Azerbaijan Georgia Turkey Project

Pipelines to Cultural Heritage
Proceedings of the International Workshop

Pipelines to Cultural Heritage: an Introduction

By Paul Michael Taylor

These proceedings present a compilation of papers on the archaeology of the BTC-SCP Pipeline Corridors, entitled the “Pipelines to Cultural Heritage Workshop” and held from April 20 to 23, 2010, at the Park Inn Azerbaijan Hotel, in Baku, Azerbaijan. The workshop serves as one part of the collaborative work done by the Smithsonian Institution (particularly the Smithsonian’s Asian Cultural History Program, the Office of the Chief Information Officer, and the Office of Policy and Analysis), in cooperation with the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography (Baku, Azerbaijan), the Gobustan Historic and Artistic Preserve (Azerbaijan), and the Georgian National Museum (Tbilisi, Georgia).

The Caucasus and Anatolia, the region of the present day nations of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, are home to some of the world’s most ancient cultures. For thousands of years, peoples have passed through and settled in this crossroads while moving between Asia, Africa, Arabia, Europe and Eurasia. The earliest traces of humankind’s prehistory in this ancient land were found at Dmanisi, Georgia in 1999, where 1.8 million year old hominid remains were discovered. In Azerbaijan, Gobustan Reserve’s ancient rock art provides evidence of human industry and artistic achievements as far back as perhaps 20,000 years ago. These cultures have left behind a vast wealth of archeological treasures.

The international workshop co-organized by the Smithsonian Institution, the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography (Baku, Azerbaijan), the Gobustan Artistic and Historic Preserve (Azerbaijan), and the Georgian National Museum, brought together scholars of the region in order to assess and interpret the cultural heritage findings along the BTC-SCP pipeline corridors. Panels highlighted and attempted to interpret the linkages in the richly layered cultural history of the region, brought together again today through their participation in the pipeline project. Other panels will address the issues of historic site preservation, salvage archaeology, and museum development that characterize the cultural heritage of the region.

This preliminary thematic overview briefly summarizes the papers presented at this workshop, which in turn will serve as the starting point for discussions among the participants and other interested parties. In addition to the presentation of each expert’s findings, included within these Proceedings, other aspects of the workshop provided an opportunity for sharing information about the process of heritage preservation, through the methods of site surveys, excavations, and subsequent preservation and study of finds that were made possible through the development of this pipeline.

The papers in these proceedings are primarily divided between Georgian and Azerbaijani contributors. The Georgia section is subsequently organized according to regions studied, including Kvemo Kartli, Trialeti, and Samtskhe. The first paper is entitled “Bronze Age Burials at Tqemlara” by Zebede Shatberashvili, Vakhtang Shatberashvili, and Vakhtang Nikolaishvili (Download PDF in English and Georgian). During construction of the BTC pipeline, archaeological sites were discovered in Tqemlara, an ancient settlement located within the present-day region of Kvemo Kartli. This led the Tetrisqaro Expedition of the Centre of Archaeological Research to investigate several kurgans (burial mounds) dating to the Early and Middle Bronze Age. Diagnostic material identified both the Martqopi and Bedeni types of Early Kurgan Culture amongst the kurgan sites. While each subculture practiced the ritual of burying their deceased in kurgans, Bedeni kurgans are distinguished by their inclusion of wooden carts in the tomb. The chronology of cultural development between the older Kura-Araxes Culture and the Martqopi and Bedeni styles of Early Kurgan culture remains undefined. Archaeologists have yet to connect excavated paths with kurgans, as they have been able to do with ritual paths in other regions such as Trialeti. However, regardless of these insufficiencies in data and analysis, this investigation has enhanced our understanding of Early Kurgan Culture in the Early to Middle Bronze Age.

