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Magnetic survey in the investigation of sociopolitical change at a Late Bronze age fortress settlement in northwestern Armenia.

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Archaeological Prospection
Archaeol. Prospect. 17, 15–27 (2010)
Published online in Wiley InterScience
( DOI: 10.1002/arp.369
Magnetic Survey in the Investigation of
Sociopolitical Change at a Late Bronze Age
Fortress Settlement in Northwestern Armenia
Department of Anthropology, Purdue University, 700 West State St.,West Lafayette, Indiana 47907, USA
Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago, 1126 East 59th St., Chicago, Illinois 60637, USA
Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia,15 Charents
St.,Yerevan, Armenia 375025
The construction of large stone fortresses across much of northern Armenia during the Late Bronze Age (ca.1500^1150
represented a shift away from centuries of nomadic pastoralism, and also marked a profound transformation in
the constitution of political authority and how social orders were mediated through the built environment.To date, however, little archaeological attention has been given to Late Bronze Age (LBA) settlements located outside the fortress
citadels, partlydueto the difficultyin detectingthem fromthe surface.Inthisreport wehighlight resultsandobservations
from a magnetic gradiometry survey in northwestern Armenia where we test the hypothesis that an extensive LBA
domestic complex existed at the base of the fortified hill at the site of Tsaghkahovit. The study surveyed four grids in
the settlement area at the base of fortress. Three test units were excavated in three of the four survey areas to test
selected anomalies. Two of the test units confirmed the presence of subsurface LBA deposits, including basalt stone
walls, burned features, and a storage pit, appearing in the data as large dipoles.The spatial configurations of buildings
revealed by the gradiometry surveys elucidate the extent of theTsaghkahovit settlement and the formal differentiation
of domestic and institutional spaces as new architectural traditions emerge during the Middle to Late Bronze Age transition. However, targeted subsurface tests also hint at the ephemeral nature of the domestic constructions suggesting
the retention of mobilityamong subject populationsunder the authorityof settled fortress elites.Copyright # 2009 John
Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Key words: magneticgradiometry; basalt features; Caucasus; Late Bronze Age; settlement patterns; residentialarchaeology; Overhauser
The mid-second millennium BC was a period of intense
sociopolitical change across the South Caucasus –
contemporary Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia – as
socially stratified, militaristic nomadic communities
shifted to more stable agropastoral settlements. This
can be seen as newly fortified hilltops and political and
economic transformations – e.g., changes in ceramics
and metal working, settlement and subsistence patterns, ritual architecture and burial traditions – that
mark the onset of the region’s Late Bronze Age (LBA, ca.
* Correspondence to: I. Lindsay, Department of Anthropology, Purdue University, 700 West State St., West Lafayette, Indiana 47907,
USA. E-mail:
Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
1500–1150 BC) (Badalyan et al., 2003, 2005). In the rugged
uplands of northern Armenia, the LBA is characterized
most prominently by the construction of cyclopean
stone fortresses built on prominent hilltops overlooking
agricultural plains. Most modern accounts of these
fortresses cast their appearance as a watershed in the
region’s prehistoric sociopolitical development; their
rather sudden appearance suggests nomadic pastoral
groups that dominated the Middle Bronze Age (MBA,
ca. 2200–1500 BC) began to develop new political
institutions and strategies of authority behind the
robust citadel walls, heralding the earliest evidence
for sociopolitical complexity in the Caucasus.
Since 1998, Project ArAGATS (Archaeology and
Geography of Ancient Transcaucasian Societies), an
international collaboration of Armenian and American
Received 30 April 2009
Accepted 4 September 2009
scholars, has focused its investigations on the origins
and social ramifications of LBA fortress systems on
the Tsaghkahovit Plain in northwestern Armenia
(Figure 1), where our settlement surveys in 1998 and
2000 documented 12 stone fortresses and outposts
attributed to the mid-second millennium BC (Badalyan
et al., 2003; Smith et al., 2009). Intensive excavations at
the fortress citadels of Tsaghkahovit and Gegharot
in particular have yielded important evidence of
political–economic practices associated with emergent
institutions, including interfortress exchange, storage
and redistribution, religious ritual, and metallurgical
production (Smith et al., 2004; Badalyan et al., 2005,
2009; Lindsay et al., 2008).
