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.
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?