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The Armenian Dragon Stones and the Bronze Age Use of the South Caucasian Highlands as a Ritual Landscape

Sep 01, 2014 — Nov 30, 2017

Here are the current contact details of the leader of this completed project, Dr. Alessandra Gilibert, who is now working with the Venice University, Italy.


Dragon Stones are basalt stelae of up to five meters in high, incised with reliefs, which are found on the summer pastures of Southern Caucasia and Eastern Anatolia at an elevation of between 2000 and 3000 meters.

The dragon stones can be divided typologically into three categories: Type 1 is sculpted in the form of a fish; type 2 is meant to represent the skin of a ram, sculpted as if to drape onto the stele; and type 3 combined elements of type 1 and 2. These types of artefacts have so far been found primarily in the mountains of Armenia, in Georgia, and in Eastern Turkey. As a Transcaucasian phenomenon, they remain largely unexplored.

A study conducted by Dr. Gilibert in 2012/13, which consisted of two prospections and a pilot excavation in the Geghma Mountains and on Mount Aragaz in Armenia, was able to show that the dragon stones found there were connected to previously unknown ritual and grave sites. These were in turn associated with the pastures embedded into the landscape at an elevation between 2000 and 3000 meters. Typological studies and the preliminary analysis of ceramics suggest a date in the Middle and Late Bronze Ages (1800–1500 BC), during which the Southern Caucasus witnessed an increase in pastoral economies. The studies also showed that the stelae were arranged into artificial circles in the context of monumental ritual settings within "concealed" highland environments. The newly discovered sites allow for an investigation of ritual practices in connection with the economic activities of mobile pastoralists in the highland fringes. Based on these preliminary studies, Dr. Gilibert was able to continue her investigation in the area of Karmir Sar on Mount Aragaz (elevation 2800 m). The dense distribution of at least ten monumental dragon stones directly connected to graves and stone architecture promises important results. The project promises a new view of the exploitation of the highlands of the Southern Caucasus during the Bronze Age as a locus of ritual practices.