Armenia’s Cradle of Civilization: MokhraBlur, AdaBlur and Metsamor
Armenia’s "fertile crescent" is located along the Arax river, its tributaries a series of liquid ribs along a central Ararat spine. Within this valley lies a smaller crescent of land, still bearing the marks of a vast marshland and forests that once covered the entire valley floor. As you wander through this area (roughly located between Echmiadzin, Hoktemberian and the Turkish border), you can spot sudden eruptions of the terrain, hills that seem to appear from nowhere. They do not "fit" the contour of the land around you. These are the remains of the first urban civilization to leave its imprint on the ancient Armenian world: they are the sentinels of the Metsamor Kingdom, the "Cradle of Armenian Civilization".
Sometime between 7000 and 6000 years ago, a series of cities appeared at evenly placed spots in this crescent, all of them built around the metal industry: the inhabitants were among the first to forge copper and bronze; and are the first recorded to discover the properties of and successfully smelt iron. The metal ore mined in this area was among of the purest in the world, and the natives shaped their culture around it. They believed the technique for forging metal was given to them from the heavens, and they became the first recorded astronomers: they are earliest recorded to have sophisticated observatories, the earliest to create a calendar that divided the year into 12 segments of time, they were among the first to devise the compass, and to envision the shape of the world as round.
Suggested Tour: The excavations of MokhraBlur, AdaBlur and Metsamor (these are contemporary names--no traces of their original names have been found) are three of many cities that once dotted this area. They are evenly spaced from each other, about 6-7 kilometers apart. Together they form an excellent half-day tour (full day if you want to take advantage of tour guides and nearby villagers inviting you in for coffee and a history discussion). They can be visited in one day along with the history museum at Sardarabat, or separately. There is a newly renovated motel located near Metsamor, so you don’t have to rush back to Yerevan after the tour.
Note: MokhraBlur and AdaBlur are relatively unprotected sites. MokhraBlur is fenced in and has a site worker, but AdaBlur is completely open. All three are protected by the Ministry for Protection of Historical and Cultural monuments. What this means is that while you are welcome to view the sites, you must show the utmost respect for them. There are no ready workers to clean up after you or repair damage done by reckless visitors. The sites are like cultural treasures anywhere: they are one of a kind, priceless because of their rarity and age, and unique in the history of the world. Don’t muck them up. It is strictly forbidden to carry any object from the site away, including shards or fragments of pottery and stone. Count yourself very lucky you can touch them and feel the history, but put them back. You wouldn’t take a chunk of the Parthenon as a souvenir, and you wouldn’t cart off a Khachkar, so leave this part of history in its place too, and let others see how important Armenia’s contribution to history is. You should also know that customs is on the lookout for rare artifacts of all shapes and sizes at the border. You can be prosecuted.
Located 400 meters East of the village of Vacheh (old name Griboyedov), MokhraBlur is an open air excavation of a city that housed a thriving religious, administrative and metal industrial complex (ca. 4000-3000 bce). The site is fenced in with an unlocked gate.
Hours, Ticket Price: The site is open 24 hours a day, but it is best to contact the site worker if you want to visit after dusk. The worker is a resident of the nearby Village of Vacheh and can serve as a guide, but there are no tickets or fees charged. We suggest a 500 AMD tip per person for his time and to help him preserve the site.
Guided Tour: There is no marked tour or museum, and the only travel agent offering quality guided tours to all three sites is Arax (14, Abovian St., Hotel Yerevan, # 200, Tel/Fax: +(374-2) 52-94-18, AT&T: 151-865, E-Mail: email@example.com).
In addition, Vladik Ghavalian, who lives in Vacheh and who worked on the excavation, can serve as a guide. He is a very friendly and knowledgeable man, and delights in recounting the history of both the excavation and the site. He worked with the archeologists during the entire excavation process, the only person from the nearby area to do so.
To reach Vladik’s house by, go to Vacheh via the Markara road (9.7 kilometers from Echmiadzin), then R 1 kilometer into Vacheh. 300 meters beyond you will see a "Camel" kiosk in front of a red stone cultural center, turn R. Go past the school and WW II monument to where the road stops at a "T" intersection. Turn R. Vladik’s house is the 4th on the left, #46, Shirvanzadeh St.
