armenians sits north of the Fertile Crescent, a region of substantial importance to modern human evolution. Genetic and archaeological data suggest farmers expanding from this region during the Neolithic populated Europe and interacted/admixed with pre-existing huntergatherer populations. Furthermore, Armenia’s location may have been important for the spread of Indo-European languages, since it is believed to encompass or be close to the Proto-Indo-European homeland (Anatolia or Pontic Steppe) from which the Indo-Europeans and their culture spread to Western Europe, Central Asia and India.
Bel tried to impose his tyranny upon Hayk’s people. But proud Hayk refused to submit to Bel. As soon as his son Aramaneak was born, Hayk rose up and led his people back into his ancestral land of Ararad. At the foot of the mountain he built a village and called it with his name “Haykashen”.
According to a new study into Armenian genetics, published on the bioRxiv preprint service for biology, the Armenian people derive their ancestry from a number of local Bronze age tribes. A team of international scholars (from UK, Spain, Italy and Lebanon) led by Marc Haber have analysed Armenian genes and compared them to 78 other worldwide populations including some ancient DNA samples. They conclude that:
The Armenians show signatures of an origin from mixture of diverse populations occurring 3,000 to 2,000 BCE. This period spans the Bronze Age, characterized by extensive use of metals in farming tools, chariots and weapons, accompanied by development of the earliest writing systems and the establishment of trade routes and commerce. These mixture dates also coincide with the legendary establishment of Armenia in 2,492 BCE.
However, unlike Armenian neighbors the Armenians show no significant traces of further admixture after 1,200 BCE, some three and a half thousand years ago. It appears that Armenians have stopped mixing around that time and today carry little to no mixture of foreign populations, retaining their ethnic and cultural homogeneity since the end of the Bronze Age. Haber et. al describe:
Tests suggest that Armenians had no significant mixture with other populations in their recent history and have thus been genetically isolated since the end of the Bronze Age, 3,000 years ago.
The authors explain the cessation of Armenian admixture as resulting from a collapse of Bronze Age civilizations coupled with a development of Armenian cultural distinctiveness.
Admixture signals decrease to insignificant levels after 1,200 BCE, a time when Bronze Age civilizations in the eastern Mediterranean world suddenly collapsed, with major cities being destroyed or abandoned and most trade routes disrupted. This appears to have caused Armenians’ isolation from their surroundings, subsequently sustained by the cultural/linguistic/religious distinctiveness that persists until today. Armenians’ adoption of a distinctive culture early in their history resulted in their genetic isolation from their surroundings. Their genetic resemblance today to other genetic isolates in the Near East, but not to most other Near Easterners, suggests that recent admixture has changed the genetic landscape in most populations in the region.
We compared patterns of admixture in Armenians to other regional populations and detected signals of recent admixture in most other populations. For example, we find 7.9% (±0.4) East Asian ancestry in Turks from admixture occurring 800 (±170) years ago coinciding with the arrival of the Seljuk Turks in Anatolia from their homelands near the Aral Sea. We also detect sub-Saharan African gene flow 850 (±85) years ago in Syrians, Palestinians and Jordanians, consistent with previous reports on recent gene flow from Africans to Levantine populations after the Arab expansions.This genetic isolation makes Armenians quite unique in the region as the study goes on to describe:
The genetic landscape in most of the Middle East appears to have been continuously changing. Modern Armenians much more so than the Turks, therefore appear to be a prime representatives of ancient Anatolian inhabitants: The position of the Armenians within the global genetic diversity is unique and appears to mirror the geographical location of Anatolia. Previous genetic studies have generally used Turks as representatives of ancient Anatolians. Our results show that Turks are genetically shifted towards Central Asians, a pattern consistent with a history of mixture with populations from this region.
These results seem to corroborate with previous studies (Hellenthal et. al., 2014) which also didn’t find admixture with Armenians for the past 3 to 4 thousand years.

Affinity to Ancient Europeans

The Armenian Highlands and Anatolia form a bridge connecting Europe, the Near East and the Caucasus. Anatolia’s location and history have placed it at the centre of several modern human expansions in Eurasia: it has been inhabited continuously since at least the early Upper Palaeolithic, and has the oldest known monumental complex built by huntergatherers in the 10th millennium BCE (Armenian Portasar commonly known as Göbekli Tepe). It is believed to have been the origin and/or route for migrating Near Eastern farmers towards Europe during the Neolithic, and has also played a major role in the dispersal of the Indo-European languages. Armenia’s location at the northern tip of the Near East suggests a plausible relationship to the expanding Neolithic farmers. In order to compare Armenians with ancient Europeans the authors have analysed ancient DNA samples from Europe including that of Ötzi the Iceman (a 5,300-year-old individual discovered on the Italian part of the Ötztal Alps). The study concludes:
We show that Armenians have higher genetic affinity to Neolithic Europeans than other present-day Near Easterners, and that 29% of the Armenian ancestry may originate from an ancestral population best represented by Neolithic Europeans. We find in Armenians and other genetic isolates in the Near East high shared ancestry with ancient European farmers with ancestry proportions similar to presentday Europeans but not to present-day Near Easterners… Our tests show that most of the Near East genetic isolates ancestry shared with Europeans can be attributed to expansion after the Neolithic period.
The long period of genetic isolation makes Armenians in particular unique to the region. The study of the Armenian DNA is therefore very interesting to scholars who study European DNA, because to them Armenians are like an image of what the DNA groups were before they started spreading out.These results suggest that the Armenians (the genetic isolates in the Near East) probably retain features of an ancient genetic landscape in the Near East that had more affinity to Europe than most of the present day Near Eastern populations do.

