Excavating at Hin Bazarjugh: A view into the late medieval Kasakh Valley

As we continued to excavate through the levels of fill in the 4×4 meter unit at Hin Bazarjugh, the excavations generated a series of unexpected and thought-provoking situations.  The first and most apparent challenge arose as we excavated around and past the level of the rim of the standing vessel or tonir oven—which was accomplished first in a section (when an cut is made at an arbitrarily measured point to explore lower soil in only part of a larger area).

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Image:  The Hin-Bazarjugh excavation team, Artur and Ando, with the excavated tonir-oven.  The cut of the section appears to the right side of the photo.

Our excavations revealed that the soil deposit around the oven consisted of a single thick, mixed layer, containing large stones and a mix of broken ceramics and poorly preserved animal bones, as well as occasional pieces of charcoal.  This suggested to us that these soils and stones had fallen or were dumped into the room and oven in a single event or a series of closely related events. Also, this meant that the floor of the room was not near the rim of the tonir (as is the case in some Armenian houses from the last century) but lay beneath this fill deposit.  Indeed, as we continued to excavate, we came upon a leveled living surface cut into the clayey bedrock of the Kasakh Valley bottom.  In addition to being an abruptly flattened surface, we knew that this was the house floor for several reasons: a) it contained no artifacts, though artifacts like sherds and pieces of bracelet rested on top of it, and b) this surface ran underneath both the excavated tonir and beneath the remains of what may have been a second vessel-oven to the southwest of the first.  All that remained of this second oven was a round discolored depression in the floor and a few fragments of rim still in place.

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Image:  The house at Hin Bazarjugh fully excavated.  Note the tonir oven (center right), the discolored second vessel trace (left) and the large floor pit.

As is visible in the above image, the house floor was pierced by pits of varying sizes.  One pit was a meter in diameter, and so deep that in excavating it, the team hit the modern-day water table!  This pit was almost certainly dry in the late medieval period, and may have been used by the inhabitants of the house to store cheese or yogurt or other things they wanted to keep cool.

In the course of the excavations at the Hin Bazarjugh house we encountered numerous artifacts which provide clues as to what the materiality of daily life was like in the late medieval period.  Many of these were broken pieces of ceramic, including incised (called sgraffiato) and glazed bowl fragments but also many, many pieces of rough cooking pots and unglazed red bowls.  As mentioned above, we also found several pieces of bracelets made of blue and purple glass.

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Images: AD 13-14th c ceramic fragments, and a fragment of a blue glazed bracelet from the house at Hin Bazarjugh.

As or more interesting as the objects found inside the house was the situation of the house itself. Judging from the patterns of soils, stones and artifacts, we surmised that the house was filled methodically with soil and stones in a concerted, intentional act.  The tonir oven was left surrounded not only by rocks and soil, but by large fragments of broken ceramic pot which had been pressed up against it, perhaps in an effort to preserve the oven from falling stones and the destructive effects of passing time and neglect. The room was filled with dirt and rocks using the same amount of care(or more) that we archaeologists use to backfill our trenches, preserving the remains inside; the relationship of the house walls, floor and the dirt the filled the room suggested that the walls of the house might even have been pulled down, once this ‘backfilling’ was completed.

This constellation of dated artifacts, soil features and implied events produce a fascinating but very partial picture of medieval life in this tiny corner of the Kasakh Valley. Many questions remain unanswered, which we will hope to explore both through analysis of the data collected from this summer’s excavations, and through further work at Ambroyi and in the Kasakh valley.

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Image:  An Arai shepherd dog resting on the backdirt-pile.  Archaeology is exhausting!

All photographs courtesy of the Author.

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