How To Get There:
MokhraBlur is located 27.7 kilometers from Opera Square in Yerevan, following Mashtots Ave. to Admiral Isakov Ave. to the Echmiadzin highway. It is located 8.7 kilometers Southwest of Echmiadzin, following the Markara road. It is 400 meters East of the village of Vacheh.
By Car, Taxi: It is 18 kilometers from Yerevan Opera Square to the turnoff from the Echmiadzin highway. Just before Hripsimeh Church, you will see an overpass exit for Markara. Take the exit and follow it as it skirts around Echmiadzin. 7.3 kilometers from the Echmiadzin Highway you will see a very small village on your right. Turn R into the village (if you go too far, you will reach the Vacheh intersection. Backtrack 2.4 kilometers and turn L into the village). The village has no name, and few seem to know about MokhraBlur, which is the hill behind the village. From here on you are traveling over dirt paths. 100 meters from the asphalt highway, there will be fork in the path: take the path directly in front of you. As you leave the village, you be driving between a ditch and a small earthen canal. 800 meters after the fork, you will see low hill about 200 meters to your left. That is MokhraBlur. It is fenced in, but a gate lies on the farthest side from the village, about 300 meters from the path. There is a metal sign in Armenian and Russian at the gate marking the entrance.
You can hire a taxi (200 AMD plus 200 AMD per kilometer, plus an extra tip of 1000-2000 AMD if you want the driver to wait while you explore each site) from Yerevan or Echmiadzin. Calculate roughly 80 kilometers rd. trip from Yerevan, 45 from Echmiadzin for all three sites.
By Bus, YT, On Foot: There are no direct buses to the excavation sites, so you will be combining wheels and hiking. From the Yerevan Avtokayan on Admiral Isakova, take bus # 111 to Echmiadzin. You can also take a YT from in front of the Mashtots Shuka or at the Avtokayan. From the Echmiadzin Avtokayan look for a Markara, Vacheh or Taronik Bus or YT. There is a private Echmiadzin-Taronik bus (300 AMD one-way Echmiadzin-Taronik) that goes directly to the villages nearest all three sites. It originates at the Echmiadzin Avtokayan, and travels between 07:30 and 17:00, when it has enough passengers (i.e. it has no set schedule: when it fills up, it leaves). The Markara Bus and YT routes stop at the intersection nearest Vacheh, which is close to MokhraBlur, though there is a closer location you should try and get off at.
If you’re taking the Markara bus or YT, ask the driver to let you off at the village before Vacheh ( "Vacheh giugheen nahkhordogh giughuh" ì³ã» ·ÛáõÕÇÝ Ý³Ëáñ¹áÕ ·ÛáõÕÁ). From there you can walk to MokhraBlur. The village of Vacheh can be seen about 400 meters beyond the excavation. You will go through Vacheh to continue on to AdaBlur.
Where to Eat/Where to Stay: Though this is the first of three tour stops, some of you may want to make a half-day of visiting MokhraBlur and talking to Vladik (which it is certainly possible to do). The villagers in Vacheh can cook up a huge meal on short notice. They hosted an International Girl Scout’s conference in 1992, and fed 500 hungry scouts Khorovatz and all the trimmings. Ask at Vladik’s or in the town center for a feast of your own; about $4 per person. Vladik can also arrange for overnight stays at homes in the village ($10-15 per bed with three meals).
The Excavation: MokhraBlur (which means "Ash Hill" or "Ash Bluff"--so noted because of the dark flecks of blackened stones and pottery found in the site) lies in what was a marshland along a large river bed, since drained off into canals and rich farmland. The excavation ("peghum" ä»ÕáõÙ), led by Professor Alishian, uncovered 11 meters (36 feet) of earth before reaching the uppermost strata of the city’s development. A total of 12 levels ("shertehr" ß»ñï»ñ) or generations ("sehrundtehr" ë»ñáõÝ¹»ñ) of the city’s history were uncovered before the excavation stopped. When you look at MokhraBlur, you are not looking at a hill, you are looking at what remains of more than 6000 years of continuous living on one spot. As each layer was uncovered, bones, pottery, jewelry and metallic artifacts were discovered, each older than the previous. Several levels were covered with blackened heaps of bones and broken objects, indicating a battle that destroyed the city. Like Troy, later generations rebuilt on top of the ruins of their ancestors.
