In the last few days, we concluded exploratory excavations in the test unit at the mountain slope site of Ambroyi Village. These excavations were incredibly illuminating, providing us with information both about late medieval Armenian material culture as well as the processes that affect medieval sites in Armenia (which in archaeology is included under the term taphonomy). That is, Ambroyi Village provided us with the opportunity to explore some of the issues involved in detecting and researching medieval sites as well as archaeological remains of other periods in the Kasakh valley.
Image: Co-Director T. Vorderstrasse in the test unit at Upper Ambroyi
As mentioned in our previous post that the identification of the Ambroyi village site proceeded from 1) the historical designation of a site known as Ambroyi from ethnographic accounts and observed by a 1980s survey and 2) from our team’s own interviews with the inhabitants of Arai-Bazarjugh village about the location of a ruined place known as Ambroyi. Over the last 3 days in the western Kasakh valley we have learned a few significant things about the physical and cultural landscape (the combination of land, ways people use land, and things that people say/think about the land around them). One is that the name ‘Ambroyi’ is used by local people to refer to a general topography of ruined, abandoned, near-forgotten and hard-to-find places south of the current village of Arai-Bazarjugh. Another significant aspect of the Kasakh landscape is the impact of Soviet era amelioration practices, which were undertaken in the late 1970’s in order to maximize the agricultural production of Aragatsotn and other regions. One of the methods of Soviet amelioration in the Kasakh valley was that bulldozers were used to flatten broad areas of the hillsides to open them up for agriculture. This means that any ‘obstructions’ on the hill slopes (including medieval architecture) was pushed to the side and deposited in a pile, leaving flat land for planting.
Image: The results of Soviet-era Amelioration as seen from the Upper Ambroyi test unit. Note how the field to the right has been created by the removal of stones and surface debris (i.e. archaeological remains!) to the foot of the hill to the left.
We are still in the process of understanding the amelioration processes that affected the hill slope site of Ambroyi. This site is located midway up a broad slope of Mt. Aragats, fed by several natural springs. Amelioration carved the slope both into surfaces for agriculture, and also into broad terraced avenues in order to enable agricultural equipment to access the fields, slopes, and water sources above. We had to take these taphonomic processes into account both in the assessment of Ambroyi village before excavation and during our analysis of the excavated contexts.
Our excavations were located within an apparent room block of the remaining ruined village, which was surrounded and intruded by relocated sediments. Our excavated contexts consisted of layers of mixed fill and large stones, which had been tumbled over the nearby standing wall of the medieval village. Preliminary appraisal indicates that these soils contain a mixture of late medieval, early modern and contemporary materials.
Image: F. Babayan and the completed test unit at Upper Ambroyi
The fills in the Upper Ambroyi unit rested on a surface which provided some insights into the history of the site—which will be discussed in more detail in our upcoming publications! After reaching this surface we decided to close the unit, and move to investigate context that had been less intensely impacted by amelioration practices.
At this point the landscape-scale aspect of the Ambroyi term came into play. That is, we decided to continue explorations at the lower settlement context which we had originally designated as Ambroyi based on survey and remote sensing techniques. It quickly became apparent that some inhabitants of Arai-Bazarjugh village also refer to this set of surface remains—which include a number of khatchkar (cross-stone) fragments and gravestones—as Ambroyi village. So, rather than a specific place known as Ambroyi existing, we realized that the name Ambroyi was used in the Arai village to refer both the ruins on the slope of Aragats (which we call Verin or Upper Ambroyi) as well as this lower series of ruined structures. Having identified wall architecture in the southeastern section of the surface remain area, we decided to use the name Hin Bazarjugh (Old Bazarjugh) for this lower section of the Ambroyi ruined landscape. We laid out a second test unit, and began excavations, again with the help of our amazing local excavation team.
Image: The village of Hin Bazarjugh, awaiting excavation
All images courtesy of the author.