Our earlier settlement survey also recorded expansive LBA cemeteries around several of the fortresses,
which allude to the presence of a substantial subject
population. Given the evidence for an extensive
institutional apparatus on the fortress citadels and
ample populations represented in the funerary data,
there has been a surprising lack of information on LBA
residential complexes throughout the southern Caucasus. The dearth of settlement data for the LBA has
left us with little to reconstruct how political subjects
lived their lives under the new fortress regimes.
I. Lindsay et al.
The absence of settlement data can in part be
attributed to research biases that have historically
neglected inquiry into extramural residential spaces in
favour of a ‘temple and tombs’ approach to Bronze
Age archaeology (i.e. until recently nobody in the
Caucasus has looked particularly hard for LBA fortress
settlements to determine if they ever existed; Lindsay
and Smith, 2006). But the authors have also independently put forward hypotheses to explain the apparent
lack of surface remains of LBA domestic architecture,
alternate possibilities that we hoped to resolve using
magnetic survey. The first hypothesis, proposed by
Lindsay (2006), is that subject populations did indeed
construct large permanent settlements in the shadows
of the hilltop forts as the political and economic
foundation of emerging fortress elites. These LBA
settlements, portions of which were initially revealed
by excavations in 2003 and 2005, are buried and
shielded from view by alluvium and, in places, by later
occupations during the first millennium BC (Iron 3
period). Under this model, as social hierarchies of
mobile pastoralists began to crystallize during the
MBA around the martial success of war chiefs, political
leaders saw a need to generate a more dependable
basis of power and began to construct fortresses and
Figure 1. Map of Late Bronze Age fortress sites in and around theTsaghkahovit Plain, highlightingTsaghkahovit fortress study area.
Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Archaeol. Prospect. 17, 15–27 (2010)
DOI: 10.1002/arp
Magnetic Survey in Northwestern Armenia
settlements around the fertile agricultural plains and
valleys to create an extractive political economy
(Lindsay, 2006). In support of this hypothesis,
preliminary excavations in 2003 and 2005 uncovered
the remains of three rooms in a residential complex on
the south side of the Tsaghkahovit fortress of this age.
An alternative hypothesis, forwarded by Smith et al.
(2009) rests on the notion that the small exposures of
LBA settlement detected through subsurface testing
cannot account for the scale of populations visible in
the vast LBA cemeteries recorded on the foothills
above the Tsaghkahovit Plain during our settlement
survey. They propose that lack of visible large-scale
LBA settlements represents the continuation of
population mobility from the MBA to the LBA
overseen by a more sedentary political authority (i.e.
segments of the population remained mobile for parts
of the year and therefore did not invest in constructing
and maintaining long-term settlements). According to
this model, sedentary fortress elites were able to
maintain their authority over these mobile communities by ensuring they returned to the plain on a
regular basis to attend to ritual funerary obligations.
However, these models are not mutually exclusive as
became clear during our analysis.
Here we report on findings from a 2008 magnetometry survey at an LBA fortress in northwestern
Armenia to test these models and determine whether
a substantial settlement existed near the base of the
fortress (Figure 2). Geophysical evidence for these
activities were sought in the spatial patterning of
residential and institutional sectors of the site in order
to develop a more complete picture of the physical
scale of the settlement plan and how different sociopolitical contexts at the fortress were spatially and
functionally related.
Geophysical archaeology and the
Tsaghkahovit Lower Town
With the costs of archaeological excavation continuing
to rise and the depletion of archaeological resources
due to development, looting, and archaeology itself,
field researchers are increasingly turning to remote
sensing techniques as effective non-destructive means
of targeting subsurface remains (Aitken, 1974; Aspinall
et al., 2008; Clark, 1996; Gaffney and Gator, 2003).
