W10 – The Spread of Urartu

Organizers: Walter Kuntner (Universität Innsbruck) — Sandra Heinsch-Kuntner (Universität Innsbruck) — Roberto Dan (Associazione Internazionale di Studi sul Mediterraneo e l'Oriente) — Katia Gavagnin (Università Ca' Foscari Venezia) — Michael Herles (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München)


  1. Roberto Dan (Associazione Internazionale di Studi sul Mediterraneo e l'Oriente)
  2. Walter Kuntner (Universität Innsbruck)
  3. Michael Herles (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München)
  4. Miqayel Badalyan ("Erebuni" Historical & Archaeological Museum-Reserve)
  5. Hayk Avetisyan and Arsen Bobokhyan (Yerevan State University)
  6. Manuel Castelluccia (Associazione Internazionale di Studi sul Mediterraneo e l'Oriente)
  7. Katia Gavagnin (Università Ca' Foscari Venezia)
  8. Vakhtang Licheli (Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University)
  9. Sandra Heinsch-Kuntner (Universität Innsbruck)
  10. Stephan Kroll (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München)
  11. Brigit Danthine (Universität Innsbruck)

General Abstract

Since its beginning, the archaeological investigation of Urartu has been strongly oriented towards Urartian cuneiform writings. Such an approach is indeed essential for the contextualisation of the archaeological sources as well as for the reconstruction of the political history. But it caused at the same time an adverse restriction of archaeological investigation on politico-military aspects. That is on fortresses as the most representative reflection of Urartian governance. Although contemporaneous settlements as well as so-called Early Iron Age fortresses were thoroughly surveyed and excavated, their evidence has not be taken equivalently into account when assessing the character of the kingdom of Urartu. This attitude derives from a too literary reading of Urartian inscriptions whose content has often led scholars to interpret the concomitant mention of the founding of Urartian strongholds and the destruction of several dozens of fortresses and villages as a general cultural break. In this regard archaeological evidence is lacking so far, not least because of a likewise historical biased periodization of Iron Age chronology.
The workshop „The Spread of Urartu“ aims to continue the concept of dualism defined by the editors of the Biainili-Urartu Symposium held in Munich in 2009 by focusing the discussion on the regional development and the interrelation of the material cultures within the lands of Urartu and the neighbouring regions during the Late Bronze and Iron Ages. The evaluation of the impact the formation, advent and fall of the kingdom of Biai/Urartu has had on these regions is equally a central issues here as the question to what extent these regions may have influenced this progression actively or indirectly. The relative approach in assessing the political organisation of the kingdom of Biai/Urartu ultimately intends to synchronise the periodizations of Late Bronze and Iron Ages currently in use in Southern Caucasia.

General Contact: Walter.Kuntner@uibk.ac.at

Paper Titles with Abstracts

To view the abstracts, please click on the titles:

The Armenian Highlands during the Iron Age: An Overview
Roberto Dan (Associazione Internazionale di Studi sul Mediterraneo e l'Oriente)

The Iron Age in the Armenian Highlands was strongly marked by an increasing hierarchical political organization, which started from chiefdoms (Nairi, Uruaṭri, Etiuni), proceeded to the formation of a state (Bia/Urartu) and ended with annexation to an empire (Achaemenid). This presentation is intended as an evaluation and analysis of the impact of the increasingly hierarchically complex political organization, which characterized this territory during the Iron Age. A particular focus is on the formation process of the state of Bia/Urartu, its development, and its cultural inheritance during the post-Urartian period up to the beginning of the Achaemenid presence in the Armenian Highlands.

The Occupation Sequence of the Central Fort of Aramus and the Lchashen-Metsamor Horizon
Walter Kuntner (Universität Innsbruck)

The fortress of Aramus represents one of the biggest Urartian fortresses in nowadays Armenia. It was founded by Argishti I. in the context of the foundation of the royal capital at Erebuni and of the military expansion of the kingdom of Biainili to the region of Lake Sevan. The Armenian-Austrian excavations at Aramus revealed a continuous occupation defined on the basis of the constructional maintenance of the Central Fort from the 8th to 3rd century BCE. The ceramic material associated to the occupation is consistently characterised by Lchashen-Metsamor ceramic culture traditions, thus displaying a strong continuity of the local culture despite the origin and function of the foundation of the fortress and the more than one-century-long use by the kings of Biainili. The paper will focus on the ceramic material of the Late Urartian levels Aramus III and II and questioning its chronological significance for the understanding of the Biainili-Urartu relation.