The first paper concerning the Trialeti region is “The Paleolandscapes of the Tsalka Plateau in the Late Pleistocene and Holocene” by Eliso Kvavadze and Goderzdi Narimanishvili (Download PDF in English and Georgian). The authors of this chapter conducted palynological analysis of dust spectra from settlements in the Tsalka plateau to determine climate change in the region over time. Findings indicated that the climate went through several cycles of warming and cooling over the last 15,000 years. When correlating these findings with the archaeological record, Kvavadze and Narimanishvili determined that climate substantially conditioned the economies of civilizations in the region. Climate optimums were reached at the end of the 4th millennia BC and beginning of the 2nd millennia BC, coinciding with the first, second, and third stages of the Middle Bronze Age. Similarly, population density was greatest in settlements between the 15th and 5th c. BC and the 7th to 13th c. AD, both periods with relatively warm climates. During periods of warmth, agriculture, viticulture, and horticulture industries were able to thrive. As temperatures dropped, thermophilic plant varieties perished and civilizations became more dependent on livestock. Populations rose in the Middle Ages and the effects of deforestation become noticeable in the palynological record. Today, the only natural forest massifs persist in the deep gorges of the Ktsia Basin.

Goderzdi Narimanishvili describes the culture of Trialeti in the Late Bronze Age in “Trialeti in the 15th and 14th Centuries BC” (Download PDF in English and Georgian). Excavations of archaeological sites at Beshtasheni, Ozni and Santa settlements and Imera and Sapar-Kharaba cemeteries revealed a uniform cultural complex dating to the 15th-14th c. BC which K. Pitskhelauri has referred to as the “Trialeti Splendid Kurgan Culture” or the Bareti culture. This chapter provides a thorough explanation of the varieties and features of “Cyclopean” settlements and pit burials common among Bareti cultural sites. Though it was originally believed that the transition from the Middle to Late Bronze Age occurred between the 15th-14th c. BC, further analysis and specificity allowed archaeologists to divide the time periods into phases and more accurately define the chronology of cultural development. Subsequently, the archaeological sites of the Bareti culture have been attributed to Phase II of the Late Bronze Age.

The assemblage of artifacts at Bareti culture sites in the Trialeti region suggests a great degree of economic and cultural interaction between the Southern Caucasus region and Near East civilizations, particularly the Hurrian-Mitannian Empire. This exchange is made evident by the presence of Mitannian cylinder seals and imported items such as textiles, scarabs, vases and beads associated with Mesopotamian, Anatolian, Egyptian, Iranian, and Afghani cultures. Based on osteological material, the author hypothesizes that the Trialeti region’s main export at the time was horses to Anatolia and South Caucasia, which became essential to trade in those regions in the following centuries.

The unique presence of several threshing boards in Trialeti is the subject of Bidzina Murvandize’s chapter, “Burials with the Threshing Boards from Eli-Baba Cemetery” (Download PDF in English and Georgian). The excavation of the Eli-Baba cemetery on the Trialeti Plain revealed the presence of 44 pit-graves and 83 cists dating from the 8th-6th centuries BC. Murvandize was interested in the large distribution of threshing boards among the graves, as this artifact is relatively scarce in South Caucasia. Since the common belief concerning objects in graves is that they symbolize the deceased’s occupation, the large quantity of threshing-boards suggests that many members of the community were chiefly occupied with the cultivation and harvest of wheat. While threshing boards are relatively uncommon at sites in Southern Caucasia, they are often found at sites in the Near East, particularly Syria. Therefore, the author hypothesizes that the large presence of threshing-boards indicates Eli-Baba was a cultural link between societies of Caucasia and the Near East.

A collective of authors, Goderzdi Narimanishvili, Juansher Amiranashvili, Marine Kvachadze, and Nino Shanshashvili, contributed the chapter, “Archaeological Sites at Avranlo” (Download PDF in English and Georgian). Though archaeologists have been aware of Avranlo for over a century, the only excavation prior to the BTC pipeline project was conducted by B. Kuftin in the 1940s. The recent work of archaeologists has significantly expanded the breadth of information available on these sites, which hosted multiple civilizations between the Paleolithic and Medieval eras and for centuries served as a crossroads for travelers in the Southern Caucasus region. Based on the material record, a significant settlement appears to have emerged in the Early Bronze Age, persisting until the 12th-11th c. BC, as evidenced by the presence of Samtavro cultural artifacts. Notable archaeological features include a “Cyclopean” fortress from the Late Bronze Age, an early Christian monastery from the 6th c. AD, and a burial dating to the 4th-3rd century BC, the only of its kind discovered so far in the Trialeti region.

