“Nerkin Naver” – Ashtarak Burial Site Reveals Its Ancient Treasures
Hakob Simonyan – “After the first dig, we knew the discovery was important” At a recent press conference, Hakob Simonyan, who heads the Cultural Inheritance Research Center attached to the RoA Ministry of Culture reported that certain discoveries have been made at the tombstone field at “Nerkin Naver”, located 3.5 kilometers west of the town of Ashtarak. (Nerkin naver: roughly translated-Lower cisterns) “For the past two months we have been working at the Nerkin Naver grave site, a very interesting historical monument dating to the second half of the third millennium and very unique to Armenia. We have about ten such sites in Armenia from that era, of which only 2-3 have been excavated. It was a time when certain signs of early government formation were occurring; definitive social stratification, burial rites for the upper class, domestication of the horse, professional weaponry and a very high quality gold and glass-making tradition,” Mr. Simonyan said. He noted that to date seven burial hills have been excavated that have dramatically altered our perceptions about our ancient history and culture. “The site corresponds to the residence of Aramanyak, the elder son of Hayk, as depicted by Movses Khorenatsi - “When Hayk defeated Bel, Aramanyak gathered his tribe and relocated to the southern slopes of Mt. Aragatz, between two babbling brooks.” “According to the chronological calculations of Ghevont Alishan, the battle between Hayk and Bel is estimated to have occurred in 2492 BC Radio-carbon dating analyses in Germany and America have resulted in a amazing match with this date. Naturally, much more needs to be done to arrive at a final result and much more material needs to be collected, but we have already come up with these interesting parallels,” Mr. Simonyan noted. The research center head claims that the horse bones found at Nerkin Naver are the oldest yet uncovered in Western Asia belong to a domesticated horse used for military purposes. Last year a colorful pitcher was unearthed with a picture depicting a herd of thoroughbreds. “This is also the oldest in terms of the ancient East. We don’t have anything of an earlier date,” Mr. Simonyan said. “The cemetery clearly belongs to a leading sovereign. We uncovered sixty-five colored vessels at the site. In other words, an entire exhibition revealed itself from under the earth. They were exquisitely decorated vessels using black paint on a red base. These images are depictions of our ancient fables and how people viewed the world and their place in it at the time,” Mr. Simonyan added. Patriarchal tomb – a link between Van and Orontid Dynasties This year, excavations started on eight burial mounds covering a diameter of 35 meters with a height of 4 meters. “At first, we started to call this area the patriarch’s mound. When we began digging the most we hoped to find was an average grave, with all the regular construction characteristics. However, from the first day we were in for a big surprise. We discovered a fairly large structure built on top. It measured 25 meters in length, 12 in width, and the walls were1.5 meters thick. According to prior figures in our possession, we can make a preliminary conjecture that it’s some sort of religious structure that has something to do with the belief system of our ancestors,” Mr. Simonyan said. The “temple” was probably built during the Van Dynasty (Urartu) and stood erect for about one thousand years; until the advent of Christianity. “What it all means is that we’ve uncovered an important historical transition from the Van Dynasty to the Yervanduni (Oronotid) Dynasty circa the 6th century BC. This is one of the most baffling questions of Armenian history; i.e. how did such a powerful eastern kingdom disappear, to be replaced by the Yervanduni Dynasty.” Mr. Simonyan noted. Layer of ash – possible remains of fire worship In the uppermost layer at Nerkin Naver, a room dating back to the 5th – 2nd century BC was unearthed having four stone bases on which wooden columns stood. Mr. Simonyan says that the room’s construction is similar to the roof structure mentioned by Xenophon when describing an Armenian dwelling. “This of course could be one of the temple’s rooms since on the eastern side a huge layer of ashes was unearthed. These ashes could be the remains of a temple devoted to fire worship. You know of course that before Christianity our rituals were based on fire worship,” the historian noted. Later on, when the site was abandoned, it became a cemetery during the Arshakunyats Dynasty (Arsacid). Inside the structure, 12 stone burial crypts were unearthed. “The major discoveries are still down the road. We’ve only gotten to the layer of the last stage of the Van Dynasty. But the walls still run 1 – 15 meters and underneath, according to our experience, there still might be a tomb from the Mid-Bronze Age,” Mr. Simonyan said. Outside of Western Armenia, 1st such temple structure found on RoA territory The historian added that the temple structure from the Van Dynasty is known to exist only