At the northern Border of Urartu: Investigations at Oshakan and in the Lori Province (Armenia)
Michael Herles (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München)

The Urartian hegemony took the political control over a region in the southern part of the modern Republic of Armenia from the 8th century BC onwards. The site of Oshakan (located in the province of Aragatsotn) is seen as a border fortress in the northern part of the Urartian empire. A settlement and a necropolis are documented in the surrounding area as well. The new investigations in the necropolis uncovered tombs which can be dated to the 11.-9. century BC. This period predates the Urartian conquest of the region and the tombs can be considered as relicts of the local population; in this case of the Etiuni, a conquered people known from the Urartian royal inscriptions. A small tower called Pokr Blur in the south of the fortress might be dating in the same period.

A preliminary Report on the 2016-2017 Excavations of Odzaberd (Tsovinar)
Miqayel Badalyan (Head of the "Karmir Blur" branch of the "Erebuni" Historical & Archaeological Museum-Reserve)

Odzaberd is located on the south-eastern shore of lake Sevan (Republic of Armenia). According to cuneiform inscription situated on the north-west cliff of the fortress, here the Urartian monarch Rusa I built a fortress after the Storm God (Teišeba). The settlement consists of a citadel, the fortress, and the outer town. The excavations of 2016 focused on the outer town, located south of the fortress. In this area, two rooms dated to the post-Urartian period (end of VII century-VI century B.C.) have been excavated. According to the deep sounding done in Room 01 it became clear that the above-mentioned rooms were built on the bases of VIII-VI cc. B.C.  structures.
In 2017 the fieldwork mainly was focused on the eastern part of the fortress (areas D1, D2, E, G). Based on our preliminary observations, here were fixed structures and different occupation layers dating from the VIII/VII centuries B.C. to the Medieval period. We believe that during the post-Urartian period the settlement was an important center in the region.  In these times, the local imitation of pottery and mud-brick superstructure traditions are visible. Hopefully, the C14 samples sent for analysis will give a more precise dating.

Urartu vs. Etiuni: The Power of Written Sources and the Importance of Archaeological Legacy
Hayk Avetisyan and Arsen Bobokhyan (Yerevan State University)

Investigations of last years reveal multiple layers within Urartian state and society. It becomes clear that the Urartian state consisted of various cultural and ethnic elements, the bearers of which, however, could share similar value systems, which, with their clear mountainous nature, strived to immitate the lowland way of life and through it created a distinct elite and corresponding administrative structure. The representatives of this elite belonged to one of the ethnic groups of the highland zone between the Taurus and the South Caucasus – the Urartians, which spread in all directions of the mentioned region. In atmosphere of more than two hundred years long (the 8th and the 7th centuries BC) coexistence of the Urartian elite and local cultural groups in various sub-regions, preconditions for their real symbiosis were created. The present paper aims at presenting the mentioned process, according to recent archaeological works conducted in north-eastern regions of the spreading of Urartian kingdom (the land Etiuni, which mostly corresponds with modern Armenia). Particularly the dichotomy between written and archaeological sources concerning the problem of Urartu will be considered on theoretical niveau.

Urartian Metalwork: Features, Origins, Problems
Manuel Castelluccia (Associazione Internazionale di Studi sul Mediterraneo e l'Oriente)

Metalwork artifacts constitute one of the most distinctive features of the Urartian Kingdom, whose metal objects are widely found in museums and private collections throughout the world. Urartian craftsmen were probably more prolific in their production of bronze objects than those of any other culture of the ancient Near Eastern.
In recent decades many important publications have been dedicated to the study of Urartian metalwork and have furnished a detailed picture of the general outlines of Urartian art.
However, it is well known among specialists that most of these objects come from plundered sites, whether tombs or settlements – and some are probably even forgeries. Too often the description of such artifacts is associated with a phrase such as “said to come from . . .”, which usually proposes various hypotheses of provenance.
The aim of this contribution is to analyze the Urartian metalwork production, identifying the main types, features and the sources of inspiration by taking into consideration only those of certain and recognized provenance.

The Late Bronze/Iron Age in the Southern Caucasus: Problems of Definition and new Data from Shida Kartli (Georgia)
Katia Gavagnin (Università Ca' Foscari Venezia)

The main problem for the Late Bronze/Iron Age in the South-Caucasian region is represented by the difficulty in distinguishing, in material culture, what may be the effect of chronological developments from what might be attributed to different contemporary cultures (Lchaschen-Tsitelgori, Samtavro, etc.), in a general situation, which appears to be characterised by a very strong continuity especially in ceramic production. This long span of time is thus still difficult to subdivide into chronological sub-phases, as there is, indeed, no clear definition of different Late Bronze/Iron Age cultural horizons. Recent excavations carried out by the Georgian-Italian Shida Kartli Archaeological Project at the sites of Natsargora and Aradetis Orgora give us the possibility to re-examine the local sequences and to attempt a definition of different phases of Late Bronze/Iron occupation. The paper will introduce the general problems of the period's    periodization and present the Late Bronze/Iron Age sequence from the two sites.

