Site Overviews: Azerbaijan: Zayamchai & Tovuzchai: Early Iron Age Necropoli
Multiple graves at Zayamchai and Tovuzchai, two closely related necropoli excavated along the pipeline corridor in Azerbaijan, yielded extensive insights into the burial practices in the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age (approximately 1,400-700 BC).
In 2002, archaeologists of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography first recorded the Zayamchai necropolis (or “city of the dead”), located on the east banks of the river of the same name, during baseline surveys carried out during Stage 1 of the project. Subsequent excavations conducted in 2003 uncovered over 130 graves that yielded hundreds of intact pottery vessels, many unique bronze artifacts (including daggers, javelin points, and various decorative pieces), and other ritual objects. The findings indicate that advanced Late Bronze Age (Xojali-Gedabey) cultures were present in the Kura Valley at the end of the second millennium BC. The variety and skilled workmanship reflect a highly coherent, structured local society.
The project’s planning team rerouted the pipelines in this area to avoid impacting two other significant cultural heritage sites located nearby. One was a large and complex settlement that seems to date from the Late Bronze Age, and the second was a historic bridge crossing the Zayamchai that likely dates from the Middle Ages.
The Tovuzchai necropolis, uncovered on the west bank of the river of the same name, was similar to the necropolis at Zayamchai. The 80- plus graves excavated at this site during 2004 and 2005 similarly revealed a rich burial culture. Particularly noteworthy were the complete pots with the remains of the deceased; in some cases over 20 complete pots had been buried at the same time. Other items from the graves included bronze daggers and arrowheads, bronze bosses (a circular bulge or knoblike form protruding from a surrounding flatter area), and hundreds of beads made from carnelian, agate, and glass paste. The internments at the sites seem to have taken place over several hundred years without notable interruption.
The Tovuzchai graves were of two general types: shallow ones covered by rounded river stones, and deeper earthen ones. There is no clear pattern with respect to grave depth and composition of the items placed in them; some burial chambers were large but modestly furnished, while others were small but filled with rich arrays of burial items. In some, the skeletal remains were disarticulated; in others, the individuals were buried with animals. The head of the skeleton in one grave rested on a number of polished and painted ceramic plates and pots. This arrangement may reflect specific spiritual or religious beliefs. A bronze bracelet, bronze earring, and seashell and agate beads were found on or near the skeleton.
Several large storage vessels found in the nearby village may have been part of the same complex as Tovuzchai necropolis. Archaeological material recovered from the Tovuzchai necropolis indicates that a settlement had existed near this site for six or seven centuries.
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