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Nakhchivan: Development of paleolithic and neolithic periods

By Peter Tase

The presence of Paleolithic Period in the Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan has extensively been studied during the administration of Supreme Assembly Chairman, Mr. Vasif Talibov and under a direct supervision of the Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan in Nakhchivan City.  The Paleolithic Period dating back roughly 1 million years ago is evident in Nakhchivan thanks to its archeological treasures and precious tools that have been unearthed in the region of Ordubad and in the region of Sadarak.  Thanks to a few discoveries in the Ilikligaya Necropolis located in the South West direction of Tivi Village, Ordubad Region; there have been discovered stone tools as well as other unique sharp objects made out of local stones.  In Ilikligaya Necropolis there have also been explored materials that date back in the early bronze and iron ages, some of the items are made out of ceramic materials. These ceramic objects, dating back in the 2nd millennium B.C., in the late Bronze Age, consist of tea pots, cups, pieces of vase type dishes with perfectly burned grey color and a variety of small pitchers.  All of these ceramics were found in the Ilikligaya Area, in addition to a few Paleolithic stone tools.  Ilikligaya is a very old settlement located on the top of a hill, it’s very ancient buildings were built by unheeded rock pieces, the thickness of cultural layer reaches one meter, and ceramic items were burned in pink and grey color.

Another archeological site is the Kultapa territory in the village of Sadarak, region of Sadarak, an area – settlement – that stretches over five acres.  It is one of the prominent locations in Nakhchivan, due to its remarkable importance in the early Bronze Age and its cultural layers that take us back in the late Paleolithic period.  Just like in Ordubad; Kultapa Settlement is home of knapped stone tools, fragments of stone labor tools and cultural layers of clay mixed with ash, flint and obsidian pieces.  Moreover there have been found ash heaps, fire place remnants, stones of different shapes, air bricks as well as other construction remnants.

Additionally, in Kultapa many ceramic products were unearthed: such as clay table ware samples burned in grey and red color, painted table ware with painted red lines and uniquely designed in black.  According to local scholars, this settlement is a testimony of the local culture in the V millennium BC as well as brings to light new information about the Paleolithic Period in Nakhchivan.

The ancient human occupation and production evolution in the area of Nakhchivan remains unknown, however ample evidence in a number of archeological sites in Ordubad and Sadarak are a clear evidence of Paleolithic Societies in this region of Azerbaijan.  National and International Scientists, encouraged by the regional government of Nakhchivan, have conducted some important work in the caves of Kara Zaga, Damlama and Kazma; the latter cave has brought to light important scientific results.

In Kazma, archeologists were able to find 3 meters of archeological deposits that yielded 6 cultural levels, three of which (Nr. IV, V, and VI) had the presence of osteological remnants, as well as fireside (hearths) and stone tools dating to the Mousterian Period.  Level VI provided much more information and scientific data, including the discovery of two hearths circled with flat stones.  Most of the tool assemblage is composed of obsidian (97%), but 21 flint tools and 5 tools that are made of schist were also revealed and confirmed in the area.

A few awls and scrapers made of local stone were found together with much waste – obsidian or flint flakes and cores – while being a testimony for the first time on the presence of stone artifacts and extensive human work inside the cave.

In the level IV, there were found a few bone tools together with stone tools: they mostly consist of awls, knives and chisels; they are made of animal bone fragments.  The tools that originate from the Kazma cave share similarities with those encountered in other Mousterian Settlements located in the South Caucasus and Asia Minor.  The available evidence that emerged from the Kazma cave shows that the economic basis of the inhabitants in this region was hunting; while foraging and crops for the animals was ranked second in their cave activities.

The resent research on the Neolithic Period in the Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan has been fostered by very little information.  Indeed there are only a few Neolithic sites in the region: a recent survey conducted by Prof. Veli Bakhshaliyev (2006-2007) did not reveal any significant Neolithic site.

