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Human remains at the necropolis, (2013) Karmir Blur, Armenia (

It is Possibly the Largest Iron Age Necropolis in the Near East But Archaeologists only Have Six Months to Excavate

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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)

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.

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)

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)

Remains of a turtle next to a child's skeleton, Karmir Blur, Armenia (Armen Martirosian)

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 (

By Alicia McDermott



IronicLyricist's picture

well put alicia.. this site is dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge, wheras racism culturalism religionism centricism or any other ism is indicative of ignorance: the exact opposite of what AO is about!

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Alicia McDermott's picture

Unfortunately, “attempts to erase the past” as you say, is something common throughout the ages. There are many different situations where this has been done at various sites all around the world. For example, the Inca Empire destroying other precolombian sites then later Colonialists attempts to erase the traces of the Inca. Pagan temples in Europe were often “transformed” into churches... The list goes on and on.

All are tragic, regardless of the actors involved. But thus is the way of history in many instances. Let us please not point fingers at just one group of people and instead try to help where we can to conserve the past and value the rich archaeological and modern diversity we have.




This is typical of Muslim countries. If it isn't Islamic, then plow it down as the IS did to three ancient sites this year.

Western archaeologists have to understand the mind set of the average Muslim. They do not want to be reminded that their ideology is a newcomer to the world, so they do everything in their power to erase signs that anything came before it. Which explains the destruction of Coptic churches in Egypt, the demolition of ancient sites in Pakistan and Afghanistan and wherever Muslim are in the majority.

So whatever happened to the Tomb of Ezekiel, that 3,000 year old monument which was sacred to Jews and Christians alike and a UNESCO world heritage site? Last I hear the newly-installed Iraqi government was going to plow it down to build a super-mosque over the tomb.

Wherever there is something that the Muslims don't like, they destroy it with no qualms.

Just saying what needs be said.

Alicia McDermott's picture


Alicia McDermott holds degrees in Anthropology, Psychology, and International Development Studies and has worked in various fields such as education, anthropology, and tourism. Traveling throughout Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador, Alicia has focused much of her research on Andean cultures... Read More

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