Dating the Rock Art: In a previous study of rock carvings within the Syunik region,
Karakhanian & Safian (1970) suggested that the carvings probably date from 5th to 2nd millennia BC. The evidence collected so far at Ughtasar suggests that these dates may well cover the majority of carvings within the caldera although it is possible that some of the panels were created either earlier or later. In addition there are modern carvings and ‘graffiti’ (also being recorded) from the late 1950s to the 1980s, themselves defaced in some instances. These were probably made by herdsmen using the site as a summer base.
As at other sites across the world, dating rock art is problematic as there is currently no reliable scientific method for the direct dating of petroglyphs. It is therefore necessary to turn to circumstantial evidence of various kinds, at Ughtasar as elsewhere. Some of the motifs themselves provide clues, as might surface finds of artefacts recovered from the caldera. Local archaeological sites are also providing helpful comparative evidence.
Motifs: The presence of motifs of carts and wagons at Ughtasar suggests that some at least of the petroglyphs were not carved before the early 3rd millennium BC when wheeled transport, as evidenced by clay models, first appears in the archaeological record of Armenia, for example at the Kura-Araxes village settlement of Harich (Kushnareva, 1997). Yoked bulls and one (so far unique) ploughing scene at Ughtasar may be earlier - Kushnareva suggests that the ox-drawn plough first appeared in Armenia between the second half of the 4th millennium and the middle of the 3rd millennium.
Surface finds of obsidian: Most of the obsidian implements and debitage so far found at Ughtasar have come from the margins of the seasonal lakes, suggesting that the lithic material was probably knapped nearby. Obsidian does not occur naturally at Ughtasar so all the material must have been brought to the site, perhaps as pebbles collected from the Vorotan River 23kms away, or from one of the original volcanic sources such as Mounts Bazenk, Sevkar or Satanakar around 30-40 kms away.
From his analysis of the stone tools, Boris Gasparyan, of the Armenian Institute of Archaeology & Ethnography, has suggested that the majority date stylistically to the Chalcolithic Period, some resembling lithic artifacts from the Chalcolithic Horizons of Areni-1 Cave (beginning of the 4th millennium B.C.) and the Late Chalcolithic settlement of Nerkin Godedzor (see below).
Ceramics: A potentially significant find from Ughtasar is a ceramic sherd found in very close proximity to Rock 516. This has been dated to the Early Bronze Age (late 4th – early 3rd millennium). From elsewhere there is another fragment which probably derives from the Middle Bronze Age (3rd - 2nd millennium). Medieval sherds have also been found. The dateable ceramics have been few so far. The finds are being examined by pottery specialists at the Institute of Archaeology & Ethnography, Yerevan.
Based on the surface finds collected so far it appears that the caldera was systematically visited during the Chalcolithic and Bronze Age, however any relationship between these finds and the rock art still begs many questions.
Comparisons with other archaeological sites in the region: The first depiction of a wild goat on any securely dated Armenian artefact, a funerary urn with an associated radiocarbon date of c 3900 BC, comes from the on-going excavation at Areni-1 Cave (Areshian & Gasparyan et al, 2011). Even earlier are ceramic vessels with wild goats depicted in relief excavated recently from the 5th millennium Chalcolithic site of Ovçular Tepesi (Nakhchivan) in the Middle Araxes Valley (Marro et al, 2011). These artefacts form a fascinating and important parallel to the rock carvings of goats at Ughtasar and elsewhere. Also, at Nerkin Godedzor in the Vorotan Valley, just 22 kms from Ughtasar, there are petroglyphs with goat motifs which may well be contemporary with the nearby Late Chalcolithic settlement (Chataigner et al, 2010), artefacts similar to those from the settlement having been found in close proximity to the carved rocks. Thus evidence is mounting to suggest that that the wild goat may have held deep symbolic significance for those who dwelled in the region from the 5th millennium onwards.
Rather similar motifs of wild animals to those at Ughtasar appear on petroglyphs in SE Turkey and in Iran. Ozdogan (2004) claims that petroglyphs in the Cilo Sat Mountains of SE Turkey may date from as early as 10th millennium BC (on the grounds of comparisons with the motifs in sculptured reliefs depicting animals at Gobekli Tepe and possible ‘Pre-Pottery Neolithic’ upland settlement evidence at Kahni Melkan). However the Iranian rock art researcher S.M. Ghasrian (2007) is very cautious in his approach to the dating of petroglyphs, concluding that ‘no valid and reliable evidence is currently available with regard to the problem of dating any Iranian rock art’. Many of the petroglyphs in Iran appear to be very similar in character to those in Armenia, with long-horned wild goats predominating significantly.
Areshian, G.E., Gasparyan, B. et al. 2011. Wine and Death: The 2010 Excavations Season at the Areni-1 Cave Complex, Armenia, in Backdirt, Annual Review of The Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, UCLA. 2011: 65-70 http://www.ioa.ucla.edu/publications/backdirt/backdirt-2011/Backdirt%202011.pdf
Chataigner, C., Avetisyan, P. et al. 2010. Godedzor, a Late Ubaid-related Settlement in the Southern Caucasus, in R. A. Carter & G. Philip (eds), Beyond the Ubaid: Transformation and Integration in the Late Prehistoric Societies of the Middle East: 377-394. Chicago: The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilisation. No. 63
Ghasrian, S. M. 2007. Sangestoon: a new rock art site in central Iran, Rock Art Research. Vol. 24, No. 1:
Kushnareva. K. Kh. 1997. The Southern Caucasus in Prehistory: Stages of Cultural and Socioeconomic Development from the Eighth to the Second Millennium B.C. Philadelphia: The University Museum, University of Pennsylvania. University Museum Monograph: 99
Marro, C. et al. 2011. Excavations at Ovçular Tepesi (Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan). Second Preliminary Report: the 2009-2010 Seasons, Anatolia Antiqua XIX (2011): 53-100
Ozdogan, M. 2004. The Neolithic and the Highlands of Eastern Anatolia, in A. Sagona (ed) Ancient Near Eastern Studies Supplement 12: 23-34. Leuven: Peters
Ughtasar Rock Art Project