One of the most remarkable things about MokhraBlur is its isolated location and the feeling you get of discovering it for the first time. Shards and fragments of pottery and bones litter the site, and one can scoop up history with each handful. The locals say that whenever there is a good rain, they can still find intact perfume flasks and pottery loosened from the soil.
As you walk up towards the gate, you will pass a small swamp ("jahidj" ×³ÑÇ×), fed by spring water. This is what remains of the marshland that spread out in all directions around MokhraBlur 6000 years ago. The marshland formed an excellent natural protective barrier, as well as a reliable source of drinking water. The excavation site itself is the fortified center of the town. It served as the religious and military stronghold for the city. As in other cities of the era, townspeople lived outside the main walls. The entire city stretched to the edge of the village behind you, holding up to 10,000 inhabitants (which was a large city in those days).
A. As you walk up the hill from the gate, look towards your left at the top of the hill, and you can see an outline of a cyclopic wall ("pahrisp" å³ñÇëå ) that encircled the central fortified citadel in the 4th-3rd millennia. The wall was made from foundations of blocks of stone averaging 1-2 tons each. These stones were drug to MokhraBlur from sources 10-20 kilometers away. There is some thought that the stones may actually be the middle level of an older wall. Since excavation stopped before they could complete uncovering layers, the actual age of the city is possible another 1000 years older. If so, these stones were either drug on sleds from unheard of distances at that time, or--using a relic the excavators found at the lower levels of the dig as a sign--they were among the first to use the wheel. Unfired mud brick was used to complete the walls above the stone foundations, which accounts for the current mound shape of the site.
At the top of the mound you will arrive on a large flat area with a series of holes in it. These are the actual digs.
It is worth a visit to Vladik’s, since he has begun a house museum of sorts, made up of artifacts discovered during the excavation and thereafter. He is eager to show his finds, the only artifacts not carted off to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. Even the Yerevan museum (Republic Square) does not display anything found at MokhraBlur. Vladik’s is your only chance. There are a few items, but among them are a small clay lion figure from the 6th layer (ca. 3500 bce); a fragment with a fluted top around a central "pipe", which is thought to be from a musical instrument; a carpet needle shaped from a bone (they found fragments of woven cloth and carpets at the site), a miniature clay wheel from a small cart (not toys, these are found at other sites in Armenia, duplicates of life-size carts used to bury royalty for their trip to the other world), an amulet ring carved from animal teeth, one of 1000’s found in the excavation at all levels. The ring is interesting for its pentagon shape of the center hole, each point in the pentagon possibly standing for one of the five known planets at that time, the central space representing the known world.
Located within the village of Aratashen, AdaBlur is an open air excavation of a city nestled within a bend of the Kasakh river (ca. 4000-3000 bce). What remains of the site of AdaBlur are the outlines of the city walls, excavated rooms and buildings, and fragments of pottery and obsidian shavings. The river has shifted over millennia, dividing the once unified city into two sub-sites. On the edge of Aratashen Village, AdaBlur sits in a direct path between the ancient homes of the gods: from the top of the highest mound at the excavation, you are in a perfect line between Aragats and Ararat.
Hours, Ticket Price: The site is open 24 hours, unguarded and unmonitored. No charge.
Guided Tour: AdaBlur is not a working excavation and it has no museum. The site is simple enough there is no need for a guide, but if you want to talk to a local who knows a few facts, ask for Vartan Terterian, who lives in the village, in street just past the Kasakh river bridge, 5th house on your right.
How To Get There:
AdaBlur is located 7.7 kilometers from MokhraBlur via the Markara road, turning onto the Vacheh-Lenughi road, or 5.5 kilometers from the Cultural Center in Vacheh, following the Vacheh-Lenughi road. It is located in the village of Aratashen, on the Kasakh river.