Malkhaz Baramidze and Guranda Pkhakadze cover several cultural epochs in their chapter, “The Settlement of Chorati” (Download PDF in English and Georgian). The Chorati settlement is located near the town of Vale in the Akhaltsikhe district of Samtskhe. Like many archaeological sites in the area, such as the settlement at Orchosani, this site was unknown to archaeologists before construction of the pipeline. Artifacts have been discovered from several cultures on the Chorati terrace, including the Eneolithic “Early Farming Culture,” Late Bronze Age, and early Medieval period. At the excavation site, archaeologists uncovered 21 pits and three rooms within a cultural stratum dating the settlement to the early Middle Ages (4th-9th c. AD). The artifacts were diagnostic of the kingdom of Kartli and corroborate with theories that the Kingdom of Kartli vastly expanded between the 1st and 4th centuries AD.

Analysis of archaeological remains dating to the Medieval Ages is the subject of David Mindorashvili’s chapter, “Tiseli Settlement” (Download PDF in English and Georgian). Tiseli was one of many villages located in Samtskhe during the Late Medieval period. The settlement likely dates to the 15-16th c. AD, just before the spread of the Ottoman Empire into South Georgia. The material record uncovered through recent excavations suggests the presence of a peasant community occupied with cereal production, viticulture, wine-making, and livestock breeding. Archaeologists can look to Tiseli’s layout of closely spaced residential and domestic buildings as an example of Late Medieval approaches to settlement planning in South Georgia. As the settlement was situated along several trade routes in its time, it is likely that further archaeological surveys would produce an even greater and more diverse material assemblage.

Surveying the findings from several sites in Samtskhe, archaeologists Vakhtang Licheli and Giorgi Rcheulishvili assess the development of wine-making in the region in their chapter, “Wine-making in Antiquity in the Light of Evidence from Excavations at Samtskhe” (Download PDF in English and Georgian). The history of wine-making in Samtskhe region of Georgia dates from the 6th millennia BC to the modern age. Recently archaeologists excavated a site in Atsquri which represents a culture occupied with wine-production in Medieval Samtskhe. The close connection between viticulture, economy and spirituality of the occupants in the region is evident in the material record. Notably, primitive strains of grapevine appear in the palynological record, indicating that viticulturists of the time were less inclined to pruning their vineyards. The authors of this chapter speculate this may have been caused by frequent warfare occurring in the region at the time. Today, though Samtskhe’s climate is no longer ideally-suited for the cultivation of grapevines, resilient strains persist and wine-making remains important to the region.

The final Georgian paper presented at the workshop, Oleg Bendukidze’s “The Jinisi horse: and Some Thoughts on the Role of the Onager in the Bronze Age,” (Download PDF in English and Georgian) pertains to the domestication of the onager and the horse in Bronze Age Georgia. Bendukidze infers from the archaeological record that the horse was domesticated fairly late in South Caucasia (at least not before the second millennium BC), especially when compared to the Asian and European horse’s taming. Numerous examples exist which demonstrate domesticated onagers during the Middle Bronze Age however, specifically in regions that neighbor Georgia, such as the famous standard of Ur, a four-wheeled chariot powered by four onagers. Currently, there is no evidence that domesticated horses and onagers inhabited the same location simultaneously in ancient Georgia. The author presents some interesting artifacts, such as bridles and remnants of ancient saddles, which date to the Late Bronze Age, and further strengthen his argument of a later domestication. Bendukidze argues that the horse replaced the onager in South Caucasia based on the horse’s superior strength, as evidenced by only two horses needed to pull the standard of Ur at the same efficiency as four onagers.

The papers submitted by Azerbaijani archaeologists have been divided between project overviews and more detailed field studies. The first overview is entitled, “The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) and South Caucasus Pipeline (SCP) Projects and the Cultural Heritage of Azerbaijan,” by M.N. Ragimova (Download PDF in English and Russian), the director of the Institute of Archeology and Ethnography of the Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences. In coordination with the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography and the Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences, the BTC oil pipeline and SCP natural gas pipeline projects have conducted extensive archaeological excavations throughout Azerbaijan. Teams of ecologists, soil scientists, geographers, zoologists, botanists, and archaeologist collaborated to assess both the environmental and cultural impact construction would have on the landscape. The assessment was conducted in five stages between 2001 and 2008. After surveying the pipeline route, excavating sites, analyzing and processing the material found, and preparing reports, the work was presented at the international science workshop, “Archaeology, Ethnology, and Folklore of the Caucasus,” in April 2010. While this project did not contribute greatly to science, it provided useful training to Azeri archaeologists who will advance the science of archaeology in Azerbaijan in the future.