The study has been conducted by , , , , ,

Date of Armenia’s Birth, Given in 5th Century, Gains Credence

Movses Khorenatsi, a historian in the fifth century, wrote that his native Armenia had been established in 2492 B.C., a date usually regarded as legendary though he claimed to have traveled to Babylon and consulted ancient records. But either he made a lucky guess or he really did gain access to useful data, because a new genomic analysis suggests that his date is entirely plausible.

Geneticists have scanned the genomes of 173 Armenians from Armenia and Lebanon and compared them with those of 78 other populations from around the world. They found that the Armenians are a mix of ancient populations whose descendants now live in Sardinia, Central Asia and several other regions. This formative mixture occurred from 3000 to 2000 B.C., the geneticists calculated, coincident with Movses Khorenatsi’s date for the founding of Armenia.

Toward the end of the Bronze Age, when the mixture was in process, there was considerable movement of peoples brought about by increased trade, warfare and population growth. After 1200 B.C., the Bronze Age civilizations of the eastern Mediterranean suddenly collapsed, an event that seems to have brought about the isolation of Armenians from other populations. No significant mixing with other peoples after that date can be detected in the genomes of living Armenians, the geneticists said.

The isolation was probably sustained by the many characteristic aspects of Armenian culture. Armenians have a distinctive language and alphabet, and the Armenian Apostolic Church was the first branch of Christianity to become established as a state religion, in A.D. 301, anticipating that by the Roman empire in A.D. 380.

The researchers also see a signal of genetic divergence that developed about 500 years ago between western and eastern Armenians. The date corresponds to the onset of wars between the Ottoman and Safavid dynasties and the division of the Armenian population between the Turkish and Persian empires. “This DNA study confirms in general outline much of what we know about Armenian history,” said Hovann Simonian, a historian of Armenia affiliated with the University of Southern California.

The geneticists’ team, led by Marc Haber and Chris Tyler-Smith of the Sanger Institute, near Cambridge in England, see long-isolated populations like that of the Armenians as a means of reconstructing population history.

Armenians share 29 percent of their DNA ancestry with Otzi, a man whose 5,300-year-old mummy emerged in 1991 from a melting Alpine glacier. Other genetically isolated populations of the Near East, like Cypriots, Sephardic Jews and Lebanese Christians, also share a lot of ancestry with the Iceman, whereas other Near Easterners, like Turks, Syrians and Palestinians, share less. This indicates that the Armenians and other isolated populations are closer than present-day inhabitants of the Near East to the Neolithic farmers who brought agriculture to Europe about 8,000 years ago.

The geneticists’ paper was posted last month on bioRxiv, a digital library for publishing scientific articles before they appear in journals. Dr. Tyler-Smith, the senior author of the genetics team, said he could not discuss their results for fear of jeopardizing publication in a journal that he did not name.



The ancient fortress Metsamor in the center of the Ararat Valley, lying as it does some 35km southwest of Yerevan, occupies a volcanic hill with its near lying area. Prompted to life by the fertile valley with its rich water resources, vegetation and hunting grounds, girdled by the meandering Metsamor River, the fortress, as before, is the site of cool bubbling springs gushing life into the entire area.

In Metsamor the regular excavation work which was begun in 1965 and is still in progress has yielded cultural layers dating to the Aenolithic, three periods of the Bronze Age (early, middle and late), the early and developed Iron Age (Pre-Urartian, Urartian and Antique) and the Middle Ages.

The excavations have shown that back in the early Bronze Age (late 4th-3rd millenia BC) Metsamor was a flourishing cultural center that had a substantial influence on the historical and cultural development of the local people. Recent studies define the monument as a large urban-type settlement which, according to preliminary data, occupied an area of 10.5 hectares and consisted of a citadel fenced in by a sturdy Cyclopean wall and a zikkurat observatory sited on a low mountain ridge. The fortress comprised a range of rotund dwellings with adjacent outbuildings.

In the middle Bronze period (late 3rd - middle of the 2nd millenia BC) urbanization processes acquired a vivid expression leading to complex architectural forms and extending the bounds of the settlement. The Late Bronze period introduced more pronounced class distinctions. Evidence of this are the objects of funeral rites and the precious materials discovered in the tombs of elite rulers.

In the early Iron Age (11th-9th cc BC) Metsamor was already a city. The citadel, observatory and dwelling blocks that occupied the lowland stretching to Lake Akna covered an area of 100 hectares. The fortress proper within the huge Cyclopean wall housed the palatial structures, the temple ensemble with its seven sanctuaries and the outbuildings. Half a kilometer to the southeast of the citadel was the traditional necropolis which was tentatively supposed to cover an area short of 100 hectares. Small interments have been excavated along with large burial mounds and underlying crushed-stone layers yielding large-sized tombs built of red tufa blocks and encircled by cromlechs.

The material artifacts dealing with funeral ceremonies testify to the high rank of the buried: numerous horses, cattle and other farm animals, pigs, dogs, and even people were sacrificed in their honor. The discovered grape and pear pits show that fruits also had a part to play in the funeral ceremonies. Among funeral objects a special place belongs to amethyst bowls, ornamented wooden caskets, inlaid-work covers, glazed ceramic perfume bottles, and ornaments of gold, silver and semi-precious stones and paste decorated with traditional mythological scenes typical of local art traditions.