By Car, Taxi: Beginning from the cultural center (on the Vacheh to Lenughi road), travel North west (away from Vacheh/Markara) towards Lenughi/Aratashen. 1.4 kilometers from the cultural center, you will reach the end of the village, and will ease towards the left to stay on the main road. Another 2.4 kilometers beyond you will reach an intersection at a 45° angle to your road. It will look like you should continue on towards the right, but you need to make a HARD left here to get to Aratashen. You are now in Lenughi. There is a WW II memorial in the village and a small food store on the main road. Lenughi virtually turns into Aratashen, and at 1.7 kilometers from the last turn, you will reach the Kasakh river bridge. Stop here. There is a stone building with fresh lime green paint on the trim just before the bridge. This is a café/shop where you can get pretty good fare for about 1000-1500 AMD. The dirt path on your R immediately past the bridge is the road to take to AdaBlur (which you can see from the bridge: A collection of low mounds about 800 meters from the bridge). Drive/walk up the dirt path 700 meters, and stop at the metal bridge over a diverted river channel. AdaBlur will be on your right, about 100 meters away.
There are no taxis from Vacheh to Aratashen, but you can probably get a villager to drive you (barter for petrol and an extra 1000 AMD). They don’t work on schedules, so plan on waiting a bit. It isn’t a bad hike if you’ve got your walking shoes on.
By Bus, YT, On Foot: There is a private Echmiadzin-Taronik bus (200 AMD one-way Echmiadzin-Taronik) that goes directly to the villages nearest all three sites. It originates at the Echmiadzin Avtokayan, and travels between 07:30 and 17:00, when it has enough passengers (i.e. it has no set schedule: when it fills up, it leaves). In Vacheh, the bus stop is near the cultural center (ask for the "avtobusi kangarr depi Aratashen" ³íïáµáõëÇ Ï³Ý·³é ¹»åÇ ²ñ³ï³ß»Ý). Tell the bus driver you want to get off at Aratashen, by the Kasakh river ("yes uzum em ichnel Aratashenum Kasakh geti mot" »ë áõ½áõÙ »Ù ÇçÝ»É ²ñ³ï³ß»ÝáõÙ ø³ë³Ë ·»ïÇ Ùáï).
Where to Eat/Where to Stay: This site isn’t a long stop, but it is at a pretty location, and may be worth a coffee break or lunch. If you are hoofing it (or waiting for the local bus), you may not have enough time to reach Metsamor before the end of the day. Vartan can arrange for meals or an overnight stay in a village house ($10-12 per night, includes three meals). The houses we saw were very pretty, they reminded us of stone cottages in the West of Ireland. The Kasakh river makes for some very nice walking, and the view of Ararat can’t be beat. Fresh cheese, wine and bread--it’s all here.
The Excavation: AdaBlur is located in a bend of the Kasakh river. Built along the same lines as MokhraBlur, the mound is actually the remains of a central fortified citadel, surrounded by living quarters outside the defensive walls. Unlike MokhraBlur there are no stone foundations for the wall, which was entirely made from unfired mud brick. The site is highest nearest the river, and has been eroded by the relentless movement of the river’s waters. The excavation began about the same time as MokhraBlur and ended in 1988, due to lack of funds (or as the director of Metsamor will tell you, it ended because Armenian archeologists were discovering too much that rivaled the official Soviet line on each ethnic group being no more equal than the others).
Metsamor is our next stop.
Located just outside the village of Taronik, Metsamor (which means "black swamp" or "black quicksand") is a working excavation and museum on the site of an urban complex with a large metallurgical and astronomical center (occupied ca. 5000 bce-17th c. ce). The site occupies a volcanic hill and surrounding area. The citadel on top of the volcanic hill is about 10.5 hectares in size, but the entire city is believed to have covered 200 hectares at its greatest extent, housing up to 50,000 people (making it a huge metropolis in those days). Nearby spring-fed marshes and lakes suggest the extent of the wildlife that covered the area up to the bases of Mount Aragats and Ararat. The area was rich in water, mineral and hunting resources at the time of the development of Metsamor. The nearby Metsamor river provided both transportation and the first irrigation source recorded in Armenia.
