ChapterPDF Available

Living on the Edge: The Earliest Modern Human Settlement of the Armenian Highlands in Aghitu-3 Cave

  • Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften

Abstract and Figures

Aghitu-3 Cave is the first stratified Upper Paleolithic (UP) cave site discovered in Armenia. The site is situated at an elevation of 1601 m in the southern Armenian Highlands and has yielded three intact archaeological horizons. The site has an excellent preservation of paleoecological archives, which allow for a comprehensive interpretation of the climate and environment at the time when the first modern humans populated the region.
Content may be subject to copyright.
A preview of the PDF is not available
Full-text available
This paper aims to understand the cultural diversity among the first modern human populations in the Iranian Zagros and the implications of this diversity for evolutionary and ecological models of human dispersal through Eurasia. We use quantitative data and technotypological attributes combined with physiogeographic information to assess if the Zagros Upper Paleolithic (UP) developed locally from the Middle Paleolithic (MP), as well as to contextualize the variation in lithics from four UP sites of Warwasi, Yafteh, Pasangar, and Gh are Boof. Our results demonstrate (1) that the Zagros UP industries are intrusive to the region, and (2) that there is significant cultural diversity in the early UP across different Zagros habitat areas, and that this diversity clusters in at least three groups. We interpret this variation as parallel developments after the initial occupation of the region shaped by the relative geotopographical isolation of different areas of the Zagros, which would have favored different ecological adaptations. The greater similarity of lithic traditions and modes of production observed in the later phases of the UP across all sites indicates a marked increase in inter-group contact throughout the West-Central Zagros mountain chain. Based on the chronological and geographical patterns of Zagros UP variability, we propose a model of an initial colonization phase leading to the emergence of distinct local traditions, followed by a long phase of limited contact among these first UP groups. This has important implications for the origins of biological and cultural diversity in the early phases of modern human colonization of Eurasia. We suggest that the mountainous arc that extends from Anatolia to the Southern Zagros preserves the archaeological record of different population trajectories. Among them, by 40 ka, some would have been transient, whereas others would have left no living descendants. However, some would have led to longer term local traditions, including groups who share ancestry with modern Europeans and modern East/Southeast Asians.
Full-text available
Occupying an intermediate position between Africa, Asia, and Europe the southern Caucasus has represented a northern geographic terminus for major expansions and migrations of human populations, both Archaic and Modern, throughout much of prehistory. During the Middle Palaeolithic, the high elevations and glaciated passes of the Caucasus served as a natural barrier to mobility in a northerly direction. Therefore the southern Caucasus provides an opportunity to examine Neanderthal behavioral patterns within an environmental and geographical cul de sac. Unfortunately, our current understanding of Middle Palaeolithic settlement and subsistence patterns within this region suffers from a dearth of well-excavated, dated, and documented sites. Previous excavations at the rockshelter Ortvale Klde, Djruchula Cave, and Bronze Cave, located in the western Georgian Republic, hint at a variable system of settlement and subsistence linked closely to prevailing environmental and topographical conditions. Although mountainous, warm, humid, and well forested, the numerous deep river valleys that drain the Caucasus form a patchwork of ecological niches populated by a wide array of floral and faunal species. The discontinuous nature of environmental communities and the natural impediments to mobility presented by deep valleys, fast rivers, and high elevations, likely influenced the settlement and subsistence behaviors of Neanderthals more than the cultural factors often cited. Likewise, we argue that climate change fed a cycle of regional abandonment and resettlement, which in turn fostered the technological diversity witnessed in the archaeological record. Traditional views of settlement and subsistence within the southern Caucasus are presented and evaluated in light of data retrieved during the recent re-excavation and dating of Ortvale Klde. Résumé. Occupant une position intermédiaire entre l'Afrique, l'Asie et l'Europe, le Caucase méridional a constitué une barrière géographique pour nombre d'expansions et de migrations de populations humaines, tant archaïques que modernes, au cours de la Préhistoire. Au Paléolithique moyen, l'altitude et l'enneigement des cols ont rendu la chaîne du Caucase infranchissable, de même que les mers, Noire et Caspienne, ont joué le rôle MIDDLE PALAEOLITHIC PATTERNS OF SETTLEMENT AND SUBSISTENCE IN THE SOUTHERN CAUCASUS 93 DANIEL S. ADLER, NICHOLOZ TUSHABRAMISHVILI 92 d'une barrière naturelle vers le Nord. Le Caucase méridional se prête de ce fait à l'étude du comportement néandertalien dans une situation environnementale, géographique et bio-culturelle de cul-de-sac. Une difficulté non négligeable pour notre compréhension des habitats et des modes de subsistance du Paléolithique moyen, au sein de cette région, est due au manque de sites bien fouillés, documentés et datés. La fouille récente de l'abri d'Ortvale Klde et des grottes Djruchula et Bronze, situées à l'Ouest de la République géorgienne, suggère des modes d'occupation et de subsistance variables, étroitement liés aux conditions topographiques et environnementales. Malgré un environnement montagneux, des conditions chaudes et humides et une couverture forestière dense, les nombreuses profondes vallées, qui drainent le Caucase, forment une mosaïque de niches écologiques avec un large spectre d'espèces animales et florales. Nos observations tendent à montrer que cette discontinuité environnementale, à côté des barrières naturelles que constituent les vallées profondes, les cours d'eau torrentiels et l'altitude des cols, davantage que les facteurs culturels souvent cités, ont influencé de façon déterminante le comportement des groupes néandertaliens. Par ailleurs, nous suggérons que l'existence de phases d'expansion et de contraction régionales, peut-être stimulées par des changements climatiques, ont entraîné la diversité technologique observée dans l'inventaire archéologique. Les visions traditionnelles d'occupation et de subsistance pour le Caucase méridional sont présentées et évaluées à la lumière des résultats et datations issus des fouilles récentes d'Ortvale Klde.
Full-text available
While the Armenian Highlands have benefited from a longer history of research into the Early and Middle Paleolithic occupations of this region, its Upper Paleolithic settlement has only recently begun to come into focus. With this brief contribution we summarize new archaeological data from two high elevation sites that together span the majority of the Upper Paleolithic. These well stratified sites in the Armenian Highlands benefited from the use of modern excavation methods. The first evidence for modern human behavior is seen at Aghitu-3 Cave in Syunik Province of southern Armenia, while cultural remains from the late Upper Paleolithic are documented in the north at the site of Kalavan-1, located in the wooded montane landscape north of Lake Sevan. We hypothesize that any hominin who entered the Armenian Highlands had to solve the problem of how to survive in this high altitude environment. Under modern conditions, which we view as analogous to an interglacial, the climate is continental, exhibiting a large fluctuation between summer and winter temperatures. This high altitude region, much of it above 2000 m, is blanketed by snow during the winter and well into spring. During glacial periods, alpine ice sheets would have covered a considerable portion of the region, providing a significant impediment for human habitation. Such environmental hurdles would surely have imprinted on the early inhabitants of the region and facilitated the solutions that led to their survival at these high altitudes.