Among the finds a special place belongs to an agate frog-weight in the possession of the Babylonian ruler Ulam Vurarish (end of the 16th century BC) and a seal of cornelian with Egyptian heiroglyphs owned by the Babylonian ruler Kurigalz (15th century BC). These finds along with many other items show that from ancient times Metsamor stood at the crossroads of travel routes running across the Ararat plain and linking Asia Minor with the Northern Caucasus.

In the early Iron Age Metsamor was on eof the 'regal' towns and administrative-political and cultural centers sited in the Ararat lowlands. The traces of wars, devastations and fires discovered during excavation work coincide in time with the conquest of the Ararat plain by the Van kingdom in the early 8th century BC.

Stratigraphic data and the discovered material confirm the fact that following a brief interruption life on Metsamor hill was resumed. The Van rulers erected a new Cyclopean wall and Metsamor apparently acquired the status of taxpayer. The territory of the citadel has also yielded materials pertaining to the antique and Hellenic periods. Life continued to thrive in Metsamor throughout the Middle Ages up to the 17th century. The best evidence of this are the traces of former buildings discovered on the hilltop and its eastern slope, the glazed and unglazed earthenware, and items of luxury.

A special place belongs to coins excavated from Metsamors medieval layers. Among them one should mention the coin of Levon II (1270-1289), the medieval coin of the Khulavites minted in Tabriz (16th century), and the West European 13th-14th cc. coin which confirms Metsamor's position throughout the ages as a centre at the crossroads of trade routes.  The rich and diverse material discovered in the multilayer excavations at Metsamor has naturally led to the founding of the Metsamor Museum at the site of the monument.

The Museum of History and Archaeology was opened in 1968. Today it is the repository of 22,000 items. Its ground floor holds along with the diagram of the stratigraphic picture of the excavated layers chronological materials discovered in the fortress and the burial grounds dating from the Early Bronze Age to the Middle Ages. The second floor boasts two departments. The first displays materials dealing with trades, stone artifacts, items employed in jewelry-making, textile-weaving and leather working, carpet-weaving and the production of ceramics, and the glazed bluish-green decorative tiles that had ornamented the palace and temple halls. There is also a fine collection showing the metal-working process of those times.

The other department is devoted to the temple ensemble and items of worship. Here one sees idols, phallic sculptures, makeshift hearths, pintader seals for stamping blessed bread loaves, and amulets.

The museum basement is the repository of archeological wealth: an exposition showing the funeral ceremony of the Van Kingdom, the collection of gold displayed in two small halls comprising necklaces of gold, silver and semi-precious stones, amber and paste, along with other samples of jewelry-working discovered in the burials of wealthy Metsamor residents. The exposition is regularly replenished and renewed.

The museum attracts many visitors. The Metsamor monument and Museum have recieved a high appraisal of archaeologists, astrophysicists and other high-ranking specialists. There is no overstating the role of Metsamor in studying the history and culture of the people that once inhabited the Armenian plateau. Excavations of the ancient settlement are in full progress.

Above text prepared for a Soviet brochure by E. Hanzatyan.


Karahunj: Armenia's Stonehenge
CNN International Explores the Secrets of Armenia's Stone Henge:
Around 200km from Yerevan, the capital of the Republic of Armenia, not far from the town of Sisian, there is a Prehistoric Monument consisting of hundreds of Standing Stones on a territorial area of approximately 7 hectares. Many of these stones have smooth angled holes of 4 to 5cm in diameter, the angles of the holes being directed at different points on the horizon and outer space. Professor Paris Herouni, a member of the Armenian National Academy of Science and President of the Radiophysics Research Institute in Yerevan, has undertaken a series of scientific expeditions, starting from 1994 (four days each occasion), the timing of these expeditions being at equinox and solstice days. The objective of this research was to investigate and try to solve the mysteries of this Monument. During these expeditions, the following tasks were achieved:
• 223 Stones were numbered, 84 of which were found to have holes;

• the exact topographical map of the Monument was prepared;

• the latitude, longitude and magnetic deviation of the site was measured; and

• many unique astronomic instruments consisting of one, two or three Stones were identified, and using these, many observations of the Sun, Moon and stars at their rising, setting and culmination moments, were made.

Research to date has established that the name of the Monument was carahunge (“Speaking Stones”). The age of Carahunge has been estimated to be 7500 years or older (VI millennium BC). This was accurately ascertained by taking readings of the motion of the Sun, Moon and stars, using four independent astronomical methods based on the laws of the changes of the Earth’s axis precession and incline. The period when Carahunge’s activities took place was also calculated, this being a period of more than 5500 years. It was also demonstrated that the main functions of Karahunge were:

1). to serve as the temple of AR (Sun) – The Father and Main God of the Armenians;

2). to provide protection through TIR, the old Armenian God of science;

3). to play the role of a large and sophisticated Observatory (the North and South stone Arms); and

4). to serve as a University.

