Project ArAGATS in the AJA

Congratulations to Adam Smith and Jeff Leon, whose article “Divination and Sovereignty: The Late Bronze Age Shrines at Gegharot, Armenia” appears in the current issue (and on the cover!) of the American Journal of Archaeology.  

AJA cover

Project ArAGATS and “Drone” Archaeology

Ian Lindsay and Alan Greene pilot the Project ArAGATS drone.

The use of remotely controlled aerial photography platforms (or more sensationally, “drones”) has received a lot of press in the last few weeks.  The New York Times ran a story on the use of drones in archaeology last week focused primarily on work in the Andes.  This summer, Project ArAGATS deployed a DJI Phantom 2 to help document sites within our study area in central Armenia.

Cornell has posted a brief note about this work on their tumblr feed.  And now Purdue has released a more extensive story profiling our project pilot, Ian Lindsay.  In the article, Lindsay notes:

“It’s a good alternative to kites, balloons or sitting in the bucket of a crane with a camera trying to visually document these ancient sites. Drones offer a detailed aerial perspective that we’ve never had before, and by leveraging this technology archaeologists can be more efficient in the field as drones give us an immediate sense of spatial science scale useful for planning excavation.”

The first video project is now posted online on the vimeo feed of The Aragats Foundation and below:

Ancient Aragats: An Orientation from Aragats Foundation on Vimeo.

US Ambassador’s visit in the Cornell news…

http://cornellcas.tumblr.com/post/93778112160/ambassador-visits-armenian-excavation-site-the

Ambassador visits Armenian excavation site

Ambassador visits Armenian excavation site<br /><br />
The U.S. Ambassador to Armenia recently toured an archaeological field site in that country, spending time with co-directors Adam T. Smith, professor of anthropology and Lori Khatchadourian, assistant professor and Milstein Sesquicentennial Fellow in the Department of Near Eastern Studies.<br /><br />
John A. Heffern, U.S. ambassador to Armenia, visited the excavations of Project ArAGATS at Gegharot Kurgans, Gegharot Fortress and Tsaghkahovit. After his visit, he tweeted: “Nice get together tonight of @cornell archeology team, Armenia Arch Institute, World Bank, @amap, @USAIDArmenia @IDeArmenia. Great team.”<br /><br />
Project ArAGATS is a collaborative archaeological research program dedicated to the exploration of southern Caucasia’s rich past and the preservation of modern Armenia’s diverse cultural heritage. It was founded in 1998 by Smith and Ruben S. Badalyan of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Yerevan.<br /><br />
 Read more about the project here. 

The U.S. Ambassador to Armenia recently toured an archaeological field site in that country, spending time with co-directors Adam T. Smith, professor of anthropology and Lori Khatchadourian, assistant professor and Milstein Sesquicentennial Fellow in the Department of Near Eastern Studies.

John A. Heffern, U.S. ambassador to Armenia, visited the excavations of Project ArAGATS at Gegharot Kurgans, Gegharot Fortress and Tsaghkahovit. After his visit, he tweeted: “Nice get together tonight of @cornell archeology team, Armenia Arch Institute, World Bank, @amap, @USAIDArmenia @IDeArmenia. Great team.”

Project ArAGATS is a collaborative archaeological research program dedicated to the exploration of southern Caucasia’s rich past and the preservation of modern Armenia’s diverse cultural heritage. It was founded in 1998 by Smith and Ruben S. Badalyan of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Yerevan.

New Publication Alert: Empires and Diversity

ArAGATS co-director Lori Khatchadourian’s contribution to the new volume Empire & Diversity has been featured in a new segment on Asbarez.com: Հայոց Հնագիտութեան Եւ Պատմութեան Նուիրուած Երկու Կարեւոր Հատորներ | Asbarez News – Armenian Edition

ՈՒԵՍԹՈՒՈՒՏ.- «Արփա» հիմնարկի վարչութեան անդամ դոկտ. Տիգրան Տալեան կը տեղեկացնէ, թէ Մայիս 13ին, Քալիֆորնիոյ համալսարանի Լոս Անճելըսի մասնաճիւղի դասախօսներու ակումբին մէջ տեղի ունեցած ձեռնարկի մը ընթացքին ներկայացուած են հայոց հնագիտութեան եւ պատմութեան նուիրուած երկու կարեւոր հատորներ։
Հատորներէն առաջինը՝ «Հայաստանի Հնագիտական Ժառանգութիւնը» («Archaeological Heritage of Armenia»), 2013ին լոյս տեսած է Երեւանի «Յուշարձան» հրատարակչատան կողմէ։ Անգլերէնով եւ հայերէնով, ինչպէս նաեւ բազմաթիւ գունաւոր լուսանկարներով հարստացած սոյն հատորի խմբագիրը՝ փրոֆ. Յակոբ Սիմոնեան, ներակայացուցած է հատորը։
Երկրորդ հատորը՝ «Կայսրութիւններ Եւ Բազմազանութիւն» («Empires and Diversity»), նմանապէս ներկայացուած է հատորի խմբագիրին՝ փրոֆ. Գրիգոր Արէշեանի կողմէ։ Քալիֆորնիոյ համալսարանի Լոս Անճելըսի մասնաճիւղի «Քոսթին» հնագիտութեան հիմնարկին հրատարակած այս հատորին մէջ հրատարակուած են հայոց պատմութեան նուիրուած երկու ուսումնասիրութիւններ, որոնց հեղինակներն են յաջորդաբար փրոֆ. Լոռի Խաչատուրեան («Քորնել» համալսարանէն) եւ փրոֆ. Գրիգոր Արէշեան (Քալիֆորնիոյ համալսարանի Լոս Անճելըսի մասնաճիւղէն)։
Հատորները տրամադրելի են «Amazon» կայքէն։