As a matter of fact, there are no sites that contain significant Neolithic occupation levels, since the famous excavations of Kültepe I in the 1950s.  Moreover, the Neolithic character of the earliest occupation layers of Kültepe I (level “1a”) is itself a matter of debate; that is mostly based on the interpretation of its painted pottery.  Depending on whether the unearthed painted pottery of Level 1A is either dated to the late Neolithic or to the early Chalcolithic Periods.  As a result the definitions and foundations of sources in reference to the Neolithic Period in Nakhchivan are very fragile.  It is clear however that Pre-Pottery Neolithic settlements are prominent by their absence, as “Level 1A” at Kültepe I belongs to a phase of ceramics that is attributed to the 7th Millennium B.C.

Moreover, Level 1A at Kültepe I bear a few similarities with Neolithic sites located in the Near East.  For example, square-planned houses are observed, that are in contrast with the circular architecture brought to light on the neighboring Neolithic site of Aratashen, Armenia.  At Kültepe I, house floors are plastered with a mixture of dry plant material and soil; some houses even contain traces of reed mats. A circular fireplace in the middle of the room provides light and heat.  The painted pottery from Level IA evoke near-eastern traditions but the available evidence seems closer to the painted pottery productions of the Amuq (phases B and C) such as Brittle Painted ware that is different from the Halaf or Pre-Halaf pottery.

Available data confirms the existence of an economy of production including agriculture and livestock breeding, in addition to hunting, a task that has played an important role.  Burials are attested both between houses and under the floors:  they contain one or two individuals buried together with tools and various ornaments.  Some skeletons bear traces of red paint, a tradition that is widely established throughout the world in earlier periods, especially during the Paleolithic Period.  However, similar burial practices, have also been unearthed in the Tigris Basin; based on extensive research, they belong to the Neolithic Period.

It must be noted that on the archeological site of Demirköy circa 9,850 B.C., there were found bones of a child with painted black and red stripes; such practices are testimony of either to pre-deposit body-decoration – where painted bones result from the remains of skin paint after the decomposition of flesh – or to the existence of post-deposit funeral ceremonies.

The presence at Kültepe I of sickle blades, knife blades and horn sickles is a strong and a credible indication of the advanced agricultural practices taking place in Nakhchivan.  Furthermore there is also available evidence of domestic activities such as: weaving, pottery making, stone and bone tool production.  Archeological research conducted in Nakhchivan, makes this region of Azerbaijan an important global asset towards shedding more light on the evolution of humanity’s economic progress, production and thinking capacity since the Paleolithic and Neolithic Periods.

Sources and references:

  1. “The Encyclopedia of Nakhchivan Monuments,” Nakhchivan – 2008; National Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan, Nakhchivan Branch, editorial board: Vasif Talibov, Vali Bakhshaliyev, Isa Habibbayli, Vali Huseynov, Abulfaz Guliyev, Tariyel Talibov, Vali Aliyev, Ismayil Hajiyev, Haji Gadir Gadirzadeh, Hajifakhraddin Safarli.
  2. Akhundov T. 2007 Sites de migrants venus du Proche-Orient en Transcaucasie.  In B. Lyonnet, Les Cultures du Caucasie, (VI-Illème millènaires avant notre ère).  Leurs Relations avec le Proche-Orient. CNRS Editions, ERC, Paris: 96-121.
  3. The Archeology of Nakhichevan: Ten Years of New Discoveries; Veli Bakhshaliyev, Catherine Marro; 2009. Zero Production Ltd. Abdullah Sokak No. 17 Taksim, Istanbul – Turkey.

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Peter Tase

Peter Tase is a contributor, freelance journalist and a research scholar of International Affairs, Paraguayan Studies, Middle East Studies and Latin American Affairs, located in the United States. Educated at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and Marquette University Les Aspin Center for Government; Tase is the author of “Simultaneous Dictionary in Five Languages: Guarani, English, Italian, Albanian and Spanish” and “El Dr. FEDERICO FRANCO y Su Mandato Presidencial en la Historia del Paraguay.” He’s a frequent contributor to Foreign Policy News. His personal website is www.petertase.com

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