(The Armenian scientists of old, during the time of Carahunge, could accurately measure latitude; knew that the Earth was ball-shaped; that its radius was equal to 6300km; had an accurate calendar, etc). These scientists also planned and were involved in the implementation of other well known ancient Monuments, such as the Great Pyramid in Egypt (3000 years “younger” than Carahunge); Stonehenge in England (3500 years “younger”); and others. Many of these Monuments retain until now, a link with the original Armenian name, e.g. Stonehenge, which has the same connotation as Carahunge, because “stone” in Armenian is “kar” and “henge” (a word which is absent in English) is the same “hunge” (voice, sound, echo in Armenian).Another example is Callanish in Scotland (Luis island in North Gebrids), because “kal” = “car”, “nish” in Armenian is “sign” and Luis is “light”. The same principle applies to the name given to the standing Stones in Carnac in Brittany (France), in Egypt, etc.Finally, it must be very interesting to our readers that many of the world’s well known ancient Monuments were built in definite and equal latitudinal distances from Karahunge. For example, the latitude difference between Karahunge and Stonehenge is about +10°; Karahunge and the Great Pyramid is about –10°; between Carahunge,Kallanish and the oldest Egyptian observatory and Temple of the Principal God RA (AR), near present Assuan, is ±16°.Armenian scientists of old knew mathematics, geometry, written language, astronomy, philosophy, etc. There were laws and order in existence, and Armenia was a Kingdom with dynasties. Carahunge confirms that Armenia was the first civilization on Earth, propagated knowledge and kindness everywhere and was the cradle of Indo-Europeans and Indo- European languages.

Discovery of 12,000 Year Old Temple Complex Could Alter Theory of Human Development

As a child, Klaus Schmidt used to grub around in caves in his native Germany in the hope of finding prehistoric paintings. Thirty years later, representing the German Archaeological Institute, he found something infinitely more important -- a temple complex almost twice as old as anything comparable on the planet. "This place is a supernova", says Schmidt, standing under a lone tree on a windswept hilltop 35 miles north of Turkey’s border with Syria. "Within a minute of first seeing it I knew I had two choices: go away and tell nobody, or spend the rest of my life working here." Behind him are the first folds of the Anatolian plateau. Ahead, the Mesopotamian plain, like a dust-colored sea, stretches south hundreds of miles to Baghdad and beyond. The stone circles of Gobekli Tepe are just in front, hidden under the brow of the hill.

Compared to Stonehenge, Britain’s most famous prehistoric site, they are humble affairs. None of the circles excavated (four out of an estimated 20) are more than 30 meters across. What makes the discovery remarkable are the carvings of boars, foxes, lions, birds, snakes and scorpions, and their age. Dated at around 9,500 BC, these stones are 5,500 years older than the first cities of Mesopotamia, and 7,000 years older than Stonehenge. Never mind circular patterns or the stone-etchings, the people who erected this site did not even have pottery or cultivate wheat. They lived in villages. But they were hunters, not farmers. "Everybody used to think only complex, hierarchical civilizations could build such monumental sites, and that they only came about with the invention of agriculture", says Ian Hodder, a Stanford University Professor of Anthropology, who, since 1993, has directed digs at Catalhoyuk, Turkey’s most famous Neolithic site. "Gobekli changes everything. It’s elaborate, it’s complex and it is pre-agricultural. That fact alone makes the site one of the most important archaeological finds in a very long time."

With only a fraction of the site opened up after a decade of excavations, Gobekli Tepe’s significance to the people who built it remains unclear. Some think the site was the center of a fertility rite, with the two tall stones at the center of each circle representing a man and woman. It’s a theory the tourist board in the nearby city of Urfa has taken up with alacrity. Visit the Garden of Eden, its brochures trumpet, see Adam and Eve. Schmidt is skeptical about the fertility theory. He agrees Gobekli Tepe may well be "the last flowering of a semi-nomadic world that farming was just about to destroy," and points out that if it is in near perfect condition today, it is because those who built it buried it soon after under tons of soil, as though its wild animal-rich world had lost all meaning. But the site is devoid of the fertility symbols that have been found at other Neolithic sites, and the T-shaped columns, while clearly semi-human, are sexless. "I think here we are face to face with the earliest representation of gods", says Schmidt, patting one of the biggest stones. "They have no eyes, no mouths, no faces. But they have arms and they have hands. They are makers." "In my opinion, the people who carved them were asking themselves the biggest questions of all," Schmidt continued. "What is this universe? Why are we here?"

With no evidence of houses or graves near the stones, Schmidt believes the hill top was a site of pilgrimage for communities within a radius of roughly a hundred miles. He notes how the tallest stones all face southeast, as if scanning plains that are scattered with archeological sites in many ways no less remarkable than Gobekli Tepe. Last year, for instance, French archaeologists working at Djade al-Mughara in northern Syria uncovered the oldest mural ever found. "Two square meters of geometric shapes, in red, black and white - a bit like a Paul Klee painting," explains Eric Coqueugniot, the University of Lyon archaeologist who is leading the excavation. Coqueugniot describes Schmidt’s hypothesis that Gobekli Tepe was meeting point for feasts, rituals and sharing ideas as "tempting," given the site’s spectacular position. But he emphasizes that surveys of the region are still in their infancy. "Tomorrow, somebody might find somewhere even more dramatic." Director of a dig at Korpiktepe, on the Tigris River about 120 miles east of Urfa, Vecihi Ozkaya doubts the thousands of stone pots he has found since 2001 in hundreds of 11,500 year-old graves quite qualify as that. But his excitement fills his austere office at Dicle University in Diyarbakir. "Look at this", he says, pointing at a photo of an exquisitely carved sculpture showing an animal, half-human, half-lion. "It’s a sphinx, thousands of years before Egypt. Southeastern Turkey, northern Syria - this region saw the wedding night of our civilization."