Excavations began at Metsamor in 1965 and are still in progress. Archeologist Emma Khanzatian directed the excavation. The most recent excavation work occurred in the summer of 1996, along the inner cyclopic wall. Excavations have shown strata of occupancy going back to the Neolithic period (7,000-5,000 bce), but the most outstanding features of the site were constructed during the early, middle and late Bronze Ages (5000-2,000 bce). Inscriptions found within the excavation go back as far as the Neolithic period , and a sophisticated pictograph form of writing was developed as early as 2000-1800 bce. The "Metsamor Inscriptions" have a likeness to later scripts which influenced Mashtot’s alphabet (see Evolution of the Armenian Alphabet).
The excavation has uncovered a large metal industry, including a foundry with 2 kinds of blast furnaces (brick and in-ground). Metal processing at Metsamor was among the most sophisticated of its kind at that time: the foundry extracted and processed high-grade gold, copper, several types of bronze, manganese, zinc, strychnine, mercury and iron. Metsamor’s processed metal was coveted by all nearby cultures, and found its way to Egypt, Central Asia and China. The iron smelting process was not advanced in Metsamor, probably due to the vast quantities of pure bronze alloys at hand, and Metsamor primarily mined and sold iron ore to neighboring cultures which took better advantage of its properties. One of the early examples of R&D not getting past the lab door. It is not until the Early Iron Age that Metsamor took full advantage of the high-grade iron ore it had been selling to others.
The astronomical observatory predates all other known observatories in the ancient world-- that is, observatories that geometrically divided the heavens into constellations and assigned them fixed positions and symbolic design. Until the discovery of Metsamor it had been widely accepted that the Babylonians were the first astronomers. The observatory at Metsamor predates the Babylonian kingdom by 2000 years, and contains the first recorded example of dividing the year into 12 sections. Using an early form of geometry, the inhabitants of Metsamor were able to create both a calendar and envision the curve of the earth.
Illustrations: Metsamor Inscriptions
Hours, Ticket Price: The museum and site are open from 10:00-17:00 Tues-Sun. In winter the museum opens at 11:00. Admission is 100 AMD, guided tour another 100 AMD (we suggest an additional tip of another 500 AMD per person in the tour: they’re getting 2000 AMD a month as salary, and receive no support for keeping the site and museum going).
Guided Tour: The museum offers guided tours in Armenian and Russian. The self-guided tour we describe is provided as a short translation, but the details (and wonderful enthusiasm for their site) cannot be translated and need to be taken in person. This tour is worth finding a translator or using your rough Armenian and hand gestures--the two guides we had are the most thorough and engaging we have found in Armenia. Even without the language, you’ll get the gist of it, and feel you were there 6000 years ago.
How To Get There:
Metsamor is located 6 kilometers from the AdaBlur site via the Aratashen/Lenughi-Taronik road. This is the same road you arrived in Aratashen on. It is 1 kilometer West of the village of Taronik.
By Car, Taxi: Beginning from AdaBlur, back track to the Aratashen-Taronik road, and turn R. One kilometer beyond you will see a road that intersects yours and leads to Hoktemberian. Continue forward. After 1.4 kilometers you will reach Taronik village. Continue another 1.3 kilometers to the end to the village (always going forward if you see optional turns), and just past an electrical tower and a large rusting tower, there will be a road on your left. That is the Metsamor road. Turn L, and follow it as it skirts along a large earthen ditch (part of the Metsamor river). You can already spy the museum and hill in the upper right of your view. 800 meters from the turnoff you will reach a low bridge. Cross it and proceed 200 meters to the gates of the site. There is a small parking lot within the fencing. If the site has other visitors, park here and walk to the museum ahead of you. Otherwise, continue forward past the marshland and pond, and follow the road as it winds to the left to the top of the hill, about 400 meters to the front entrance.
There are no taxis from Aratashen to Metsamor, but you can probably get a villager to drive you (barter for petrol and an extra 1000 AMD). They don’t work on schedules, so plan on waiting a bit. It isn’t a bad hike if you’ve got your walking shoes on.
