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DFG-Projekt: Hochgebirge als Kulturlandschaft: Untersuchungen zur Verflechtung von Pastoralismus, Kult und Klimawandel im prähistorischen Armenien'

Aug 01, 2021 — Jul 31, 2024

Today, high mountain meadows play a key role in the pastoralist economies of the Caucasus, Taurus and Zagros regions – providing pastures during summer, when the lowlands become too dry. The origins of this vertical system of seasonal pastoralist mobility are unknown. This project tests the hypothesis that prehistoric pastoralists frequented the high mountains during several long-term cycles, interrupted by hundreds of years. It examines the correlations of these cycles with major socio-economic changes of prehistoric communities on one hand, and climate changes on the other.

The second focus of the intended investigations is on the highland as a cult landscape. Only recently special cult places have been identified; they were installed on water-rich mountain meadows between 2000 and 3100 masl and are characterized by the presence of basalt stelae with animal imagery, so-called vishaps. Vishaps date back 4200, or possibly even 6000 years, and are thus the earliest monumental sculptures of the Caucasus region. Their location and iconography reveal a connection with water deities, and this project aims to determine the relationship between their construction and the pastoralist use of the high mountains. It will also examine whether their short live may reflect a religious response to a particular climate change.

The project is based on the material from the site of Karmir Sar (2850 masl) on the Mt. Aragats, Armenia, the only extensively excavated high-mountain site in the Caucasus with diachronic evidence of settlement, cult and burial activities from the Chalcolithic to the present. The applicant will coordinate an international team consisting of archaeologists, biologists and geoscientists, with the aim to sample, combine and jointly interpret the relevant interdisciplinary data. The interpretative and chronological frameworks will be established through the analysis of archaeological features and finds, anchored through radiocarbon and optical luminescence dates. Pastoralism will be identified through archaeozoological and isotope analyses of animal bones, as well as geochemical and microbiological analysis of the soil. The extent of human mobility will be evaluated through sourcing obsidian instruments with pXRF. Vegetation shifts caused by climate change will be reconstructed by comparative analysis between carbonized seeds, charcoals, pollen samples, and the modern vegetation over several adjacent vertical zones. Geomorphology and sedimentology will provide the relevant samples and help to reconstruct the past environment. Though based on a local case study, the results of this project will be relevant beyond South Caucasus. They are expected to offer new impulses for the interpretation of emergence, dispersal and disappearance of archaeological cultures in the plains, as well as better understanding of migrations, changes of settlement patterns and subsistence.

Institution: Institut für Altorientalistik
Project Management: Dr. Pavol Hnila
Funded by: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)
Duration: 2021-08-01 - 2024-07-31