Armenia’s Cradle of Civilization

Armenia’s ‘Fertile Crescent’ was located in two places: at the headwaters of the Euphrates and Tigris, and along the Arax River, its tributaries a series of liquid ribs along a central Ararat spine. Within the Ararat Valley lies a smaller crescent of land, still bearing the marks of vast marshlands and forests that once covered the entire valley floor. As you wander through this area, you can spot sudden eruptions of the terrain, hills that seem to appear from nowhere. They do not ‘fit’ the contour of the land. These are the remains of the first urban civilization to leave its imprint on the ancient Armenian world: they are the sentinels of the Metsamor Kingdom, the ‘Cradle of Armenian Civilization’.

The oldest settlement found in Armenia is a 90,000 BC Stone Age settlement in suburban Yerevan. From then through the Paleolithic period, proof of human settlement is scattered between cave dwellings and stone inscriptions on the Geghama Lehr. Suddenly, at the end of the Mesolithic period, a complex web of cities and fortified settlements appeared throughout the Ararat valley, only handfuls of which have been excavated. But enough have been uncovered to show a startlingly developed culture that rivaled the Mesopotamian urban cities, and in the area of astronomy, led the way.

Between 7000 and 4000 BC, this series of cities appeared at evenly placed spots in this crescent, all of them built around the metal industry. The inhabitants were the first known to forge copper and bronze; and are the first recorded to successfully smelt iron. The metal ore mined in this area was among of the purest in the world, and the natives shaped their culture around it. They believed the technique for forging metal was given to them from the heavens, and their temples combined metal idols with sophisticated stone observatories that charted the night sky. The first recorded astronomers, they were the earliest to create a calendar that divided the year into 12 segments of time, among the first to devise the compass, and to envision the shape of the world as round.

The successful smelting of bronze (along with gold, silver and magnesium) and the mining of precious gems transformed an agrarian civilization into to an urban one. The first signs of fortified cities are traced to this era, beginning with the excavation at Metsamor (a thriving trade culture by 5,000 BC, and with many more strata to be uncovered, conjectured to be as old as 10,000 BC in its first incarnation). Other 5th millennium cities include Dari Blur (Armavir), Aratashen Blur, AdaBlur and Teghut. In the 4th millennium BC the cyclopic walls of Lechashen had been erected by Lake Sevan, while in the Ararat valley cities at Shengavit, Aigevan and Aigeshat were established.

By 3000 BC a large kingdom was established around Metsamor with additional cities at MokhraBlur Jerahovit, Lejapi Blur, Kosh and Voski Blur (Voski means “golden” in Armenian). Shengavit is distinct among the cities in Armenia for its use of round shaped dwellings made from river stones and mud brick. The artifacts found at Shengavit (ca. 5000-3000 BC) include black-varnished, red and gray pottery, in geometric patterns similar to those used in the Minoan culture. The culture had distinctive religious beliefs revolving around the sun and planets, reflected in burial artifacts found at the sites.

Ancestral Armenians developed a trading culture at a very early time. To do that, they needed to understand and create a system of navigation. Longitude, latitude, distance and direction had to be calculated for any trip farther than across a few mountains. Artifacts uncovered at Metsamor come from as far-flung cultures as those in Central Asia, Mesopotamia, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. Others include navigational tools, inscribed in stone and accurately mapping the night sky. In Sissian, an astral observatory built from stone shows an incredibly sophisticated knowledge of the universe way before the Babylonians—which used to be thought the first astronomers—had built their first city.

Rapid development and unification through trading between the tribes in the Armenian plateau created a rich and prosperous culture that was to last for more than 5000 years. The metal based cultures that sprung up on the Armenian plateau were neighbors with Sumeria, Elam, and the first empire Akkad. They had mapped the constellations before the great pyramids were built, while Greece wasn’t even a thought, and the first dynasty in China was about 2000 years away.

The Rise of Astronomy in Armenia

By the Copper-Bronze Age (5000 - 2000 BC), pictograms at Metsamor and the Geghama Lehr record ever more sophisticated celestial iconography, including the signs of the zodiac. Two observatories found in Armenia show a developed awareness of astronomy at least by 2800 BC, and possibly as early as the 5th millennium BC. Using astronomy, Ancestral Armenians developed a calendar based on 365 days, one of the first compasses, and were able to envision the shape of the world as round. The appearance of the signs of the zodiac in Armenia occurred before the Hittite and Babylonian kingdoms, which were heretofore credited with developing astronomy. Conclusive dating is still being fought over, but two astral observatories in Armenia vie for the position of birthplace of the zodiac constellations.

At Metsamor (ca. 5000 BC), there is a series of stone platforms which were reported in 1967 to be part of an astronomical instrument dating to 2800 BC, about the time historians think the naming of the zodiac was completed. The observatory at Metsamor is oriented towards the star Sirius, the brightest in the northern sky. The Metsamorians are figured to have calculated the beginning of the New Year with the appearance of Sirius in the rays of the dawning sun at the spring solstice. Numerous carvings show the locations of stars in the night sky, and one is a compass pointed due East. Other inscriptions include the signs for Aries, Leo, Capricorn and Taurus.