Magnetometry has become one of the more popular
geophysical techniques (particularly in Europe) for its
ability to provide relatively quick visual displays of
subsurface archaeological features under a variety of
field conditions. Magnetic surveys within diverse
Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
archaeological contexts conducted using carefully
controlled transects can record these anomalies in
space for display, analysis and relocation using
software packages such as ArcGIS and Surfer (e.g.
Kvamme, 2003, 2008; Drahor et al., 2008; Hinz et al.,
2008; O’Rourke and Gibson, 2009). Ideally, data sets
are also collected using other techniques commonly
applied in geophysical archaeology, including
ground- penetrating radar, electrical resistivity and
electromagnetic induction (Gaffney and Gator, 2003).
Mount Aragats (4090 m), which forms the southern
boundary of our study area on the Tsaghkahovit Plain,
was formed by volcanic processes (Karakhanian et al.,
2003) with slopes largely composed of basalt with
significant tuff deposits, making it geologically suited
for magnetic survey, and the uneven terrain in our
survey area, punctuated by stone outcrops and
scattered stones from architectural collapse, made
magnetometry the most practical tool under our field
Previously in Armenia, geophysical survey methods
had only been applied in a handful of archaeological
settings in the 1970s and 1980s and with uneven
results. In particular, the Russian and Armenian
operators who surveyed at the sites of Metsamor
and Zvartnots in the Ararat Plain (Melnikov et al., 1984;
Melnikov and Smekalova, 1987), the only published
studies to date, reported limited success due to a lack
of sufficient magnetic contrast between the cultural
deposits and surrounding soils, as well as heterogeneous magnetization due to the construction
materials at these sites – tuff, basalt and granite. The
architectural deposits uncovered at the Tsaghkahovit
settlement thus far are almost uniformly of native
basalt, buried less than 1 m deep in alluvial deposits,
which, along with advances in the sensitivity of magnetometers over the past three decades, made us
optimistic about the potential of applying the technique with greater success; it seemed plausible that
the volcanic nature of the site would provide a
magnetically dynamic environment for, at the very
least, uncovering basaltic architecture.
Project ArAGATS initiated its investigations in the
Tsaghkahovit Plain in 1998, starting with a systematic
pedestrian survey of the foothills surrounding
the plain (Avetisyan et al., 2000; Smith et al., 2009).
Since 2002, intensive excavations have centred on two
primary sites, Tsaghkahovit and Gegharot (Figure 1),
which have provided the most extensive view yet of
politics, society and economy in the earliest complex
societies of the South Caucasus. While our ongoing
investigations have been centred primarily on the
central precincts of the fortresses, in 2003 investigations
Archaeol. Prospect. 17, 15–27 (2010)
DOI: 10.1002/arp
Figure 2. Mapofthefourgradiometrysurveyareasat theTsaghkahovit fortress.Note South LowerTownexcavationsinthe centreofthefigureisenlargedin Figure 3.Thisfigureisavailablein
colour online at
Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
I. Lindsay et al.
Archaeol. Prospect. 17, 15–27 (2010)
DOI: 10.1002/arp
Magnetic Survey in Northwestern Armenia
were also initiated at the base of Tsaghkahovit’s
fortified outcrop in order to identify potential remains
of a wider settlement beyond the fortress walls.
Preliminary excavations at the base of the Tsaghkahovit fortress’ southern slope were undertaken in
2003 and 2005 in order to learn more about the
domestic economy of the LBA settlement and
elucidate the impact of regional sociopolitical developments on grassroots populations (Lindsay, 2006).