in Western Armenia, the center of the former kingdom, and that this is the first of its kind unearthed in the Republic of Armenia. During the press conference, the question was raised to what extent had it been proven that the tombs were Armenian. Hakob Simonyan said that it was a difficult problem to directly link them to Armenians, but that there could be no doubt that the tombs were Aryan and belonged to the Indo-Europeans. “What this means is that the burial rites conducted here bear a striking resemblance to records dealing with the Aryan ceremonial procedure. (It is noted in the Indian Vedas, considered the earliest literary record of Indo-Aryan civilization, how a body should be buried, what sacrifices must be made, etc.) All the members of the royal family are cremated. Cremation is a purely Indo-Aryan ritual. You are aware that this ritual was practiced by the ancient Greeks, Persians and Indians. Thus, it was accepted practice throughout all Aryan peoples,” Mr. Simonyan noted. Hakob Simonyan claims that the burial site excavations prove that there existed a powerful, military society in Armenia that lived according to Aryan ritual; that manufactured professional arms and domesticated the horse. He will soon publish a lengthy article that will for the first time attempt to prove, on a scientific basis, that Armenia was one of the oldest homelands of the Aryans. Horse breeding – an Aryan identifier The other fact directly linked to the Aryans, according to Mr. Simonyan, is the horse. If it is accepted that a certain region is a center of horse breeding then it immediately follows that Aryans once lived there. Today, one of the most essential problems to be resolved is the location of the birthplace of horse breeding. The answer can shed light on a number of complex issues. “The horse was one of the most important attributes of the Indo-Europeans and Aryans. If we were able to establish that Armenia was the land where the horse was first used for military purposes, then we could subsequently state most definitely that the roots of European civilization were nurtured on Armenian lands. (This was a theory postulated by Gordon Childe, one of the great archeological synthesizers of the 20th century, in his seminal work, “The Aryans: a study of Indo-European origins”, 1926). Mr. Simonyan claims that the animal world unearthed in the burial site strikingly corresponds to the list of ritual animals noted in the Indian Vedas. In one of the tombs at Nerkin Naver a lion hide was found which probably belonged to the royal personage. “Of course, the hide wasn’t preserved but the claws were. They too were examined by a number of noted German specialists. After a three year investigation, the German specialists finally gave us a list of the animals sacrificed in that tomb. Just in that one chamber alone, 28 various animals had been sacrificed that symbolized the earth, sky, the underworld, i.e. the hierarchical composition of the universe that is specific to Indo-European mythology,” he said. Weapons going back to 2,300 BC according to radio-carbon dating Mr. Simonyan says that even though numerous types of weapons were unearthed, the most noteworthy were the swords. The oldest, according to radio-carbon dating, was found in Nerkin Naver from around 2,300 BC. A disc-shaped copper military insignia was also discovered during the excavations. Mr. Simonyan says that the excavations at Nerkin Naver will continue until late autumn. There are thirty individuals working at the site every day. Tiny picks and brushes are used with care to dig at the site that measures 1,000 square meters. “By laboriously peeling away the layers of our stone age, we are trying to uncover our ancient past. Afterwards it will be our sacred duty to preserve it. It goes without saying that we must preserve the monumental structure we unearthed. After the excavations, we will present a project outline to the Ministry of Culture which in turn will take it to the RoA government in order that this spectacular structure be reinforced or, better yet, restored and turned into a tourist center,” Mr. Simonyan said. The burial site at Nerkin Naver was quite extensive - thirty burial mounds have survived on six hectares. Seven of these have been excavated and work will begin on the eighth. “The international community must first be made aware of these discoveries. I have made an entrée into the Russian scientific community and have given lectures in Moscow, Ashkhabad and Berlin. Sadly, nothing has been published to date. It is extensive and difficult work that requires ample funding. Such government funding has only appeared this year,” Mr. Simonyan says. He points out that all the artifacts excavated from the Nerkin Naver site is handed over to the Museum of History. Large numbers of gold ornaments have been unearthed that require special preservation conditions and the Museum of History has such facilities. “It would be great if the entire site was turned into a tourist center and a museum built in the future,” Mr. Simonyan concluded.
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