Najaf Museyibly expands upon Ragimova’s summation in their chapter, “Archaeological Excavation along the Route of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) and South Caucasus Natural Gas (SCP) Pipelines, 2002-2005” (Download PDF in English and Russian). The precedent for conducting archaeology prior to over-land development projects was set in the 1940s during the constructions of the Mingyachevir hydropower station. The archaeological investigations related to the BTC-SCP pipeline project uncovered a diverse material record of over 40,000 artifacts, representing several historical periods between the Eneolithic period and Middle Ages. These investigations enhanced archaeologists abilities to trace the development of cultures on a chronological scale, particularly regarding migrations, economic development, and the influx of early Christian influences.

Malahat Farajova, Director of the Gobustan Historical-Artistic Reserve, provides an insightful overview of a rock art tradition that spans perhaps 20,000 years. “Cultural Landscape of the Archaeological Complex of Gobustan” (Download PDF in English) details the evolution of the rock art carvings at Gobustan through both a chronological and geographical analysis. Careful to acknowledge the difficulties facing petroglyph specialists, the author highlights a few distinguished examples of rock art that point to technical and stylistic patterns, as well as note potential geological processes that could explain the deterioration of some of the petroglyphs. Farajov also extrapolates on the lifestyles of past inhabitants of Gobustan through the settlement remains and burial sites uncovered within the Reserve and their likely connection to nearby rock art panels. Finally, the author employs an ethnographic analysis of the local population’s religious and martial rituals to further deduce ancient behavior.

The field studies submitted to this workshop detail excavations at cultural heritage sites from the Eneolithic Period to the Medieval Era. The first paper in this final section is “Ancient Archaeological Monuments along the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) Oil and South Caucasus Natural Gas Pipeline,” by G. Goshgarly (Download PDF in English and Russian). Archaeological excavations completed along the BTC-SCP pipeline corridor revealed several ancient settlements and necropolis dating to the Albanian period (4th-3rd c. BC to 7th-8th c. AD). The author of this chapter is most interested in the burials found at these sites as they provide evidence that intensive social and cultural developments occurred over these centuries. While soil burials and ceramic jars (kyupas) were commonly found in the area in increasing numbers, wooden coffins were discovered less frequently. Wooden coffins were likely reserved for the rich and powerful and suggest the presence of a social hierarchy within the settlement.

Excavations dating to the Late Bronze and Early Iron Age epochs are the subject of Shamil Najafov’s chapter, “Late Bronze and Early Iron Age Monument in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) Oil and South Caucasus (SCP) Natural Gas Pipeline Route: The Zaymchay and Tovuzchay” (Download PDF in English and Azerbaijani). The excavations of necropolis in the Zayamchay and Tovuzchay basins provided a wealth of material culture diagnostic of the Khojali-Gadabay culture. The artifacts, dating to the Late Bronze and Early Iron Age, give archaeologists an impression of the way of life during this period. Variance in grave types implies a degree of social stratification existed and the orientation of the deceased towards the sun suggests the practice of rituals related to solar and astral beliefs. As a result of this archaeological investigation, there is rejuvenated interest in this period of Azerbaijan’s history amongst Azeri scholars.

The final paper in these workshop Proceedings is B.M. Jalilov’s chapter entitled, “Investigation of Medieval Archaeological Monuments” (Download PDF in English and Azerbaijani). Jalilov investigated several residential areas along the BTC pipeline, including First Hajialili, Fakhrali, Dashbulag, and Gyrag Kassaman. Excavations produced pottery, stone tools, glass-ware, metal-ware, and fossils. The sites represented rural, sedentary, medieval societies that subsisted on planting and cattle-breeding between the 9-13th centuries. The varying intensity of archaeological deposits at the sites indicated a free-plan social structure throughout. These sites were particularly useful to scholars as there is an insufficient material record for rural, medieval residential sites in Azerbaijan.

Washington, D.C.
June 8, 2011

Suggested citations

Taylor, Paul Michael (ed.). Pipelines to Cultural Heritage: Proceedings of the International Workshop. 2011.

Cite individual contributions within the Proceedings, e.g.:
Taylor, Paul Michael. “Pipelines to Cultural Heritage: An Introduction” in: P.M. Taylor (ed.) Pipelines to Cultural Heritage: Proceedings of the International Workshop. 2011.


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