Pre – Urartian Innovation in Eastern Georgia
Vakhtang Licheli (Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University)

The second half of the 2nd millennium BC. and the beginning of the 1st millennium BC. is marked with an important changes in the Caucasus. Researches that were held in the latest times revealed totally particular innovation that radically changed cultural and political history of this period.
These are two inscriptions unearthed on Grakliani Gora (Eastern Georgia), which date 10th  century BC. The scripts found on Grakliani Gora are earlier almost  two centuries, than the earliest Urartian inscriptions that were known before. These scripts are complied with two different written language systems.
On the 3rd terrace, remains of small building was unearthed (6 X 2,7 m). Massive clay construction - altar attached to West wall of the building was revealed with scattered fragments of different size ceramic vessels. There are three signs (“A inscription”) on the north corner of the altar.
In the central part of the building 0,5 m distance from northern wall small size( 0,55 X 0,40 m)  clay altar  was revealed, which according to the plan has shape of dish with rounded angels  and raised sides. Ash remains are observed in this small area. Presumably south part of altar was elevated and accordingly altar was   attached to northern wall. It was placed on clay pedestal. On forehead of the pedestal there is an inscription.  Length of the inscription (“B inscription”) is 0,8 m and height – 0,007 m.
At East corner of the pedestal  burnt log (d = 12 cm)  was shown which indicates that additional, special construction was arranged for this altar inside the temple interior and accordingly we can assume that this altar was of great significance. This wooden log was used as a short column supporting clay stele with engraved information on it and the sheep’s head’s clay sculpture on the top.
Grakliani inscription is the earliest on the territory of Caucasus.

Khovle Gora at the Time of the Kingdom of Urartu (9th-7th century BCE)
Sandra Heinsch-Kuntner (Universität Innsbruck)

The site of Khovle Gora represents one of the key sites to study the development of the ceramic material culture in Shida Kartli from Late Bronze to Iron Ages. A fundamental aspect in Muskhelishvili`s works on the material of Khovle Gora constitutes the sudden appearance of red wares in the assemblages of Levels IV-III ascribed to an emergent Late Urartian influence in the 6th century BCE. The paper will present the results of the Georgian-Austrian excavations conducted in Early Iron Age settlements by comparing the ceramic material from the fortified settlement on top of the main mound of Khovle Gora with that from the settlement located immediately to the east. The focus is set on the question whether and to what extent relations can be drawn to the material culture of the contemporaneous Lchashen-Metsamor horizons in Armenia (LM-5/6) characterised by Urartian influence and the Lchashen-Tsitelgori horizon in Georgia in order to reassess its chronological setting in Shida Kartli.

Notes on Urartian Architecture
Stephan Kroll (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München)

In the Urartu euphoria of the last century some features were labeled Urartian though this attribution today looks doubtful. Not all rock-cut tombs within the territory of Urartu were in fact constructed by Urartians; in the same way stepped rock-cut tunnels belong to a later period. Some city walls surrounding an Urartian site belong to a later period too. And some sites in NW-Iran called Median by Kleiss/Kroll are not Median at all but Hellenistic. Domestic architecture partly was of so poor quality that excavators at Hasanlu or Bastam questioned if it could be Urartian.

The Iron-Age Settlement of Anaqizli Tepe (Chors) in Nord-West Iran
Brigit Danthine (Universität Innsbruck)

In 2016 the University of Innsbruck together with ICAR and RICHT started excavations at Anaqizli Tepe north of the modern village of Chors in north-west Iran within the project “The Spread of Urartu”. The surface ceramic of the hill proofs a continuous settlement sequence from the Middle Bronze to the Iron IV Ages. The major aim of the archaeological investigation is set on the Iron Age settlement to enlighten the dichotomy and interaction between the local settlement and the fortresses Bastam located 12 km north-west of Chors. On the basis of a detailed stratified sequence a settlement ceramic-typology will be worked out in order to be compared both with the fortress ceramic-typology established at Bastam by the German excavations and with the local development based on the results of for example Hasanlu, Kordlar Tepe and Dinkha Tepe.

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