Shenkavit, Armenian Republic (5000 BC)

Archeologists find oldest city in Armenia

Excavations in the Yerevan district of Shengavit over the past two years have uncovered a city which local and some foreign archeologists believe to have been settled five thousand years before the birth of Christ. Scientists say the site has yielded some of the archeologically-richest finds in all the Caucasus, and if the dating proves accurate, it would mean that the area was settled nearly 4,000 years before the Urartus founded Yerevan. Among the unearthed remains are jewelry, female idols, baked-clay statues, a furnace for making flint forging instruments, suggesting a developed settlement. More than 50 horse bones have been found, evidence of developed horse-breeding - a find that archeologists say is the first of its kind in the Caucasus.

Shengavit is not a new site of interests for archeologists. The shapeless hill some 30 meters above the Yerevan Lake has been the focus of scientific study since 1936, when archeologist Yevgeni Bayburdyan started a two-year study there. In 1958, excavations were renewed by a group of archeologists under the leadership of Sandro Sardaryan. After 1985, however, the area was turned into a training ground for archeological practice. It remained an archeological laboratory until last year and over the years the site itself suffered damage as a result. Research restarted in 2000, but was sporadic. But new funding from the British Embassy (about $4,000) helped the research continue since September. It is being carried out by the Armenian Center of Cultural-Historical Heritage. Two main areas have been the focus of excavation. In one, an area of about 250 square meters, evidence of brick and river-stone walls was found. In the second area, on the hill's northern side researchers found a wall surrounding the city. "The low level dwellings discovered as a result of the excavations were two-to-three meters below the ground level," says director of the Center, historian Hakob Simonyan.

According to Simonyan the dwellings were built in a hurry, using available materials, not paying attention to the aesthetic side and also ignoring seismic stability. Unlike its common first-level houses, two meters below the ground level are dwellings made of stone blocks and basalt, mortared with clay, and are of rectangular, polygonal and round shapes. "The variety of construction materials indicates that the society was divided into different social and economic groups," Simonyan says. Onyx, marble and granite staffs were found among structures that surprised scientists by their sense of aesthetics and attention to seismic stability. "A very interesting method of building the lodgings was used to resist earthquakes," Simonyan says. "Stones were attached to each other with weeds dipped into liquid clay. This made the walls more flexible and protected from the quakes." Sanctuaries, decorated by ornamentation depicting rams, stone instruments and clay plates made with great professionalism were also found here.

Obsidian stones were used for the sheep eyes, which according to ancient belief, was a symbol of protection. "This is the first case in Armenia when eyes of an animal are decorated by stones," Simonyan says. Pear-shaped barns for storing grain, with round entrances were also found. The huge, four-meter deep storages could have held four tons of wheat. A large quantity of sickles, axes, and tools for wheat milling were found in the barn areas. The principles of town-planning and house construction suggest that Shengavit was once a city. Further, remnants of a forge with nine smelts indicate an industrial settlement producing copper. Some of the artifacts have been sent to Germany, where archeologists there confirm local scientists' belief that the finding - from the bronze age - shows Yerevan to have been built not only on the basis of the ancient city of Erebuni, but also on the basis of this earlier founded habitat.


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