A Second Observatory in southern Armenia lies near the town of Sissian. Initial studies suggested a 3rd millennium BC date for the site and noted a number of sighting holes bored into large stones placed at the site. The holes point to the locations where solar and lunar phases could be tracked during they year, as well as stars and constellations. Later investigations led to a conjectured dating of the oldest stone telescope at the site to around 4200 BC, when the star Capella was ascendant in the region. If true, this would make it the oldest astral observatory in the world. Located close to the village of Karahundj, which in Armenian is a direct translation of the English word Stonehenge, the stones are becoming the focus of increasing interest, suggesting a link between Ancestral Armenian exploration of the heavens with the naming of the zodiac and the numerous henges in Europe.

England's Stonehenge is dated ca. 2200-1800 BC. Both observatories in Armenia predate the English henge, Karahundj perhaps predating them as much as 2000 years. For perspective, the people living in the Metsamor Kingdom were neighbors with the oldest civilization Sumeria, the first important trade city Elam, and the first empire Akkad. They inhabited the Armenian Plateau before the great pyramids, Greece wasn’t even a thought, and the first dynasty in China was about 2000 years away. At the same time Metsamor was flourishing, the Minoans were beginning to create their culture on Crete, and the Old Kingdom in Egypt had just brought together the lower and upper kingdoms into one unified country.

Metal and Iron

Of course both are metal, but speaking poetically, we are thinking of the difference between soft metals and the hard stuff. Both liquids, the difference is in the way they freeze. Sometime between 3000 and 2000 BC, a new metal was forged for the first time, and its use would change everything about making weapons and building empires. We’re talking iron here, the thing that we buy Rustoleum to protect, but which the ancients worshipped and coveted. Iron is a plentiful resource; most areas of the world can extract it. Pure strains occur in abundance in the Armenian Plateau, just as pure strains of gold, copper, tin, mercury, manganese and silver were extracted by the Metsamor culture and developed into a large industry. Since metal foundries forging copper, brass and bronze go back to 5000 BC in Armenia; they would be pretty good places for research and development.

The difference between bronze and iron is like the difference between a Bic lighter and a blowtorch. With iron shields, helmets and weapons, soldiers lasted a lot longer in battle against arrows and spears. Those who had iron weapons pretty much made bronze and copper useless except as decorator items. And iron was a protected monopoly. At first restricted to large vessels and cooking utensils, the military applications soon became apparent, then coveted, the metal valued more than precious gems or gold. If not by bribery, they learned the secret through agents sent to ferret the secret out. If not by spying, then by war. When was iron first smelted? No one can say for sure, but the smelting of iron--like bronze--was engineered by the people living in this part of the world, the technique slowly migrating outwards to surrounding territories. Now, while the Hittites (which came on the scene along with the Babylonians and Assyrians about 1800 BC) are credited with being among the first, and it wasn’t until 1350 BC that the Egyptians were able to process it themselves, excavations in Armenia show the first smelting of iron as early as 3000 BC.

Metsamor reached its zenith in the Mid Bronze Age, when it encompassed more than 200 hectares (about 500 acres). At the center of trade between Asia and the budding cultures in the West, the mineral mines and metal forges in the Metsamor kingdom were the focus of constant warfare with neighboring city-states, and by the end of the 3rd millennium, with the growing empires in Mesopotamia. The Metsamor culture thrived through the Bronze and early Iron Age, when it was integrated into the Urartu Empire (ca. 7th c. BC). The city of Metsamor continued under the Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans until the 18th century, when it was abandoned. 6700 years of continuous inhabitation, and counting—not a bad record.

The Second Wave

Close to the Mesopotamian cultures, ancestral Armenian tribes developed a series of city-states by the 3rd millennium BC, with federations formed and reformed between them for most of the Bronze Age period. The territory was described as a rich land between the rivers, with their head at the “mountains of the gods” (described as “Arartu”). This description comes from the oldest story known, Gilgamesh (ca. 5th millennium BC). To earn that kind of praise, a land would have to be very rich indeed. 2000-1800 BC cuneiform note migrating peoples from the outside who lived with the original tribes. These peoples would have been the migrating Indo-Europeans (including the Hittites), for cuneiform used such expressions as “we came, we conquered and we captured” as their calling cards.

The combination of migrating Indo-Europeans with native cultures was bound to create more than a little cross-fertilization of people and ideas, and within the next 1000 years several regional kingdoms using an Indo-European language emerged. By the 2nd millennium, trading between the tribes on the Armenian plateau led to a loose federation led by the Nairi, which were based around Southern Lake Van. The Nairi were recorded as early as 2000 BC on Assyrian cuneiform as the people from the “land between the rivers,” holding about 60 tribes and 100 cities. The Nairi were one tribe among many, but their name became synonymous with that for the entire region. From what we know of the tribes, their customs and traditions were similar to others found in Mesopotamia, and they mixed Semitic or Ugaritic origins with their earlier Indo-European genetic and cultural roots. Among the tribes in Nairi was one called Urartu.