This sector of the site, referred to as the South Lower
Town, is part of a large multicomponent settlement
constituted by architectural surface remains surrounding the Tsaghkahovit hill. These excavations
uncovered remains of three LBA residential constructions with evidence for domestic activities and
subsequent reuse of the rooms during the Iron 3
period. The three constructions excavated (Figure 3:
structures 1, 2, and 3) incorporated natural basalt
outcrops into walls, foundations and grinding features
(Lindsay, 2006, 2007), a common building technique in
southern Caucasia during the LBA (Kafadarian, 1984;
Smith, 1998). The artefact assemblage that has resulted
from this early phase of lower town excavations –
groundstone, spindle whorls, fragments of cooking and
storage vessels and pits – suggest household-scale
domestic production and consumption activities.
Because the nomadic pastoralists of the MBA left no
known settlements in the Southern Caucasus, one of the
challenging practical consequences of the MBA–LBA
transition archaeologically is that we are left with no
basis for comparing domestic architectural traditions
between the periods as a means for evaluating questions
of change or continuity. However, these data offer the
clearest evidence to date that LBA communities
relinquished their fully nomadic lifestyle and dedicated
themselves (to a degree at least) to a settled agropastoral
economy (Lindsay, 2005, 2006, 2007; Badalyan et al., in
In addition, ongoing excavations by Lori Khatchadourian (Khatchadourian, 2008; Badalyan et al., in
press) provide evidence for a subsequent occupation
during the mid-first millennium BC (Iron 3 phase
in our chronological nomenclature for the region)
when the region was incorporated as a province,
or satrapy, of the Achaemenid Persian Empire.
The well-ordered rectilinear architectural complexes
from the Iron 3 period visible on the surface have in
places shielded the prior LBA settlement from view;
in other parts of the site, LBA deposits are simply
buried under alluvial soils. The discovery of LBA
domestic contexts, revealed for the first time during
the course of the 2003–2005 excavations (Figure 3),
indicated that a more extensive evaluation of
Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
possible extramural occupation at the site was
needed. A gradiometer survey was employed to
investigate the extent of subsurface architecture and
related archaeological features in several different
precincts of the site around the prior Lower Town
excavations (Figure 2).
A survey targeting three 1-ha areas of the
Tsaghkahovit settlement and subsequent test
trenches with the goals of (i) establishing the viability
of magnetic survey in the geological and pedological
context of the site and (ii) testing the hypothesis that
further LBA constructions were present below the
surface that housed subject populations associated
with the fortress (Figure 2). Our preliminary interpretations from survey and excavation data are
that LBA residential units in the South Lower Town
and South Settlement survey areas (Figures 4 and 5)
consist of complexes of articulated circular or semicircular rooms with prepared clay floors. These
complexes form a residential precinct spatially
discrete from institutional constructions on the upper
terraces of the fortress and the LBA cemetery to the
Prior to the magnetic survey in the Tsaghkahovit
Lower Town, surface architecture was mapped using a
total station and the data imported to ArcGIS, thus
providing a basis for a spatial comparison with
subsurface deposits recorded during the gradiometry
survey (Figure 2). The instrument used for the survey
was an Overhauser GSM-19WG gradiometer (GEM
Systems, Ontario, Canada). Sensors were spaced 50 cm
apart. The magnetic survey targeted three 1-ha areas in
the southern and eastern sectors surrounding the
Tsaghkahovit fortress hill (South Settlement Survey
Area (Figure 5), and Eastern Terrace survey area
(Figure 6)). In addition, one smaller 40 40 m plot,
termed the South Lower Town survey area, was laid
out immediately south of the 2003–2005 South Lower
Town excavations (Figure 4). A larger survey of the
South Lower Town was impractical due to the large
number of collapsed stones concentrated in this part of
the settlement that would impede reliable data
In each survey area, 20 20 m data grids were
staked out with the total station to better facilitate data
collection. Readings were collected by the gradiometer
every 0.5 s and collected along 0.5 m spaced transects.
A mosaic of the data blocks was generated in Surfer 8
using bilinear interpolation and average overlap and
visualized as shaded relief, contour and image maps.
