Colleen Bell in Gorhayk, summer 2013 © Cas Bridge

A survey and succeeding pilot excavations conducted during 2012-2014 by the Scientific Research Center for Historical and Cultural Heritage in Gorhayk, Syunik province, Armenia, yielded a significant assemblage of knapped obsidian artifacts. The artifacts were spread over a ca 40 km2 area on a plateau, at an elevation of 2200-2400m asl. These include handaxes varying in size and shape, Quina scrapers as well as Levallois items and blades.

A subsequent small scale, targeted excavation, conducted by a joint Armenian-American expedition, yielded an assemblage of similar typo-technological composition. The artifacts were found in a paleosol immediately below a very thin layer of topsoil and on top of regolith. The basalt bedrock underlying the regolith has been dated using 40Ar/39Ar geochronology. The groundmass from this basalt yielded an age of 662.3 ± 6.8 ka (2σ). Preliminary Obsidian Hydration Dating was preformed on two in situ flakes from stratum B and D and two from the 2012 survey. Results suggests that stratum B flake as well as one from the survey can be dated to 86.4 – 90.1 ka and the stratum D flake can be dated to ca. 162 – >200 ka.




Travis Brachtenbrat excavating in Gorhayk, summer 2014 © Miriam Belmaker

The techno-typologiocal composition may reflect a mixed Lower Paleolithic and Early Middle Paleolithic assemblage. Alternatively, the assemblage may represent a locally developed Lower -Middle Paleolithic transition. The latter possibility is based on the recent study of Nor Geghi 1, located 200 km northwest of Gorhayk and at much lower elevation, where bifacial tools were found alongside blades and Levallois artefacts in a secure and well-dated context. Future studies incorporating a more detailed survey of the Syunik plateau and the adjacent areas, together with investigation of the obsidian sources and caves noticed during the original survey, will shed more light on technological adaptations of early humans who exploited the area.

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