Also around 2000 BC, a second wave of Indo-European migration began, this time coming full circle back to the Armenian plateau. Thousands of years of development created distinct dialects and physical attributes, which further influenced the “mother tribes” in Armenia. Among them were the Hittites, which entered the region of Asia Minor around 2000 BC. There is a clay tablet written by the Hittites about 2000 BC (discovered in an excavation of the Hittite capital Hatusas--or Boghazkeui-- in N. Central Turkey), which first mentions a tribe of people called Haius, and said they were from the country of Haiassa-Aza. This was a predominant tribe in the region, vassals of the Hittite kingdom, and said to be a distinct Indo-European tribe that introduced its language and customs to neighboring tribes. The Haius were often in rebellion with the Hittites, and they were influential in spreading their culture eastwards, to the peoples on the Armenian plateau.

In addition, the architectural and cultural influences of the Hittites were filtered into the region through Haiassa-Aza. Another movement of Indo-Europeans is recorded in the 12th c BC. It is about Thraco-Phrygian tribes (called “foreign settlers”) who were pushed out of Thrace and Phrygia by “the people of the Sea” (i.e., early Greeks, Minoans or Mycanaeans) around 1200 BC (there’s Troy again!), and who moved through the Euphrates into the Armenian Plateau. These tribes lived with Armenian Ancestors and other tribes and formed a hybrid culture which is the beginning of an extant Armenian identity, including an Indo-European language and Aryan features (tall with blonde-hair and blue-eyes) among the people. First inhabiting the land immediately East of the Trojan kingdom in Asia Minor, the Thraco-Phrygians settled on the Western edges of the Armenian plateau and intermingled with the Haiassa-Aza, further developing Indo-European language, culture and physical features.

Other rival tribes (or kingdoms, as they were called) in the area included the Mitanni, southwest of Lake Van, the Manah (around Lake Urmia) and the Diaukhi (around present day Erzurum). The Mitannians and Hurrians were dominant cultures in the Armenian Plateau until the mid 2nd millennium BC. Kurgans (burial mounds) of the 17th and 16th centuries BC have been excavated at Vanadzor showing chased gold and silver cups and bronze weapons. Kurgans in the following period excavated at Lechashen, and at a cemetery at the village of Artik on the slopes of Mt. Aragats uncovered Mitannian cylinder seals dating from the 15th to early 14th centuries BC—the final phase of the Mitannian kingdom. After the destruction of Mitanni by the Hittites at the turn of the 15th-14th cc. BC, the tribes on the Armenian plateau maintained their ties with the Hittites, which had begun to expand into Northern Syria.

By the time the Hittite kingdom fell around 1200 BC, the ancestral Armenian tribes had forged powerful alliances and were considered a challenge to the northward expansion of the Assyrians, who became the primary power after the fall of Mitanni. The Diaukhi were, at the time of the rise of Urartu, the most powerful political formation of the Nairi. By the time of Urartu’s rise, the Nairi tribes had retreated Southwest of Lake Van to a country called Khubushkia. The area of present day Armenia was held by the kings of Etwikhi (Etwini). Kept up with all this? If you have, then you begin to understand why it has been so hard to trace Armenia’s lineage in the region, and how--with all these tribes inhabiting the same land, more than a little cross-pollination occurred, creating a race of tribes which were all culturally related, sharing language and ethnic roots among them.

And frankly, even as the Egyptians and Assyrians were pollinating like bees, being made up of several ethnic groups themselves. Their cousins, the tribes in Armenia were still rivals for land and mineral resources, and a few rose to prominence. One of these tribes succeeded in uniting or conquering surrounding city-states into a single empire, which rivaled even the Assyrians and Hittites for power. They were called the Nairi and Urartians by the Assyrians. Let’s put this into perspective and mark ancetral continuously inhabiting the Armenian Plateau before and throughout the rise and fall of the Old and Middle Kingdoms in Egypt, the entire history of Minoan and Mycanaean cultures (ca 2200-1400 BC) and the Indus civilization in present day Pakistan (ca. 2500-1500 BC), the first semi-mythical Hsia (ca 2000-1523 BC) and most of the Shang (1766-1027 BC) Dynasties in China. Greece and Rome are by now a gleam in the eyes of historian researchers.


The Armenian Plateau Hypothesis Gains In Plausibility


The idea that most European languages are related and possibly originate from a common ancestral tongue known as the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) has been well accepted by scholars of various disciplines. The so called Indo-European language family includes most European but also some languages of the Fertile Crescent, the Caucasus, West and South Asia. With over 400 languages (including dialects) it is by far the world’s largest language family and is spoken by almost 3 billion native speakers world wide. Armenian language is considered by some to be one of the oldest surviving members of this family, with some estimates going as far as 5000 BC.

The hypothesized homeland of the Proto-Indo-European speakers however has been subject to much debate. There are largely four competing hypotheses which place the origin of the Indo-European language family either in the Pontic Steppe, Anatolia, Balkans or the Armenian Plateau. The conventional view places the homeland in the Pontic steppes about 6000 years ago. An alternative hypothesis claims that the languages spread from Anatolia with the expansion of farming 8000 to 9500 years ago. Yet another hypothesis places the PIE homeland in the Balkans from where Indo-European farmers supposedly spread the language throughout Europe. And the final hypothesis names the Armenian Plateau as the most likely candidate for the Proto-Indo-European homeland.