By Bus, YT, On Foot: There is a private Echmiadzin-Taronik bus (150 AMD one-way Echmiadzin-Taronik) that goes directly to the villages nearest all three sites. It originates at the Echmiadzin Avtokayan, and travels between 07:30 and 17:00-- when it has enough passengers (i.e. it has no set schedule: when it fills up, it leaves). Another departs from Taronik about 9:30 a.m. and travels via Aratashen, Lenughi and Atarbekian. From Aratashen, the bus stop is about 200 meters west of the river bridge (ask for the "avtobusi kangarr depi Taronik" ³íïáµáõëÇ Ï³Ý·³é ¹»åÇ î³ñûÝÇÏ). Tell the bus driver you want to get off at Metsamor Museum, ("yes uzum em ichnel Metsamor Tangaran" »ë áõ½áõÙ »Ù ÇçÝ»É Ø»Í³Ùá ä³Ý·³ñ³Ý).
Where to Eat/Where to Stay: Taronik is a good village for resting or eating. It is one of the larger villages in the area, and the excavation workers live there. They can point you in the right direction for bed and hearth in the village ($10-12 per night, includes three meals).
1.5 kilometers from the excavation turnoff, going west (away from Taronik and towards Hoktemberian), is the newly renovated "Litch Motel" (Lake Motel, Tel: (374-247) 5-00-44, ask for Bingio), with 7 bright and comfortable units, a lake to call your own and one of the best views of Ararat we’ve seen, unspoiled by urban growth. They have cable TV, an International telephone connection, central heat and air conditioning, hot showers, and the freshest food at their pier restaurant. At $15-25 dollars a room (double occupancy), they beat anything in Yerevan. Come summer they plan to install a sauna and deluxe rooms (still a very reasonable $50 per room, double occupancy). Setraki Restaurant/motel (Tel: Yerevan: 27-73-69, ask for Spartak) is located on Aknalich (Akna Lake), 700 meters from Lake Motel entrance (turn left on side street at a rock wall, go 200 meters, green wire gate is on left). 10 cottages in wooded area, no phone, but swimming pool, hot water, air conditioning and central heat, beautiful walks through wooded area up to edge of lake. $50-70 for two people, meals included. In Echmiadzin, the Van Restaurant/Motel (Tel: (374-259) 4-80-24, ask for Valodia, David or Arsen) offers 6 suites with private entrances off the main dining area for $20 (double occupancy), and 2 deluxe suites on the second floor for $50 (double occupancy). Full dinner and breakfast is an additional $10-15 per person. Valodia worked for Intourist and built the complex on Swedish motels he saw as a guide. The results are quite good. To get to the Van, take the exit off Echmiadzin Highway by the Ferris wheel, and follow the road to the right, the complex is about 1 kilometer from the turn off, on your right.
The complex you are in was a large urban settlement which occupied an area of 10.5 hectares and consisted of a citadel within the inner cyclopic stone walls and a ziggurat observatory at the farthest point from the museum, on the edge of the rocky hill (ca. 5th-4th millennium bce). The fortress further encompassed a series of oval shaped dwellings with adjacent out buildings. By the Late Bronze Age a more pronounced class system had occurred, shown by burial artifacts uncovered at royal tombs.
During the Middle Bronze Period (late 3rd to mid 2nd millennium bce) there was a surge of urban growth and a development of complex architectural forms which extended the boundaries of the settlement to the area below the hill. Basically, that area within the inner cyclopic walls are the older city, and that beyond represent newer areas. By the 11th c. bce the central city occupied the lowlands stretching to Lake Akna, and covered 100 hectares (247 acres).
About 500 meters southeast of the citadel is the location of the traditional necropolis (town dwellings), which covered an additional 100 hectares of land. With a population of 50,000, Metsamor rivaled in size the largest cities in the world at that time.