The resulting images were georeferenced in ArcGIS 9.2
and superimposed with data layers of surface
architecture for spatial comparison and to examine
Archaeol. Prospect. 17, 15–27 (2010)
DOI: 10.1002/arp
I. Lindsay et al.
Figure 3. Plan view of theTsaghkahovit South LowerTown operations excavated in 2003 and 2005, illustrating articulation of structures and rooms
within the residential complex.This figure is available in colour online at
Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Archaeol. Prospect. 17, 15–27 (2010)
DOI: 10.1002/arp
Magnetic Survey in Northwestern Armenia
Figure 4. 40 40 m South Lower Town survey area (contour) and SLT8 test trench. This figure is available in colour online at www.interscience.
Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Archaeol. Prospect. 17, 15–27 (2010)
DOI: 10.1002/arp
I. Lindsay et al.
Figure 5. 1-ha South Settlement survey area (contour) and SS1test trench.This figure is available in colour online at
Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Archaeol. Prospect. 17, 15–27 (2010)
DOI: 10.1002/arp
Magnetic Survey in Northwestern Armenia
anomalies and geometric patterning suggestive of
architectural features (see e.g. Figures 4–6).
An exploration of the magnetic plots in Surfer at a
variety of clip-points and colour schemes made it
clear early on that the survey area is a dynamic
magnetic environment; the high magnetic signals of
the basalt architecture were high enough that they
were rendered clearest at 500 nT (Figure 4) and
1000 nT (Figures 5 and 6). We recognize that any
subtle soil anomalies are undetectable at these clippoints, but at lower levels they would probably
remain obscured by the strong signals from the basalt
stones. In this, we satisfied our goal of confirming the
viability of magnetic survey in the study area, with
the caveat that the strong architectural signals are
detected at the expense of finer grained domestic
features, ditches and other more subtle magnetic
Subsurface anomalies in three of the survey areas
(the South Lower Town survey area, the South
Settlement survey area, and the East Lower Town
survey area) were chosen for testing through
excavation trenches to confirm the presence of
below-surface features and collect enough datable
material to see where the features and associated
architecture fit in the site’s occupational sequence
(Figures 4 and 5). Many of the visible anomalies
aligned with each other in geometric patterns, though
the axes of these dipoles were oriented more or less
randomly suggesting that they were generated from
mobile materials such as construction stones. Our
results bear a striking resemblance to those found by
Hesse et al. (1997) ascribed to volcanic material used
in construction and insights to the theoretical background to the patterning can be found in Bevan
(1994). What follows is a brief summary of our
Figure 6. East LowerTown survey area and EasternTerrace survey area.
Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Archaeol. Prospect. 17, 15–27 (2010)
DOI: 10.1002/arp
I. Lindsay et al.
interpretations from each survey area and results of
the three test trenches.
Discussion of survey results
South Lower Town survey area
The South Lower Town survey area is a 40 40 m grid
located just south of the 2003 and 2005 South Lower
Town excavations. This small area was selected because
of its close proximity to the previously excavated LBA
subsurface remains (detailed above and in Figures 2
and 3) and it offered the best context for testing the
viability of magnetic survey methods at the site; in other
words, if magnetometry was going to detect archaeological remains in the geological and pedological
conditions at Tsaghkahovit, this was the likeliest place to
determine its efficacy. The magnetic survey revealed
anomalies in spatial patterns indicative of subsurface
architectural remains, including what appears to be a
large room about 18 m wide visible near the centre of
the survey area along with several smaller ovoid or
rectangular rooms to the north, west and south
(Figure 4).
