Ughtasar Rock Art Project
Ughtasar is a major rock art site located in the caldera of an extinct volcano in the Syunik Mountains of southern Armenia. In a spectacular landscape bounded by a rim of craggy peaks and rounded hills the site is home to almost a thousand carved rocks bearing abstract and figurative motifs pecked millennia ago onto the surfaces of basalt boulders disgorged long before as streams of lava. At 3300 metres above sea level the site is snowbound for nearly nine months of the year yet supports a rich and varied ecosystem of flora and fauna including bears, wolves, foxes and wild boar.
The Ughtasar Rock Art Project, initiated in 2009, involves a systematic survey of the petroglyphs and other archaeological features, in their immediate landscape context. The main aim of the project’s largely self-funded team is to seek a deeper understanding of the significance of Ughtasar to the people who created the petroglyphs and of the ways in which they ‘marked’ the landscape of this unique place within Armenia’s rich cultural and archaeological heritage. The project is using both traditional and innovative methods of recording, analysis and interpretation and brings together archaeologists, art historians and other specialists from Armenia, the UK, Japan and the USA, together with an enthusiastic group of Armenian students and volunteers.
There is an urgent need to document and protect the site. Many of the carvings are eroding in the harsh climatic conditions, exacerbated in recent years by visitors walking over some of the fragile carved surfaces. Attempts must be made to forestall further damage to the petroglyphs and to the delicate balance of the rich ecosystem within the caldera.
Armenia has a wealth of fascinating rock art, little known or understood but worthy of wider domestic and international recognition. Rock art is one of the most important and direct ways of linking our modern world to that of our remote ancestors. We can never hope, of course, to fully understand the complex meanings of the signs and symbols but the carved figures provide enticing clues to the perceptions and concerns of their creators several thousand years ago.