Another 70-80 hectares (170-200 acres) next to the Necropolis comprises the main burial site, where 30,000-40,000 people were buried in simple graves and large burial mounds. Once uncovered, these graves revealed an underlying layer of crushed-stone which further revealed large mausoleums built from red tufa, encircled by a series of cromlechs (monoliths of arched stone). What the excavators uncovered in the process was both a history of Metsamor’s burial rituals and a concern for hiding wealthy tombs. Like the Pharaohs buried in the Valley of the Kings, Metsamor’s rulers tried to thwart grave robbers by hiding the locations of royal tombs. Fortunately the grave robbers at Metsamor were not as lucky as those in Egypt, and the Mausoleums revealed intact and richly adorned burial vaults, giving us an excellent glimpse into the traditions for preparing the body for the afterlife.
Among the artifacts uncovered in the royal tombs were evidences of great wealth: gold, silver and bronze jewelry and adornments were found over and next to the body, which was placed in a sitting fetal position in a large stone sarcophagus (early Metsamor) or lying in a casket (late Metsamor). The bodies were laid out with their feet oriented towards the East, so they could greet the sun and follow it to the afterlife in the West. Included in the vaults were the skeletal remains of horses, cattle, domesticated dogs and humans--presumed to be servants or slaves to the deceased. The sacrifice of slaves and animals was a common feature of burial rituals during the Bronze and Early Iron Age, as they were considered necessary to assist their master in the next life. In addition to jewelry, pottery and tools, excavators discovered pots filled with the grape and pear piths, grains, wine and oil. The fruit piths are a prominent part of the food offerings, and considered a necessary part of the funeral rites.
Other funeral objects discovered were rare amethyst bowls, ornamented wooden caskets with inlaid covers, glazed ceramic perfume bottles, ornaments of gold, silver and semiprecious stones, and paste decorated with traditional mythological scenes typical of local art traditions. Egyptian, Central Asian and Babylonian objects were also found at the site, indicating that from earliest of times Metsamor was on the crossroads of travel routes spanning the Ararat plain and linking Asia Minor with the North Caucasus and Central Asia. By the early Iron Age Metsamor was one of the "royal" towns, an administrative-political and cultural center in the Ararat Valley.
By looking at the uncovered layers of excavated areas, you can also see traces of wars, devastation and fire. At the most recent excavation, a mass of bones were uncovered, piled one upon the other. Piled outside the citadel wall, the bodies were dumped by survivors of a cataclysmic event (a siege or plague). A complete destruction of the city is dated to the Urartian conquest in the 8th c bce. Immediately following its destruction the Urartian conquerors rebuilt the site, including the cyclopean walls. Afterwards Metsamor became a subject city to the Urartians and later, the Armenian kings. The city continued to be inhabited through the Hellenic period and the Middle Ages to a sudden end in the 17th c ce. Excavations from these periods can still be seen on the hilltop and its eastern slope, as well as by glazed earthenware and luxury items now housed in the museum. Special among these are coins excavated from the Medieval period: they inlcude the coin of Levon II (1270-1289), coins from the Khulavites mines minted in Tabriz (16th c) and West European 13-14th cc coins.
The largest and most developed of the three excavations on this tour, Metsamor’s importance is best appreciated by first visiting the museum before exploring the site.
The Museum of History and Archeology at Metsamor was opened in 1968. It is the repository of more than 22,000 items, almost all uncovered at the site.
Overview: The museum is laid out on three levels. Our self-tour walks you through the museum in the order tour guides follow.
Detailed Museum Tour:
The ground floor shows the chronological development of the site from the Neolithic through the Middle Ages, and includes artifacts and materials discovered at each layer of the excavation, including examples of the metal working process used at Metsamor. One section is devoted to the observatory and explains the astronomical significance of the site.
In the entry lobby are two maps, one showing the current excavation site (citadel and central city), the other the extent of the Ancestral Armenian culture in the Armenian plateau during the Early, Middle and Late Bronze Ages.
Take the steps to the ground floor, and turn to your left.
1st Gallery, Ground Floor:
The term Metsamor is a more recent name. The inhabitants of the city did not use a writing system as we do. They used a pictograph system of drawings which represented ideas and events, but did not spell out names as we do. We do not know what these people called themselves, but since Ancestral Armenia was a bridge between Asia and Europe we do know what other cultures at the time called the people living in this area. The Persians called them the "Ermani", the Babylonians "Arata", the Assyrians "Nairi" . Later the Indo-European name "Ararat" and "Armeni" become predominant names, though "Hai" was used by the Hittites. Our guide suggested that though "Hai" and "Armen" were both names for the same people, the word "Hai" is in fact an older name, as etymologists believe it originated in the Ararat and Geghama mountains and migrated with Ancestral Armenians into Anatolia and Asia Minor.
