The Fascinating Lchashen Settlement, Armenia: Where Elite Warriors Emerged from a Watery Grave
Thanks to globalization, the world is getting smaller and we can now travel to sites and places that were once difficult to see. Besides a long history and rich culture, there are many extraordinary sites and ruins to be visited amidst the wild, beautiful scenery in a country which stands at the crossroads of Asia and Europe. This country is Armenia and these days it is relatively easy to visit. One of the most remarkable ruins is the archaeological site known as Lchashen Settlement.
The Astonishing Discovery of Lchashen Settlement
The story of the discovery of this settlement is as amazing as the site itself. For centuries it was sunk beneath Lake Sevan, the largest lake in the Caucasus, and one of the highest Alpine lakes in Eurasia. During the Soviet-era, the lake was drained to help to irrigate the vast plain of Arat which gradually led to the level of the lake dropping. In the 1950s the retreating waters allowed for the re-discovery of an ancient necropolis which contained some 800 tombs.
Lake Sevan in winter ( Public Domain )
Archaeological investigations have revealed that these were probably tombs of the elite as bulls and horses were buried with those interred in the necropolis. A large number of valuables were also recovered and many of the graves had human skeletons that were seated in carts or chariots which were adorned with designs and inscriptions. This may have been intended to allow the dead to travel to an underworld or afterlife. These types of burials have been found all the way from Wales to the borders of China, but those found at Lchashen Settlement are considered to be among the best found anywhere.
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A 4000 year old wagon found at Lchashen Settlement ( Armenian Heritage )
Due south of the necropolis, on an elevation, there are some walls from a citadel, which has become known as Lchashen fortress and there are also traces of an ancient urban center. Excavations have shown that there were well planned streets and sophisticated buildings in the city which at one time was probably very populous.
The Archaeological Discoveries of Lchashen Settlement
There have been many significant discoveries made in the necropolis as well as in the nearby ruins of the fortress and the city. Twenty-four gold items were found, including a beautifully crafted figure of a frog, believed to have been made from gold mined in the Armenian Highlands. A beautiful bronze bull figurine as well as many wooden implements and utensils were also found in the necropolis.
The pottery that has been unearthed at the settlement is sophisticated and demonstrates a high level of workmanship. Many of the artifacts found are now in the world-famous Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg and the National Museum in Yerevan.
The Antiquity of the Settlement
The history of Lchashen Settlement was a mystery for many years. An examination of the site indicated that it was up to 4000 years old. It seems that Lchashen fortress was the oldest part of the settlement and that a city was built around it at a later date. Little is known about the first centuries of the site, although it appears it was part of the Bronze-Age culture known as the Lchashen-Tsitelgori culture.
Part of the 50 hectares of fortress remains at Lchashen (James Blake Wiener/ CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 )
An inscription was found that proclaimed that ‘Argishti I occupied the city of Ishtikuni’. This was a reference to an Urartian king who ruled a powerful Iron Age kingdom (1200- 600 BC) that was centered on the Armenian highlands. This kingdom emerged in the Lake Van region and after the fall of the Hittites, it became a regional power and vied with the mighty Assyrian Empire for control of Syria. The Urartians were a war-like people, but they were also great builders and renowned horse breeders. They were greatly influenced by the Hurrians, an Indo-European people, especially in their religious beliefs. It seems that the ‘Ishtikuni’, is the same as Lchashen. It has been argued that the Uratians occupied Lchashen by at least 700 BC.
No one has established when the settlement was abandoned nor why it was lost to history for millennia.
The Location of Lchashen Settlement
If you are interested in visiting this historic area, it is located in the Gegharkunik province of Armenia. The modern village of Lchashen gives its name to the site. The ruins are approximately one and a half hours travel from the village and it is quite a difficult journey. There are now guided tours that can take the curious to the historic monument, but there is little accommodation near Lchashen settlement.
Top image: Bronze figurines found at Lchashen Source: Allinnet
By Ed Whelan
Burney, C. 1998. The Kingdom of Urartu (Van ) Ancient Anatolia. Fifty Years' Work by the British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara (London), pp.143-62
Redgate, A. E. 2000. The Armenians . Oxford: Blackwell. p. 5
Sanognia, A. 2015. The Archaeology of the Caucasus: From Earliest Settlements to the Iron Age