To confirm the presence of buried structures
suggested by the linear alignment of dipoles in this
survey area, a 2 2 m test trench was placed over a
sizeable positive anomaly (or perhaps two distinct
anomalies) at what appeared to be the junction of two
of the curvilinear features (Figure 4). The test unit
revealed two parallel walls of roughly shaped basalt
stone that correspond to the adjacent constructions
visible in the magnetic data; each wall was resting on
prepared clay floors at the same depth (1.1 m below
surface) probably representing contemporary occupations. The strength of the magnetic signal may be
attributed in part to a 50-cm-wide hearth on the floor
against the south side of the northern stone wall, as
well as a clay-lined pit (40 cm in diameter by 20 cm
deep) found in one of the floors. Two radiocarbon
samples of charcoal from the hearth and the pit
returned dates of 1224 166 cal. yr BC (2 sigma) and
1096 195 cal. yr BC (2 sigma), and the vast majority of
diagnostic pottery from this trench dates to the LBA.
This strongly suggests that the architecture revealed by
magnetometry in this grid represents the continuation
of the LBA domestic complex uncovered during the
2003–2005 excavations illustrated in Figure 3. Perhaps
significantly, the single prepared clay floor atop
bedrock is similar to what was found in the horizontal
excavations of the Lower Town in 2005, both of which
leave the impression that the architecture was not used
Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
for recurrent or intensive occupation of the spaces but
was used seasonally by segments of the population
spending significant portions of the year in a more
mobile lifestyle.
Within this 40 m2 survey area, magnetic gradiometry and limited subsurface testing therefore seem to
lend support to both models put forward in the
introduction of this paper; we confirmed the presence
of architectural remains of a LBA residential complex
below the surface, while the single thin occupational
layer suggests that LBA residential architecture was
built for short-term, perhaps seasonal occupation.
If we compare the layout of rooms exposed in the
2003–2005 excavations illustrated in Figure 3, we can
interpret the spatial organization of architecture visible
in Figure 4 as a series of interdigitated domestic spaces
reflecting household scale production activities. The
large central area likely served as a communal space
with household storage facilities while satellite rooms
served as residential quarters. Unfortunately, the
arrangement of the magnetic signatures is not a high
enough resolution to determine confidently the presence of hearths and pits without targeted excavations.
Nevertheless, the ability to quickly and efficiently
visualize the spatial organization of this portion of the
complex, including central open area and surrounding
rooms, can be used to establish a comparative typology
of residential architecture at contemporary LBA
fortresses in the region.
South Settlement survey area
The South Settlement survey area is a 1-ha grid located
60 m south and over a low rise from the South Lower
Town survey. This portion of the site also includes
extensive surface architectural remains as well as
natural outcrops, but very little is known about the
function and period of the constructions. Several large,
rounded surface constructions are visible in the
western half of the survey area (Figure 5), while a
series of rectilinear rooms less visible on the surface
were detected by the gradiometer. The room walls
visible in the data are less distinct than those in the
South Lower Town survey area (Figure 4), perhaps
indicating a poor state of preservation; but they
nevertheless loosely conform to the spatial patterning
of a large rounded central area with smaller rooms
around its perimeter that we uncovered in the South
Lower Town survey area.
A 2 2 m test trench was opened over a large
positive anomaly associated with one of the subsurface
constructions identified in the survey (Figure 5).
The excavation revealed a single-course basalt stone
Archaeol. Prospect. 17, 15–27 (2010)
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Magnetic Survey in Northwestern Armenia
wall resting on a clay floor 89 cm below surface. Here
too, a burned feature was documented on the floor
adjacent to the wall stones, and radiocarbon dated at
1519 89 cal. yr BC (2 sigma), a somewhat earlier phase
of the LBA than uncovered at the South Lower Town.
As in the South Lower Town survey area detailed
above, there is not a build-up of cultural deposits on
the floor that would suggest long-term occupation of
these spaces, leading us to the preliminary conclusion
that this construction was used on a seasonal or shortterm basis.
Further testing in these rooms is necessary to resolve
the function of these rooms, but the magnetic data
further support our hypothesis of an extensive (if not
intensive) occupation of Tsaghkahovit during the LBA,
which in turn supports the idea that portions of the
population were convening at the fortress during
certain times of the year perhaps to fulfill ritual and
economic obligations to political authorities (although
exactly what their obligations were and what tied them
to the regime remains a matter under investigation).