8. At the end of the first exhibition hall is a display featuring the observatory uncovered at Metsamor (4th-3rd millennium bce) and it use in the study of the cosmos.
The development of astronomical study at Metsamor grew from a need by the inhabitants to orient themselves in space and time. They had a specific need to understand where the spirit went in the afterlife, to understand the conception of time, and to fix themselves in space. This is a far cry from earlier people’s who stared at the heavens and simply wondered at it all: this was a sacred study, so to speak, to actually fix the culture in the heavens, and to predict its influence on their destiny.
The means of orienting oneself are the beginning steps of social group development, and are usually very simple. For the people at Metsamor, it was typical to orient themselves, their culture, and their place in time and space by North and South.
2nd Gallery, Ground Floor:
The second floor is divided into two sections. The first displays materials in trades common at Metsamor: stone, jewelry, textiles and leather, carpet-weaving, ceramics, plus the glazed bluish-green decorative tiles that ornamented the palace and temple halls. The second section is devoted to the temple excavation and religious worship. Included are idols, phallus sculptures, fire hearths, pintader seals for stamping scared bread loaves and amulets.
The lower level holds the most valuable archeological finds in the museum: a funerary crypt from the Urartu period and a collection of gold, silver, semi-precious stones, amber and paste jewelry, as well as other examples discovered at burial sites in the excavation.
The Gold Room
There are several cases in two rooms in the gold vault. The craftsmanship and detail of the work was intricate and sometimes minuscule: take care to examine the pieces, and then imagine people creating such fine work more than 4000 years ago.
1st case: Gold jewelry pieces discovered in mausoleums, featuring a gold necklace with intricate design, 3rd-2nd millennium bce.
2nd case: Hollow cylinder made from sardonik (a red-veined onyx), 4th millennium bce.
3rd case: actual frog weight carved from agate and onyx, 4th-3rd millennium bce.
4th case: jewelry made from gold and carnelian (a semi-precious quartz gem). Gold medallions imbedded with cruciform design, 2nd millennium bce.
5th case: royal seal made from carnelian, gold clasps, 3rd millennium bce.
6th case: gold jewelry, including hair pin and medallion, 3rd-2nd millennium bce.
1st case: amber necklaces, 4th-3rd millennium bce.
2nd case: "matsuk" animal heads with eyes made from lapis lazuli, 4th millennium bce. Lapis Lazuli was considered more valuable than gold in the ancient world, and was prized for its medicinal and cosmetic, as well as artistic value.
3rd case: amber jewelry and small agate stone called "achki ulunk" (eye beads), 4th-3rd millennium bce. These are considered to be protective eyes warding off evil, and are still popular amulets worn around the necks of newborns in Armenia.
4th case: two belt decoration pieces in the shape of lions, made from bronze with silver overlay. Swastika detail on the hind quarters of the lions. The overlay process was probably created in the Armenian plateau, as this is one of the earliest examples found in Asia Minor (3rd millennium bce)
IF you’re very lucky and there isn’t much traffic, the guides may allow you into the store room, where 20,000 additional artifacts are kept. One of the most rare and beautiful of them is kept there. It is a reddish brown ceramic lamp with seven fluted openings on the top: the openings represent the sun, moon and the five known constellations at that time. The museum recently made a gift of one copy to the Metsamor atomic reactor as a reminder of the
Getting Back: From Metsamor, turn L on the Taronik Road (away from Taronik), and travel past the Motel (1.5 kilometers) . 500 meters past the motel there will be a fork in the road, veer to the R and continue to the Echmiadzin Highway (1 kilometer). To return to Yerevan, turn R (it’s 33 kilometers to Opera Square from here, 13 kilometers to the Hripsimeh Church intersection in Echmiadzin). To continue onto Sardarabat, Hoktemberian or Giumri, turn L.