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YEREVAN. - The Laboratory of Archaeological Studies of the Institute for Armenian Studies (IAS) at Yerevan State University (YSU) resembles more a warehouse than a scientific lab in the usual sense.  The racks here are covered with cardboard boxes from where crocks are sticking out.  

And it is hard to imagine that the content of these boxes is about 3,000 years old and that some time later all this will appear under a glass in a certain museum.

Now they are lying in enumerated boxes waiting in the wings.

The technological capacities of the university lab are not great: several manual tools and calcining furnace, which allows to check several properties of ceramics.

 

But to precisely determine the age of the artifacts one has to turn to foreign colleagues, says Hayk Avetisyan, Head of Chair at YSU Archaeology and Ethnography Department.

Certain studies, specifically of vegetable and animal origin findings, are currently carried out in the bioarchaeological laboratory of the YSU Biology Department. But the specialists hope that it will soon be possible to carry out radiocarbon studies here as well, since Armenia is a country with untapped sources of such work.

Hayk Avetisyan takes out the  recently found artifacts from a box: ceramics, Scythian arrowhead and embellishments of Urartian Aramus fortress. The artifacts date from 8-6th centuries BC.

Then he arranges before me an entire ceramic set - a finding from Oshakan cemetery. “This is an early Iron Age sample dating from 11-9th centuries B.C.,” he says.

To my question whether the arrowhead is imported if it is a Scythian sample, Avtisyan says this is not the case at all. Being made here on the ground, they were included in the arsenal of the warriors of the given region starting from   time immemorial. But the archaeologists also find imported artifacts, specifically ceramics and embellishments, luxury items imported from Syria, Mesopotamia and Northern Caucasus. At the same time, items from local obsidian are found in Syria and Palestine. That is, the trade was very active then, he says.

 

In the adjacent room two archaeologists argue, trying to determine by eye and by feel the age of a red ceramic sherd.  In their words, the appearance is deceptive: this ceramic item can be very ancient but it can also belong to the antic period.

In the back room Master’s students are studying. They apply here from different universities – from architectural to economic ones. The Head of Chair is happy to note that Bachelor’s degree for Archaeology specialization has opened this year, whereas only Master’s degree was available before. 

According to the scientist, currently the Armenian archaeology greatly lacks human resources.  However, this is indeed a very promising direction, he adds. The analysis of the volume of the work carried out in Armenia now shows that this work will last for 20 years if the volumes remain unchanged. Thus, the scientist thinks the salary of the young specialists will be at least stable if not large.

And if they take part in joint international expeditions (currently 10-15 such expeditions work in Armenia annually), their salary won’t be bad at all, he notes.  Thus, dealing with archaeology is profitable, Avetisyan confirms. It is also profitable for the state, since there is a commercialization opportunity here too: artifacts are taken to museums and the museums begin to earn more due to tourism. The most vivid example is the most ancient shoe from Armenia’s Areni village, which is now displayed in the Museum of History of Armenia.

“That is, the archaeological and ethnographic work still has a wide scope of work to be carried out in the coming 20 years. And after the effective implementation of all this we can become more competitive in terms of revealing our identity in this fight of civilizations,” he says.    

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