East Settlement survey area
The East Settlement survey area is a 1-ha grid to the
east-southeast of the fortress hill and abutting the
South Lower Town survey area (Figure 2). The goal of
surveying this area was to test the hypothesis that
large oval constructions visible on the surface housed
production facilities (kilns, furnaces, etc.) or even
corrals, possibilities suggested by the size and open
plan of the rooms and their location on the fringes of
the settlement area. Craft production areas involving
high temperature fires are particularly susceptible to
magnetic detection, and their presence would provide
valuable information about the scale and organization
of production during the LBA. Unfortunately, a
1 5 m test trench within a large oval construction
only revealed a protrusion of decomposing friable
bedrock with an orange tint, possibly the result of
natural burning; no charcoal or other visible signs of
conflagration were noted. No radiocarbon samples
were recovered from this area to date this structure,
and diagnostic ceramics were scant with an ambiguous mix of LBA and Iron 3 ceramic shards. Given the
thin deposits and small quantities of artefacts, it may
be that this and neighbouring large rounded constructions in the southeastern end of the site were built in a
more recent historical period as livestock corrals.
Nevertheless, a lack of evidence for use of this area
during the LBA at least helped us rule out this portion
of the site for further intensive study.
Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Eastern Terrace survey area
The final 1-ha survey area was located to the north of
the East Settlement survey area, beyond the surface
constructions that delimit the known boundary of the
settlement. This area is characterized by cyclopean
stone walls along the eastern lower flank of the fortress
hill that serve to define three broad terraces descending
to the east and emptying into a large open area in the
eastern 30 m of the survey grid (Figure 6). Two openings
in the westernmost terrace wall closest to the fortress hill
suggest the presence of a gateway with a connection to
the expansive terraces, although this remains speculative. Magnetic survey in this precinct of the site was
therefore explicitly exploratory, allowing us to examine
this large area for activity areas associated with the
broad terraces that might indicate what this side of
the fortress was used for.
The terrace walls are clearly visible from the ground
surface, but the magnetic survey data revealed
intriguing new details, including a row of smaller
terraces measuring 8–10 m wide bending to the west
along the base of the second terrace, resembling a
curving stairway to the larger upper terrace (Figure 6).
A rectangular construction is also visible on the eastern
edge of the first terrace abutting the lower terrace wall.
Time constraints in 2008 precluded conducting test
trenches in this survey area. But if the pattern of short
walls revealed in the survey data is indeed a staircase
(a hypothesis we will test with subsurface exposures),
the geophysical data would allow us to propose an
approach to the fortress at the eastern side of the hill,
which perhaps incorporated the wide foundation
terraces into a large processional space inscribed with
the power and privilege of the fortress elite.
The construction of large stone fortresses in the
Tsaghkahovit Plain (and across much of northern
Armenia) represents a profound shift in the constitution of political authority over the previous MBA
period, including how social orders were mediated
through the built environment and mapped onto the
arrangement of fortress settlements. Within the earlier
nomadic traditions of the MBA, authority was
heralded through the construction of monumental
funerary tumuli (kurgans) marking the singularity of
individual leaders, perhaps tied to their success in
combat. In the LBA, by contrast, new strategies of
politics appear to have shifted away from the
commemoration of individual personalities (as seen
Archaeol. Prospect. 17, 15–27 (2010)
DOI: 10.1002/arp
I. Lindsay et al.
in MBA funerary monuments) toward a greater
investment in building enduring political institutions
(visible in fortress construction). With this commitment to fixed locales, societies relinquished a 700-year
tradition of nomadic pastoralism from the MBA (at
least to a degree), and reconfigured their relationship
to the landscape through monumental fortress construction and a mixed farming and herding economy.
