In Print!


MASC has a new publication out, reviewing two+ years of research at Ambroyi, and putting our data from the site in the context of wider discussions of political economy and social life in the Near Eastern middle ages.  The article, which is available (with a subscription) here, is titled:

Examining the Late Medieval Village from the Case at Ambroyi, Armenia

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We’re excited to have this work out in the world– and looking forward to responses from our colleagues.


Travelers in time

One of the most fascinating things about archaeology is the capacity for archaeological sites to inspire people in different ways across years, decades and centuries. So it’s always amazing during research to find accounts of others who came across your landscapes, sites and artifacts before you did, sometimes long ago. Here I’m sharing side-by-side images of the 14th century church at Arpa.

Babajanyan_Arpa   Alishan_Arpa

The first image is from our VDSRS survey work in 2015; the second image was published by the priest and historical geographer Ghevond Alishan in 1893. Images like this one are fascinating to look at, as they preserve a record of what the landscape looked like prior to the reconstruction of the church in the 1990s. This image also tells us about the aesthetics of antiquarian archaeology in Alishan’s time, when places like Arpa were definitely part of a sacred and historical landscape (one which Alishan never himself visited!). It’s good to be reminded sometimes that our archaeological data provide one moment in a long series of idiosyncratic, creative relationships with a changing material past.

The frontispiece for Alishan’s Sisakan is definitely inspiring, and gives one a sense of the affective relationship that the author had with a mountainous land that he wrote about all the way from Venice.


There’s a lot to unpack in this image: the illustrator Umberto Boccioni has combined symbols relating to the religious, military and kingly histories contained within Alishan’s written world, combined with idealized figures indicating the various periods of the Armenian past, as well as ‘her’ national future (pointed to literally by the allegorical nation-figure).  Imagined landscapes like this one provoke questions such as, what kind of imaginary world do we create with our own images, reconstructions, and other archaeological data? What future does our past point to?



Breaking ground: medieval Arpa


We have started excavations within the medieval (AD 12-15th c) settlement at Arpa, located in the current village of Areni.  Our 2016 excavation program consists of a number of test trenches located through the preserved areas of the settlement, which is itself being dug into by the contemporary Areni village cemetery.  This adds an urgency to our explorations, as every week new areas of the site are being reserved, cleared and dug for gravesites. At the same time, the active digging in the settlement (which extends along a broad slope to the south of the village, beyond the reconstructed 14th c Sb. Astvatsatsin church) provides us with additional data about the geological and archaeological strata of the site beyond our own investigations.  For instance, a recent grave digging brought to light this fragment of a medieval stamp-decorated redware jar or karas (here’s an image of a complete one in the national museum).

Vayots Dzor Silk Road Survey 2016 Season

We are delighted to announce that MASC: VDSRS is embarking on a second season of research in Vayots Dzor, with support from the RA NAS Institute of Archaeology and the Social Sciences Research Council InterAsia Program.  Our work this year is centered in the town of Areni, famous for both the wine grapes grown in the ancient beds of the Arpa River, and for its rich archaeological landscape.  In addition to continuing survey which will contribute to our progressing understanding of the medieval landscape of Vayots Dzor in relaiton to the wider Silk Road ecumene of the late medieval period (and the results of which will be accessible online) our primary focus is directed at the site of Areni/Arpa, which MASC/VDSRS will excavate for the first time this year.


Areni and the site of Areni/Arpa, viewed from the Aghavnadzor plateau (the site is at the base of the cliffs in center frame)

The project will be excavating contexts related to the late medieval settlement of Areni/Arpa, contemporary with the occupation of this site by Tarsayich Orbelyan, one of the most influential members of the Orbelyan Armenian princely dynasty.  The exploits of the Orbelyans are known from the historical writings of one of their own, Stepanos Orbelyan (son of Tarsayich), and from the epigraphic record tied to the numerous churches, caravanserai and other buildings they founded, reconstructed, and patronized.  We are excited to explore the material remains of this rich period in the history of this region, when the towns and cities of the Caucasus were oriented between Central Asia, Persia and the Mediterranean.


An early modern bridge over a tributary of the Yeghegis river, south of Shatin




MASC Member Projects: Excavations at Dashtadem

I am late in posting this, but here is some great footage of the NA IAE excavations at the multi-period fortress site of Dashtadem, south of Talin in western Aragatsotn, overseen by VDSRS Co-Director Dr. Astghik Babajanyan.  This video is from early in the 2015 excavations in the southeastern section of the Zakarid period (AD late 12-early 13th c) fortress wall.

The fortress dates from the AD 12th century Sheddadid period, but was used as a fortified site and renovated up until the 19th c.  Excavations will continue at Dashtadem in 2016, supported in part by the US Ambassadors Culture Fund.

Vayots Dzor Silk Road Survey: Online Mapform Database

The in-process, online Map Database of surveyed sites and images recorded so far by the MASC: Vayots Dzor Silk Road Survey (VDSRS) is available here!  This map is an interactive presentation of some of our site data, including the names and locations of sites of different periods in the Vayots Dzor region.  The map database is a working analytical work in progress, so continue to check in as we add more data (including photos), and expand the site/monuments list using input from collaborators in Armenia and abroad.


The VDSRS map is built on a platform produced by Harvard WorldMap, a system conducive to collaborative and open source map databasing developed by the Center for Geographic Analysis at Harvard University.  

Surveying the Silk Road: Summer 2015 in Vayots Dzor (Part 1)


The first field season of the Vayots Dzor Silk Road Survey (VDSRS) Project was a great success, taking us to the southwestern reaches of Armenia and up to the border of Azerbaijan.   We ( A. Babajanyan, K. Franklin and D. Davtyan) recorded medieval sites and remains from the western edge of Areni to the mountain slopes east of Agarakadzor, and had some adventures in the process!

Vayots Dzor is an amazing place to study archaeology– and medieval archaeology in particular.  History is thick on the ground in these valleys and canyons and on the slopes of the mountains, sometimes despite the best efforts of Soviet-era agriculture to bulldoze villages and cemeteries. The VDSRS Project gained a solid preliminary understanding of the network of sites which populated this region in the AD 13th-16th centuries.  We are busy processing our results, to share here, in publications, and in an open source map-form database which will be available very soon.


The site of Ulgyur, a, 11th-century church (with associated village) accompanied by vishap-stones converted to khatchkars in the medieval period.  Ulgyur is famous as the burial site of the family of the late medieval architect Momik. 

All photographs courtesy of the authors.