via Հայոց Հնագիտութեան Եւ Պատմութեան Նուիրուած Երկու Կարեւոր Հատորներ | Asbarez News – Armenian Edition.

US Ambassador Visits Project ArAGATS

John A. Heffern, the Ambassador of the United States of America to Armenia, visited the excavations of Project ArAGATS this week.  Touring excavations at Gegharot Kurgans, Gegharot Fortress, and Tsaghkahovit, the Ambassador tweeted his experience on his twitter feed:

Ambassador John A. Heffern with the Mayor of Gegharot Smbat Bayrakhtaryan at Gegharot Kurgan 3

Ambassador John A. Heffern (l) with Mayor of Gegharot Smbat Bayrakhtaryan (r) at Gegharot Kurgan 3

Thank you Mr. Ambassador for giving your time and attention to Armenia’s archaeological heritage.

Toasting to tenure

Project ArAGATS celebrates the accomplishments of Dr. Ian Lindsay of Purdue University’s Department of Anthropology, who has joined the ranks of associate professors.  Congratulations, Ian!

ArAGATS 2014

The 2014 season of Project ArAGATS is underway.  As usual, a number of research projects are being conducted under the Project ArAGATS umbrella.

At Gegharot, we are continuing work in the Early Bronze Age layers of the citadel where excavations continue to reveal remarkably well-preserved stratified levels of both the early and late phases of the Kura-Araxes.

Excavations underway in T30 at Gegharot

Below the citadel, we are continuing work in a remarkable field of kurgans that appear to have been constructed at the ear lies moments of the region’s Late Bronze Age.

Excavations underway on Kurgan 3

At the site of Aragatsi Berd, we have recommenced excavations on the terrace below the citadel in order to shed more light on the site’s Bronze Age occupations.

In addition to continuing work a critical sites, Project ArAGATS has also inaugurated a new phase of regional survey focused on the upper Kasakh Valley. The goal of these investigations is to provide a foundation for a comparative regional understanding of long term settlement history in order to place the patterns detected in the Tsaghkahovit Plain within a wider regional framework.

As part of this regional research, we are using a Phantom 2 Quad Copter Drone to capture new views of the region and our sites.  We will post updates on the work during the month of July.

Aerial View of Gegharot Citadel

Aerial View of Gegharot Citadel

Spring PhDs from ArAGATS: Kathryn Franklin and Maureen Marshall

This spring welcomed two new PhDs to Project ArAGATS.

Kate Franklin completed her dissertation in the Anthropology Department at the University of Chicago entitled “This World is an Inn: Cosmopolitanism and Caravan Trade in late Medieval Armenia”.

Kate Franklin surveying research at the Medieval site of Arai

Kate Franklin surveying research at the Medieval site of Arai

The work examines the intersections of global trade and social life as constituted along the highways between late medieval (AD 12-15th c) towns and cities. Based on her excavations at the caravanatun at Arai, Franklin’s dissertation explores how medieval subjects (traders, princes, villagers, city dwellers) negotiated multiple, frequently contradictory, models of the world as they traveled.

Maureen Marshall’s dissertation, entitled “Subject(ed) Bodies: A Bioarchaeological Investigation of Late Bronze – Iron 1 (1500-800 BC) Armenia,” was also completed in the Anthropology Department at the University of Chicago.

Maureen Marshall excavating a Late Bronze Age tomb on the Tsaghkahovit Plain, Armenia

Maureen Marshall excavating a Late Bronze Age tomb on the Tsaghkahovit Plain, Armenia

The dissertation provides the first bioarchaeological investigation of Late Bronze and Iron 1 period mortuary complexes in the South Caucasus.  While her original fieldwork centered on excavations in a tomb complex adjacent to the fortress of Tsaghkahovit, in Armenia’s Tsaghkahovit Plain, her dissertation ranges far more broadly in both its engagement with data and its wider intellectual concerns.  Part reflection on traditions of skeletal studies in Armenia, part biographies of recovered lives from the Late Bronze Age, Marshall’s dissertation provides our most intimate portrait to date of lives lived in the region’s ancient landscapes.

Congratulations to both Kate and Maureen!

Armenia and Archaeo-Tourism

A great post from Project ArAGATS member Elizabeth Fagan’s blog regarding US Ambassador to Armenia Heffern’s recent TedX Yerevan talk:

In 2013, the United States Ambassador to Armenia, John Heffern, gave a TedX talk in Yerevan about the wealth of archaeological remains just waiting to be excavated (and then conserved) in the modern Republic of Armenia. He argued that the vivid history in Armenia should be better known throughout the world, to bring development (i.e., tourist dollars and related construction projects) to Armenia, and also to heighten academic interest in its history, thereby also encouraging international collaboration.