A long awaited study into ancient DNA recently posted on the bioRxiv preprint site has shed more light on the issue with quite interesting and maybe more so enigmatic results for the role of early Armenians in the spread of the Indo-European language and genes. The work was done by a large team led by geneticists David Reich and Iosif Lazaridis of Harvard Medical School in Boston and Wolfgang Haak of the University of Adelaide in Australia. The study used state-of-the-art DNA techniques to analyse ancient DNA from 69 Europeans who lived between 8000 and 3000 years ago to genetically track ancient population movements.
The Yamnaya culture

Artifacts from Yamnaya culture (c.a. 4000 BCE). Hermitage Exhibitions, Saint-Peterburg, Russia
Among the team’s samples were nine ancient individuals—six males, two females, and a child of undetermined sex—from the Yamnaya culture north of the Black Sea in today’s Russia. Beginning about 6000 years ago, these steppe people herded cattle and other animals, buried their dead in earthen mounds known as kurgans, and may have created some of the first wheeled vehicles. The study found a striking similarity between the Yamnaya DNA and that of the Corded Ware people of the central and northern Europe. The comparison of the two cultures’ DNA showed that Corded Ware people could trace an astonishing three-quarters of their ancestry to the Yamnaya suggesting a massive migration of Yamnaya people from their steppe homeland into central Europe about 4500 years ago. The Corded Ware culture soon spread across north and central Europe, extending as far as today’s Scandinavia. So the “steppe ancestry,” as the authors of the study call it, is found in most present-day Europeans, who can trace their ancestry back to both the Corded Ware people and the earlier Yamnaya. All of the males from the study belonged to haplogroup R1b1a and were marked by the absence of R1a.
The Armenian connection

The study also revealed an interesting Armenian connection with the Yamnaya people. As Dienekes describes in his analysis of the study, it seems that the: Yamnaya (a Bronze Age Kurgan culture) were a mixture of the EHG (East European Hunter-Gatherers) and something akin to Armenians. The researchers found that:
The Yamnaya differ from the EHG (East European Hunter-Gatherers) by sharing fewer alleles with MA1 (|Z|=6.7) suggesting a dilution of ANE ancestry between 5,000-3,000 BCE on the European steppe. This was likely due to admixture of EHG with a population related to present-day Near Easterners, as the most negative f3-statistic in the Yamnaya (giving unambiguous evidence of admixture) is observed when we model them as a mixture of EHG and present-day Near Eastern populations like Armenians (Z = -6.3; SI7).Yamnaya-Armenian-Karelian-connectionYamnaya show a pattern of negative correlation when using Karelia_HG and Armenian as references. This is consistent with it having a component of ancestry related to the Caucasus/Near East.
Testing of the Yamnaya DNA has revealed a pattern of negative correlation when using Karelia Hunter-Gatherers and Armenian as references. Evidently: “The Yamnaya can be modeled as a mixture of Armenians and Karelian Hunter-Gatherers.” The authors further describe:
Ancient genomes from the Caucasus, the Near East, and Central Asia might reveal the existence of Neolithic populations there that may be involved in the ancestry of ancient steppe populations and central Europeans.
It is evident that the Yamnaya pastoralists from the Samara district are not descended only from European Hunter Gatherers that preceded them in eastern Europe, but also posses an interesting Near Eastern component to their genetics of which modern Armenians are a reasonable surrogate.

How the Armenian plateau hypothesis gains in plausibility

The study discusses 4 main hypotheses of Indo-European language dispersals and the effects of the new findings on these hypotheses. While the results do not settle the debate about the location of the proto-Indo European homeland, they do increase the plausibility of some hypotheses and decrease the plausibility of others.
  • The Steppe hypothesis has increased plausibility because of the overwhelming evidence for the connection between the Yamnaya steppe people and the Corded ware people of central and northern Europe.
  • The Anatolian hypothesis becomes less plausible as an explanation for the origin of all Indo European languages in Europe, because it can no longer claim to correspond to the only major population transformation in European prehistory. While the study does not contradict early Neolithic migration of farmers from Anatolia, they now provide us with evidence of at least another wave of migration from the Pontic steppe into north and central Europe, which could explain the spread of Indo-European languages.
  • The Balkan hypothesis also loses credibility on the grounds that it does not account for the steppe migration and their overwhelming influence on the genetic makeup of the Corded ware culture.
  • And finally the Armenian plateau hypothesis just as the steppe hypothesis gains in plausibility. The Armenian plateau hypothesis somewhat resembles the Steppe hypothesis in postulating a role for the steppe in the dispersal of languages into Europe, but places the homeland of Proto-Indo-European speakers south of the Caucasus. Which is supported by the Near Eastern component discovered with the ancient DNA of the Yamnaya people. The authors elaborate: The Armenian plateau hypothesis gains in plausibility by the fact that we have discovered evidence of admixture in the ancestry of Yamnaya steppe pastoralists, including gene flow from a population of Near Eastern ancestry for which Armenians today appear to be a reasonable surrogate.
In conclusion it must be said that the debate about the Indo-European homeland is far from over. Nonetheless this study provides us with more insight into the migration patterns of people who populated Europe. The study confirms an early migration of farmers from the Near East and the Armenian Highlands into Europe, but it also provides new evidence for a later migration of Pontic steppe people with a Near Eastern (Armenian) component into central and later northern Europe and thus increasing the plausibility of both the steppe and the Armenian Plateau hypotheses.

Pottery work from the Yamnaya culture, Russia.
Pottery work from the Yamnaya culture (c.a. 4000 BC), Russia.

Pottery from the Corded Ware culture of Northern Europe.
Pottery from the Corded Ware culture of Northern Europe.