Ughtasar Petroglyphs

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V - II millenium BC - Syunik Marz

Ughtasar Petroglyphs
Ughtasar Lake
Ughtasar Petroglyphs
Ughtasar Petroglyphs

One of Armenia's least known and interesting attractions is to be found at the top of Ughtasar Mountain. Aside from the natural beauty of the mountaintop valley, the views and the small lake, there is an abundance of ancient petroglyphs which are between four and seven thousand years old. Unfortunately, this is one of the most difficult places to reach, with a solid 4x4 needed and with no real roads leading up to it, compounded by a short visiting season. See the "Getting there" section below for details.

Rock—carvings are a unique source for the study of ancient culture. Discovered on the territory of Armenia, they have been know as "Itsagir", i.e., goat-letters, and though they attracted the attention of certain investigators at the beginning of the 20th century, they were not studied at that time. Interest in rock art monuments grew during the first decades of the 20th century, when A. Kalantar indulged himself in their study. Unfortunately, very little has been preserved from the rich material collected by him. A. P. Deniyokhin also took part in the discovery of rock carvings in Armenia. During field studies the archaeologist S.H. Sardarian has discovered numerous rock carvings on the slopes of Aragats and the Gueghama mountains. Groups of rock carvings have also been found in Western Armenia. In 1966 exceptionally rich centres of rock-carvings were discovered in historical Syunik. The archaeological expedition of the Institute of Archaeology of the Armenian Academy of Sciences began its studies in Syunik in 1967—1968, and discovered a large number of carvings on several thousand rocks in historical Syunik, i.e., in the regions of Sisian, Yeghegnadzor and Azizbekov. The collection of these rock carvings arouses a great deal of interest among various specialists, particularly archaeologists. The present collection comprises only a small amount of the material gathered at Syunik, being the main groups of rock carvings of Ughtasar; the rest will be published gradually in the next volumes of this series. The recently discovered rock art monuments occupy the territory of several dozen kilometres along the mountains near Tsghouk, on the slopes of Ughtasar, at the feet of the Vartenis mountain chain, and the sources of the Yeghegis, Arpa and Vorotan rivers. The rock carvings discovered to date are so numerous that it is not possible to include even the most necessary ones in one large volume. More than 2000 decorated rocks were discovered at Ughtasar, in the region of Sisian. The big centres of rock carving art, Ughtasar and Jer'majur, are in the region of Sisian about 3300 metres above sea level. Here, in the mountain meadows where cattle breeders settle in summer, the soil is rich with Alpine flora. Along the area, in the valleys and near the rock-chains as well as around the small lakes, one can see traces of ruined dwelling sites, cromlechs and various graves. The study of these rock-carvings is possible only during summer months. Most of the time, nearly nine months of the year, the rocks are thickly covered with snow. The rock carvings are mostly on "tombstones," and these decorated rock-fragments are scattered at the feet of mountains, in valleys including the slopes and bottom of Ughtasar, which took its name after the resemblance it has with the camel ("ught" in Armenian means "camel"). The carvings are graphic and voluminous and have been represented horizontally or vertically on the flat, brown and black rock—fragments. The composition "carvings" which comprise from 10 to 50 pictures, amount to several hundred patterns. The depth of their cutting is 2—6mm, while the width is 2~21mm. In the rock-carvings of Ughtasar and Jer'majur, the entire wealth of the Armenian fauna is designed. There, we can see most animals of that time, both wild and tamed, such as goats, mouflons, gazelles, deer, aurochs, horses, boars, dogs, wolves, jackals, panthers, bears and lions, Aurochs, bizons, however, are met very seldom. At the same time scenes which represent bunters with bows and arrows, pikes, spears, and shields are numerous. Among them we can see hunting objects, lassos, traps, and also aurochs that lead the cart, covered carts and sledge-like ones, too, ploughs and carvings which represent the universe. Birds, in general, do not occupy a significant place. The rock carvings of Syunik are based on scenes referring to social life and the ritual, We encounter too often with single or collective hunting scenes of goats, aurochs, deer, boars etc. The abundance of such scenes in the rock-carvings of Ughtasar and Jer'majur may at first glance, seem to be a survival of ancient times. These rock-carvings of Armenia with so many hunting scenes assert B. B. Piotrovsky’s conclusion according to which, with the spread of half-nomadic cattle-breeding, hunting once more becomes significant. The importance of cattle-breeding is testified by the abundance of rock-carvings representing cattle and small-cattle. The Cyclopean fortress and the lodgings situated over 3 kilometres high at Ughtasar, have, apparently, served as temporary dwelling sites for cattle-breeding tribes. The "graves" and their carvings prove that they were in use for many hundred years. Scenes of ceremonial dances, i.e. dances in pairs and collective dances, have been reproduced too. The rock-carvings of Syunik represent subject scenes, where single episodes of primitive people’s social life are depicted with the surrounding nature. These decorated rock-fragments of Syunik are mainly "tombstones" and they are made by cattle-breeding tribes who settled in those pastures at a certain period of the year. It is difficult for the investigators to determine the accurate date of these rock-carvings. The form, style and the theme of the execution of the rock-carvings may be of great importance in determining their date. The comparison of the monuments of material culture of Syunik and other regions of Armenia with those of the Transcaucasus and Asia Minor, gives us enough basis to consider the rock-carvings of Syunik as belonging to the V-II millenium B.C..

Getting there

Trips should only be made from mid-July to late September, since the mountain is snow covered most of the rest of the year. You can either hike up to Ughtasar, following the track below, or you can take a car. In Sissian you can ask at one of the hotels for a car with a driver. The drivers in town have set a fixed price of 25,000 dram (about $70) for a jeep that can take up usually 4 passengers. The price is the same regardless of whether it is one passenger or 4. It is about an hour to drive up, and you need a serious 4x4 with great clearance. Even a Niva is not recommended.


Zoom in to see the trail to the petroglyphs.

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