This year the MASC project once again returned to Armenia and to Ambroyi where we planned to continue to excavate at the village of Hin Bazarjugh. The work this year is being conducted with the assistance of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago and the American Research Institute in the South Caucasus (ARISC, see http://arisc.org/).
Since we want to continue looking at the village and better understand it, we decided we needed to open up more trenches. We deliberately decided to open a 5 x 5 meter trench approximately one meter from the trench of last year. Among other things, we hoped to find the continuation of the wall we found last year. This work will also continue to inform us about the shape and materiality of the medieval Armenian village.
Site of last year’s excavation
Almost as soon as we opened the trench, we started coming down on walls, which we could already see on the surface. This included part of the wall that we had found last year in addition to a large and substantial wall. In addition, we started finding quite a lot of wall collapse, which we have been removing. The archaeological material such as pottery that we have been finding looks very similar to what we found last year.
New trench with continuation of wall we found last year in foreground.
We are very much looking forward to continuing this year to expand our excavations and explorations at Hin Bazarjugh and its immediate vicinity! Stay tuned for the next few weeks to see our various discoveries as they unfold!
The excavation in the village consisted of opening up a 4 by 4 meter trench in a single room. The purpose of this small trench was to gain an idea of the phases in occupation at the site and come up with strategies for larger excavations in future years. We had already identified a number of rooms on the surface of the site and selected this particular room as a test case.
After going through the initial top soil, the excavations started to come across a large number of rocks, part of the building collapse from the walls of the room, in addition to the actual walls itself. We also discovered the top of an oven.
Image: Co-Director K. Franklin
The pottery that was found we dated to the 13th-14th centuries. In addition, we found a number of glass bracelet fragments dated to the same period, as we continued to excavate.
In archaeology, things never quite go precisely as one expects, no matter how much one plans. That was certainly the case here – we had expected to start digging the village at the foot of Aragats, which seemed to be 12th/13th century, on Monday. This was a site that we could see on google.earth and had been informed was called Ambroyi. It was this site that we had selected because it fits into our research plan of documenting the medieval pottery in Armenia and because of its probable relationship to other sites in the area, most notably the nearby caravanserai, whose pottery its surface materials closely resemble.
Arai Caravanserai, excavated by Kate Franklin in 2011
However, when our collaborator Frina Babayan visited this site, she consulted with the site’s passport (which each site in Armenia has) and determined that the site we had selected was not the site of Ambroyi as described in the passport. We had selected the site on the basis of its material culture and suitability for our research design, but she felt that we needed to investigate and find the site that was known as Ambroyi according to the Armenian Cultural Management passport system, even though it was not the site we had selected and had a different assigned date according to the 1989 passport description (16th-18th centuries).
It was then that we started to look in earnest for where the recorded site of Ambroyi was located. Thanks to the help of the local Arai village inhabitants, we found a second site located further up on the shoulder of Mt. Aragats. At the initial village site we could see the outlines of walls and stones on the ground, and there was even more preserved here. This was not surprising, given that it was said to date to the early modern period. Frina decided that this was where we should excavate rather than the site that we had initially selected, and we agreed, with the aim to expand our potential material sequence to encompass the Early Modern period in Armenia, which is little studied and historically very important.
After the site was cleaned on Monday and the vegetation removed, we returned to start excavating on Tuesday, in a room of one of the structures we could see on the suface. Basically, we spent Tuesday removing the top soil and coming down on wall collapse. On Wednesday, we removed the wall collapse and found fill and the pottery throughout seems to be consistent the early modern date. It is our hope that we will come down on secure early modern contexts and then onto material from the medieval period, thus establishing a clear sequence of occupation at this village site. If we do not find medieval material here, this has implications for our understanding of how settlement in the region changed through the last millennium.
After arriving in Armenia on Saturday, we began to investigate monuments in the Kasakh Valley, Armenia. We first went to the village of Luysagyugh, to a ruined church that is said to date the 4th-6th centuries AD. The church, known as Mkheyi Vank, sits above the modern village looking out over the entrance to the small valley in which it sits. We walked around the monument, and it soon became clear that there were two phases of architecture present: the original three-aisled basilica church and then a church with a central dome plan. The doorway as it currently exists does not line up with the semicircular apses at the back of the church, clearly showing that it was constructed during the later phase. Around the site one can see remains of other buildings beneath the surface.
After walking around the monument and writing down our observations, we then proceeded up the valley on the road that snaked around the mountains and eventually went above the tree line. We were trying to determine why the road did not simply follow the creek along the valley floor, but when we descended back down the mountain and decided to talk along this, it soon became evident. The valley floor is very narrow and now covered in thick vegetation, making walking along it difficult
We then proceeded to the Ambroyi Village, the site of our excavations this year. Walking around the village site, we found room blocks clearly visible and pottery of a 12th-13th century date. We are planning to start marking out our squares and begin work tomorrow.
Then we went to the village of Mravyan/Yeghipatrush, which has a church from the 12th/13th centuries and the remains of another, which has been dated to the 5th century, in the middle of a graveyard. The site is interesting because it has a number of standing (or remains of standing) architecture from a number of the centuries of the medieval period.