Early Complex Societies in Southern Caucasia: A Preliminary Report on the 2002 Investigations by Project ArAGATS on the Tsakahovit Plain, Republic of Armenia
The Late Bronze Age (ca. 1500–1200 B.C.) in southern Caucasia marked the first appearance of a radically altered regional sociopolitical tradition founded upon newly empowered elites sequestered in fortified citadels. The archaeology of the era indicates a significant break from the preceding Middle Bronze Age, when large burial mounds and a dearth of settlement sites have long suggested the prevalence of pastoral nomadism and mobile sociopolitical institutions. The patterns of social order and institutional formation that developed in the Late Bronze Age appear to have endured well into the Iron Age, exerting a profound impact upon later historical empires, such as Urartu. The investigations of Project ArAGATS are examining the rise of complex societies in Caucasia by detailing the nature of social organization and the apparatus of political authority that constituted this emergent tradition. Having completed an archaeological survey of the Tsakahovit Plain region in 2000, we initiated phase II of our investigations in 2002 with intensive excavations at Tsakahovit and Gegharot fortresses, two settlement sites with well-preserved strata from three major archaeological periods: the Kura-Araxes III phase of the Early Bronze Age, the Late Bronze Age, and the Yervandid period of the mid first millennium B.C. (sixth–third centuries B.C.). The Early Bronze Age settlement at Gegharot is notable not only for its unexpected large size, good preservation, and terraced construction, but also for the illumination it promises to shed on the terminal era of the Kura-Araxes horizon. With the discovery of stratigraphically superimposed Late Bronze Age and Yervandid occupations at Tsakahovit, continuing research at the site promises to shed light on both the initial emergence of sociopolitical complexity in southern Caucasia and the reconfiguration of local practices in the aftermath of the Urartian imperial collapse.