Azerbaijan Georgia Turkey Project

The Caucasus and Anatolia, including the present-day nations of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey, are home to some of the world’s most ancient cultures. Throughout the region, prehistoric and historic cultures left a vast wealth of archaeological treasures that fascinate archaeologists and historians. In Azerbaijan, the majestic rock faces of Gobustan that project high above the shore of the Caspian Sea form the “canvas” on which hundreds of generations of artists inscribed their ancient rock art, beginning perhaps 20,000 years ago.

A number of bronze pendants similar to the circular ornament on the right were found in graves of the Eli Baba Cemetery near Tsalka, Georgia. The unidentified bronze object on the left, which was found in a location adjacent to the pendant, may have also been worn as a decorative item. Several other bronze artifacts such as pins and bracelets were discovered at this site.

Images of boats, animals, and people from Azerbaijan’s ancient past can be found among the rock art. The earliest traces of humankind’s prehistory in this ancient land were found at Dmanisi, Georgia, in 1991, where the remains of humanity’s 1.8 million-year-old ancestors were discovered. In Turkey, an intriguing repository of pottery at Ziyaretsuyu that can be traced to the 2nd century BC raises absorbing questions about travelers and settlers in the region.

For thousands of years, silk, gold, ivory, spices, and perfumes were transported across trade routes through the region that connected East Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. The peoples of the region are justly proud that today its historic status as a crossroad of trade and culture is being revived. This revival is partly a result of national independence since the dissolution of the Soviet Union and partly due to the relatively recent discovery of new large Caspian Basin hydrocarbon reserves. The construction of the massive pipelines system that carries both crude oil and natural gas through Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey to world markets spurred an unparalleled period of archaeological research in the region, which led to extraordinary finds along the pipelines route from the Caspian to the Mediterranean, and generated knowledge about the history and cultures of the region. In this and in many less tangible ways, the pipelines are a new gateway to the region’s past, and open a promising window to its future.

This small pot with lid from Yevlakh, located in central Azerbaijan, may have held a grave offering. A cord passed through a hole at the top may have secured the lid.

AGT – Ancient Heritage in the BTC-SCP Pipeline Corridor: Azerbaijan – Georgia – Turkey presents findings of a collaborative research initiative among archaeologists in Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey and their colleagues from the Smithsonian Institution’s Asian Cultural History Program, Office of Policy and Analysis, and Office of the Chief Information Officer. Our counterparts in the AGT region include the Gobustan National Historical Artistic Preserve, the Azerbaijan Institute of Archeology and Ethnography and the Georgian National Museum. The recovery, collection management, and interpretation of the archaeological data presented here were financed by BP and its coventurers in the Caspian projects as part of their efforts to protect the cultural resources uncovered during the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) crude oil and adjacent South Caucasus (SCP) natural gas pipelines. The archaeological surveys of the pipeline route began in 2000, before construction commenced. The construction, which began in 2003, was accompanied by teams of Azerbaijani, Georgian, Turkish, British, and American archaeologists who traveled the entire length of the pipelines, a journey that contributed to the story of known archaeological sites in addition to discovering hundreds of previously unknown and unexcavated sites.

Archaeology allows people to learn more about past civilizations and the story of humankind. At the level of nations, it provides a sense of identity and understanding not just of human diversity, but also of the interconnectedness of societies over time. It can be used to mobilize tourism and economic development. And it can be used to advance the discovery and application of scientific techniques. The pipeline project marks a significant advance in archaeology in the Caucasus, and has helped cast new light on the region’s past. Through exemplary excavation, multi-disciplinary analysis of findings, and dissemination through a wide range of media, most notably exhibitions and publications, the project has increased understanding of the region’s archaeological record.

“Pipelines awaken ancient history” archaeological exhibition in the Caspian Energy Centre at BP-operated Sangachal oil and gas terminal.

Equally important, through the AGT Pipelines Archaeology Program, the project is playing a critical role in building capacity by nurturing institutions in the host countries so that they are better able to work on their own, consistent with international standards. The project has gone beyond the immediate requirements specific to the archaeological work to undertake, as well, long-term engagement to strengthen local institutions that deal with the environment, cultural heritage, material culture, scientific, educational, and other areas relevant to the project. Local professionals have been able to extend their knowledge in many areas, such as project management; analyses and syntheses of findings; and conservation of the artifacts found. Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey are now positioned to approach archaeological projects with greater creativity and flexibility. Increased commitment will enable them to fully utilize the talents of well-trained professionals to uncover more of their fascinating pasts. The AGT Pipelines Archaeology Program will continue to emphasize capacity-building of organizations in the cultural heritage sector.

Preferred citation format:

Taylor, Paul Michael, Christopher R. Polglase, Najaf Museyibli, Jared M. Koller, and Troy A. Johnson
2010AGT - Ancient Heritage in the BTC-SCP Pipelines Corridor: Azerbaijan – Georgia – Turkey.
Published by the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. www.agt.si.edu
Launch Date: April 20, 2010

 

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