It is Possibly the Largest Iron Age Necropolis in the Near East But Archaeologists only Have Six Months to Excavate
Rescue archaeology is a common occurrence for those in the field. This time, a team of archaeologists are fighting against time to complete excavations at a 2,600 year old Urartian necropolis in Armenia. Reporting that it may be the largest Iron Age necropolis may not be enough to stop the planned construction over the site, or perhaps it is...
The necropolis, located next to Karmir Blur, Armenia ( Teishebaini during the Kingdom of Urartu), was first discovered two years ago during a government commissioned archeological survey for the North-South Highway, due to its proximity to the ancient fortress, according to The Armenite .
The ancient site composed of the city, palace, and citadel measures over 100 acres and has been dated to the early Bronze Age. However, it was not until the late Iron Age that Karmir Blur became a strategic site. Built by Rusa II in the 7th century BC, to protect the eastern border from Cimmerians and Scythians, the ruins of Karmir Blur have already been placed under the Armenian government’s protection.
Foundation of ancient town, Karmir Blur, Armenia ( Wikimedia Commons )
The highway project was put on hold as archaeologists completed two test digs around the Charbakh cemetery, uncovering more than 500 tombs containing at least two individuals each, as well as over 1,000 artifacts.
Following these discoveries, Armenia's government and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) made statements ensuring the protection of the ancient site. However, the highway is still scheduled to be built and the archaeologists doubt that the six months, which have quickly turned into just five, will be enough to complete the necessary excavations.
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Dr. Armen Martirosian, the on-site anthropologist for the dig, has expressed his concern via social media : "The road must be built, there’s certainly no stopping development. Yet, why is it that we find ourselves paving the future by blanketing and destroying the past?"
The Urartians are the immediate ancestors of the Armenian people. Their kingdom was located around Lake Van and Mt. Ararat. The Kingdom of Urartu is mentioned several times in the Bible as Ararat. In one passage it is even described as the country of Noah’s descend after the deluge.
Geneticists may also have an interest in the necropolis as they continue their search for modern Armenians' genetic origins:
“Speaking of the Caucasus/Middle East, it seems clear as a first approximation that the Bronze Age Armenians are quite similar to modern Armenians. Whether the genetic continuity of Armenians extends beyond the Bronze Age, or Armenians were formed by mixture in the Bronze Age remains to be seen.”
In this past month of excavation the team of 50 people, led by Hakob Simonyan director of the Cultural Heritage Center of Armenia, have already unearthed numerous human remains including: several mass graves with dismembered body parts, graves with tall warrior-like skeletons, other graves of wealthy individuals and their wives, servants and household goods.
Urartian vessels from the necropolis, Karmir Blur, Armenia ( Armen Martirosian )
Apart from the human burials, artifacts such as iron daggers, a quiver with iron arrowheads, bronze bracelets and stone beads have also been excavated. Animal bones including a lamb, horse, domesticated dog, and a turtle next to a skeleton of a child have been discovered at the site as well.
Remains of a turtle next to a child's skeleton, Karmir Blur, Armenia ( Armen Martirosian )
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While the future of Karmir Blur is still uncertain, the team is not taking any chances or wasting time. If the highway is built in five months, delayed, or even circumvented away from the site (being the best-case scenario), their goals remain the same: to excavate all they can before the deadline.
Watch Dr. Martirosian talk about the site and artifacts found thus far:
Featured Image: Human remains at the necropolis, (2013) Karmir Blur, Armenia ( vchechne.ru)