What has been lacking to this point is a clearer view
of where and how the majority of the population lived
who built the forts and gave their allegiance to fortress
elites. Our gradiometry data in three of the four survey
areas helped us define the spatial configurations of
below-ground buildings as consisting of small rooms
clustered around larger common spaces, while simultaneously expanding the known boundaries of the
lower town. In addition, an exploratory magnetic
survey on the east side of the fortified hill (East Terrace
survey area) alerted us to what may be a processional
stairway leading up to a series of terraced spaces at the
base of the fortress allowing us to tentatively identify
how the lower entrance to the fortress was accessed. If
our interpretation is confirmed by future magnetic
survey and testing, it provides a prominent example of
how fortress authorities utilized architectural media
for regularizing social distinctions between domestic
and institutional precincts at the fortress.
In the South Lower Town survey area, the gradiometry data revealed the layout of several round
articulated structures that we interpret as a residential
complex, probably denoting the continuation of subsurface constructions initially revealed in the South Lower
Town in the 2005 excavations. This, in combination with
LBA constructions discovered in the South Settlement
survey area, supports the hypothesis that a large
population had settled at the base of Tsaghkahovit
fortress; however, the relatively thin, single-floor
occupation layers also lend credence to our alternative
hypothesis that the settlement may not have been as
enduring as the fortresses that oversaw them, perhaps
occupied seasonally by transhumant pastoralists. The
LBA sedentary political institutions therefore faced
the prospect of legitimizing their right to rule over
communities seeking to maintain their long legacy of
mobility – a supreme challenge faced more recently by
Russian imperial administrators in Siberia, and Reza
Shah’s effort to settle Iran’s nomadic tribes with mixed
results (Barth, 1961; Beck, 1986).
These interpretations of the dynamics of politics and
settlement patterns counter traditional Near Eastern
and Anatolian models that posit the rise of early
complex societies in these regions as highly dependent
on a sedentary agricultural economy. Located squarely
Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
between the nomadic pastoral traditions of the Eurasian
Steppe and the agrarian urban states of Mesopotamia,
complex societies in the Southern Caucasus followed a
trajectory of political development combining aspects of
both the steppe and the sown. The results of our longterm investigations on the Tsaghkahovit Plain aided by
magnetic gradiometry have demonstrated the need for
an alternative model of political change that accounts
for the range of subsistence activities pursued by LBA
populations, and the need for flexible strategies of
authority by elites aiming to rule them. Our new evidence for a large but ephemeral settlement below
the Tsaghkahovit fortress, juxtaposed with the importance of ritual institutions tied to the fortress and
extensive LBA cemeteries throughout the plain, forces
us to merge the salient elements of our alternative
hypotheses to account both for continued mobility and a
newly forged commitment to place. While the impetus
for settling the plain may well have been predicated on
the material needs of a sustainable political economy as
suggested by Lindsay (2006), the important role of
ritual obligation in legitimizing the power of fortress
elites and ensuring the coherence of the regime, notions
central to Smith et al.’s (2009) thesis, cannot be
overlooked. With a clearer picture of the issues faced
by political leaders and the subject communities during
the MBA–LBA transition, the answer to how fortress
authorities of the LBA succeeded at maintaining their
hold on mobile communities for several centuries, will
continue to be a focus of our research in the Southern
Caucasus in the coming years.
Financial support for the research reported here was
provided in part by a Purdue University College of
Liberal Arts Research Incentive Grant and by the
Adolph and Marion Lichtstern Fund of the University
of Chicago Department of Anthropology. We also wish
to thank Tatyana Smekalova for providing information
about prior geophysical studies in Armenia, as well as
Lori Khatchadourian and two anonymous reviewers
who offered valuable comments on a previous draft of
this paper.
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Archaeol. Prospect. 17, 15–27 (2010)
DOI: 10.1002/arp
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armenia, survey, investigation, northwestern, fortress, change, magnetic, latex, settlements, bronze, age, sociopolitical
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