group of four to five men equipped with small
shovels and brushes are digging tirelessly a hole
looking like a crater and each piece they find
is a smile on their faces and an occasion for
later debates. Their findings, more valuable than
jewels, are slices of history.
Just days before Armenia's first snow halts their
work, the men are digging on a mild and sunny
autumn day, as they have for more than a year
at the site, Agarak, a six stone multiplex believed
to date since the Early Bronze Age.
The site, about 30 km from Yerevan, is mostly
still a sheltered field with only five percent
of its pre-historic and ancient assets brought
to light. But the archaeologists promise an out
of this world exposure of cultures and civilizations
when they finish their work.
Even the President visited the place last year
and certified it as a State protected monument.
For archaeologists the President's decision was
good news since it gave them the freedom to apply
for grants and it allowed them to drive away the
peasants who were destroying the 6,000 years old
tombstones with their agricultural works.
Some of the flat fields between the multiplexes
are still worked by the peasants who live in the
nearby village of Voskehat. Although many legends
about this place are haunting their community,
the farmers did not know until the expedition
started that there is a gigantic monument under
their day-to-day life. Now they often ask archaeologists
when they are going to see the promised monument.
"Well, not less than 150 years", says
Boris Gasparyan, Director of Gfoeller Fund in
Armenia. And he is not joking. Located on the
western bank of the Amberd River, the site reaches
an area of about 200 hectares and a team of 70
people and a budget of $140,000 a year is not
an adequate amount for speedy excavation.
Their work, the archeologists say, is for coming
generations and for history itself.
It is a flat surface pierced periodically by
tuff cliff multiplexes, rocky hills and blocks
of stone. Archaeologists say all these stones,
entombed by time, bear traces of intensive work
by both nature and man.
are alcoves carved into the cliffs, as well as
stair-like platforms leading to them, in addition
to the stone structures. All these multiplexes,
including a series of horseshoe-shaped configurations
and channels linking them, plus trapezoidal sacrificial
altars, make the landscape a multi-stratum monument.
The examination of layers shows that the site
was subsequently inhabited in various archaeological
periods. The first constructions originate from
the Early Bronze Age and the latest ones date
from the 17th century AD.
"For the time being," says Gasparyan,
"excavations are being conducted only at
the first cliff plateau of the northern complex
of Agarak. The street discovered at the northeast
edge of this site, as well as the presence along
both sides of the street of houses with round
floor plans and square external corners, indicate
that there was a town here in the Early Bronze
The street discovered in this site has been named
Gfoeller Avenue, in honor of the brothers from
the United States who created a special fund for
archaeological digs in Armenia.
The location has many crypts, smaller and larger,
that in Early Bronze time were shaped for pagan
ritual purposes, like sacrifices or burials, but
later on served as wine presses and wine storages.
During the excavations, archaeologists also found
a great amount of ceramic fragments, terra cotta
statues; round and horseshoe-shaped candle lamps,
jewelry and coins.
It is said that Agarak had developed a flourishing
economy and commerce, especially during the 3rd
and 4th centuries BC, as well as during the 2nd
and 4th centuries AD. The greatest evidence for
this development is the discovery of painted urban
pottery, a drachma of Alexander the Great, a silver
coin of Octavian Augustus and several rings found
in late antique burials.
When it comes to the discovery of Agarak, Pavel
Avetisyan, one of the expedition's leaders, says
it is "a gift from heaven".
"It is a cultural phenomenon that will help
us to build an image of what was here thousands
of years ago."
Among the treasures, a ceramic zoomorphic pot
best shows the skills of potters during the 8th-6th
centuries BC. It is worked with polish and has
various ornaments. Archaeologists say the representation
of a ram, with its head on the pot mouth and its
genital organs at the bottom, symbolizes fertility
and also the patriarchal system of the Urartu
to bring the pot to how it looks today took tremendous
work. It is not enough to find the ceramic pieces
on the field and put them in a glass case in a
First, archaeologists fix the spot where the
objects are found. Then, very carefully, like
surgeons during an operation, they are taking
them out of the ground. Discovered fragments are
then brought into the laboratory to be vigilantly
Then a restoration crew goes to work, putting
the pieces into a single object.
"I like everything connected with the restoration",
says Lilit Manukyan, who is doing this job for
eight years, "because at the beginning it
is like a mystery, and in the end it is the unbinding
of this work. It is like a puzzle."
Indeed, the site of Agarak, which contains hundreds
of thousands similar objects makes Armenians proud
of what is preserved in their country. But the
more is discovered the more remains to be discovered.
Maybe 150 years is too much for a lifetime but
insignificant for a clash of civilizations gathered
all in the site of Agarak. As the archaeologists
say: "Maybe in 150 years our descendants
will walk on Gfoeller Avenue and say: 'This is
an Early Bronze street'."
(To see a photo gallery of the work at Agarak,