To emphasize the value of bringing international attention to archaeology in Armenia, Ambassador Heffern pointed out a few somewhat recent finds from the caves near the town of Areni in Vayots Dzor, including the earliest known wine-making equipment and a remarkably well-preserved leather shoe that clocks in at 5,500 years old. He went on to discuss the wine-making equipment at length, because of its potential significance to development, as the region of Areni just happens to be the most famous Armenian region for wine production, suggesting marketing connections just waiting to be made.  Ambassador Heffern’s final exhortation to his audience was to look into the use of crowdfunding to help finance archaeological projects and conservation, and to promote the sites for education and tourism.

I am in such complete agreement with Ambassador Heffern’s main points that I have in fact spoken to audiences across the U.S. on numerous occasions about archaeology in Armenia, its origins, its history, and its current state.  In Armenia, if you walk through the countryside with one of the archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the National Academy of Sciences, the archaeologist will point out a historic or archaeological site to your left; an artifact to the right; a series of memorials behind you; or ancient walls directly in front.  The landscape is dotted with reminders of the past, artifacts and constructions like those found in the Areni cave that tell a tale of very early times, up through material remains that teach us about the medieval period and beyond.  The very landscape tells a story, a complex story of different times and different people, and that captivating story—or really, stories—should indeed be better known.

I have even led a group of tourists through every part of the country, telling those stories of the past by providing a unique look at material excavated long ago as well as excavations that are currently ongoing. I led the tour to do exactly what Ambassador Heffern is calling for, to bring tourist money into the country while at the very same time educating people about the past directly under their feet.

And so, I agree wholeheartedly with the spirit of the talk, and yet, I can’t help but wonder what impact crowdfunding might have on what is (and should remain) a social-scientific endeavor.  What happens if institutions like universities and organizations like the National Science Foundation are relieved of their responsibility to fund scientific projects like archaeology?  What happens if the model becomes, in fact, a business model?  Or even a privately-funded model?

I have other questions about the talk, such as why there was no mention of the many internationalcollaborations already going on in Armenia, some of which have lasted for many years.  There was not even a mention of the teams at UCLA and University College Cork who work at Areni, although to be fair, Armenian archaeologists also hardly figured in the speech except to be seen in the photo at the Institute.  My point, however, is that collaborations and academic interest in Armenia already do exist; why not lend support to these projects, which already have the relationships and even infrastructure in place that will allow them to expand their efforts to illuminate the archaeology and history hiding in Armenia’s soil?

In the end, TedX talks are meant to be thought-provoking, not necessarily problem-solving. This talk certainly made me think, but largely, about the proposed solution to the problem of funding archaeological research, and about the problems that the solution might in turn raise.

With the 2014 founding of the new ArAGATS Foundation whose mission is to promote the co-development of regional archaeology and economic development, Ambassador Heffern’s approach is timely and extremely welcome. We look forward to more conversations on this very important issue here in the future.

Project ArAGATS Receives Grant for Upgraded Data Management System

Thanks to a grant from the Dolores Zohrab Liebmann fund, Project ArAGATS will undertake a complete rebuilding of its data management infrastructure.  Our goal is to make available all of the Project ArAGATS survey, excavation, photographic, and analytic data in a publically accessible forum that is intuitive to use.  Working with the software development team at GORGES in Ithaca, we have outlined a new data management system that incorporates both an understanding of archaeological data workflows and digital data management best practices.

Benefits of the new software will include:

  • Reliability. Resolves the instability in the current data system and provides enhanced security;
  • Extensability. Incorporates all extant forms of data in the dispersed ArAGATS archive and allows for rapid extension to new/unforeseen data formats;
  • Openness. Extends public access to potentially all ArAGATS data;
  • Analytic. Bundled simple analytic modules open new interpretive possibilities and streamline the work flow from field to publication;
  • Mobile. Allows “trenchside” data entry and research.

The main elements of the new system will include:

 

  • The development of an interface design that allows for smooth response to information handling in the form of features and functions such as search tools with different filter sets, editable search returns, photographic returns, and means of data entry validation;
  • Deployment of a database design, which will entail migration and merger of existing ArAGATS datasets in the form of the survey database (and associated map function), photo archive, and excavation database, with its multitude of data categories (ceramics, metals, lithics, human remains, plant remains, animal remains, charcoal and dendrochronological samples, journals, etc.);
  • Creation of a document manager for uploading a range of document types;
  • Integration of reactive programming to ensure mobile device compatibility.

The primary backend database will remain in MySQL, a flexible open access product.  The new front-end work flow management system will be written in Ruby on Rails (aka Rails), an open source web application framework that runs on Linux OS and works with multiple free databases and web servers, thus minimizing long term operating costs.

Our thanks to The Dolores Zohrab Liebmann fund for their support of this initiative and their continued commitment to making the research of Project ArAGATS available to the world.