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Photo of the dragon stone of Lchashen 1 (erected at the entrance of the Metsamor Historical-Archaeological Museum Reserve) and its drawing on the right.

Burial of Two Infants Found Under Dragon Stone At Prehistoric Armenia Site

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An international team of scientists has unearthed the remains of two infants buried beneath a basalt monument known as a dragon stone at the Lchashen site in Armenia. This finding is remarkable not only for the unusual funerary context but also for the exceptional preservation of the remains, and the genetic information gleaned from said funeral. 

Dragon Stones: A Study in Armenian Folklore and Animal Motifs 

Dragon stones, or Vishapakar, are prehistoric basalt stelae adorned with animal images, primarily found in the Armenian Highlands and surrounding regions. These structures have long fascinated archaeologists due to their mysterious iconography and complex history of use and reuse, as per a new study published in The Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.  

Approximately 150 dragon stones have been documented, with more than ninety located in the Republic of Armenia and the rest in neighboring regions. These monoliths vary in height, ranging from about 150 to 550 cm (59 – 216.5 inches). 

Archaeologists have identified three types of dragon stones: those with carvings resembling fish (piscis), those depicting the remains of bovids such as goats, sheep, and cows (vellus), and hybrid dragon stones that combine features of both types. 

Dragonstone from Geghama mountains, Armenia, resembling a fish.

Dragonstone from Geghama mountains, Armenia, resembling a fish. (Armen Manukov/CC BY-SA 3.0) 

The study was conducted by an international and multidisciplinary team of researchers from various institutions, including the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia, the University of Copenhagen, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, and other leading universities and research centers. 

These stones are adorned with carvings of animal imagery, such as fish heads or serpents, which are believed to represent vishaps, the water dragons of Armenian folklore. The majority of these monoliths are situated near mountain springs or canals, indicating a likely ritual connection with water. 

Findings at the Lchashen Site 

The discovery at Lchashen offers a fresh perspective, as the three and a half meter (almost 115 feet) tall stele, depicting a sacrificed ox, was found over a burial dating from the 16th century BC, reports Arkeonews. 

Lchashen is one of Armenia's most significant archaeological sites, renowned for its wealth of Bronze Age artifacts. Excavations have uncovered a diverse array of items, from pottery and metal tools to intricate funerary structures. This is the first instance of a burial being directly associated with a dragon stone, an uncommon feature in the region's funerary contexts. The connection between this monument and the burial of infants suggests a possible ritual or symbolic significance that is not yet fully understood. 

“In Late Bronze Age Armenia in general and at Lchashen in particular, burials of children are rare, and the burial of two newborns combined with a monumental stela is unique. In the South Caucasus, stelae are sometimes used to mark graves. However, out of 454 Bronze Age graves excavated at Lchashen, not one was marked by any kind of stelae. Only this grave was marked with a dragon stone,” according to the authors of the study. 

Conjectural reconstruction of the dragon stone tomb.

Conjectural reconstruction of the dragon stone tomb. The indicated position of the skeletons and the pottery is based on evidence from field photographs and parallels from other coeval tombs at Lchashen ( A. Hakhverdyan/Journal of Archaeological Science). 

Ancient DNA Analysis and Genetic Ancestry Profiling 

Ancient DNA analyses on the well-preserved remains of the two babies, aged between 0 and 2 months, revealed that they were second-degree relatives with identical mitochondrial sequences, indicating a close familial relationship. Additionally, the genetic ancestry profiles of these individuals showed similarities with other Bronze Age populations in the region, providing valuable insights into the genetic makeup of ancient Caucasus communities, reports The Heritage Daily. 

This discovery has several implications. Firstly, the association between dragon stones and burials suggests that these monuments may have had a funerary or ritualistic role beyond mere decoration or commemoration. 

The presence of infant remains under such a significant monolith also prompts questions about the funerary practices and beliefs related to death and the afterlife in Bronze Age Armenian society. 

As the researchers conclude,

The event envisaged by the burial is in any case exceptional, both from the point of view of genetics and from the archaeological viewpoint.

Top Image: Photo of the dragon stone of Lchashen 1 (erected at the entrance of the Metsamor Historical-Archaeological Museum Reserve) and its drawing on the right. Source: A. Hakhverdyan/Journal of Archaeological Science 

References 

Bobokhyan, A., et al. 2024. Burial of two closely related infants under a “dragon stone” from prehistoric Armenia. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, 57. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jasrep.2024.104601 

Milligan, M. 2024. Infant burials found under prehistoric “dragon stone”. Available at: https://www.heritagedaily.com/2024/06/infant-burials-found-under-prehistoric-dragon-stone/152166. 

 
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Sahir

I am a graduate of History from the University of Delhi, and a graduate of Law, from Jindal University, Sonepat. During my study of history, I developed a great interest in post-colonial studies, with a focus on Latin America. I... Read More

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