Armenia – treasury of rock art: 4 major sites to visit

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Geghama petroglyphs, rock art in Armenia

Armenia – treasury of rock art: 4 major sites to visit

A quick question: which was the first (ever)-social media platform? Think twice before coming up with the most obvious answer- Facebook. For a moment, put aside the modernity and go back in time, when the first homo sapiens conceived of depicting his hunting ‘trophies’ and subsequent ritual dance with his tribe-mates on the wall of his ‘cave-apartment’. Yes, the oldest pictographs and petroglyphs were the first social media reports and Facebook ‘shares’. Be it a mammoth-hunting caveman or a tech-savvy millennial, the need for showing and sharing emotions, thoughts and facts has always driven inherent to human nature.

Armenians rock when it comes to ancient social media activity. Given the vast number of presently known rock art pieces in Armenia- nearly 20 thousand- Armenians ‘reported’ on their everyday experiences – hunting, dancing, cultivation of animals or fighting with predators – in forms of petroglyphs in particular already thousands of years ago. It’s still hard to define the exact date of our great ancestors’ creations: however, experts claim the pieces can be traced as far back as 5th up to the 1st Millennia BC!

An interesting paradox: the hard-to-reach (up to 3000 m above the sea) and remote locations of the majority of Armenian rock art clusters only add to the mystic allure of these sites making them more attractive for both adept archaeologists and just curious minds. Ascending on foot, horse or 4-wheel vehicles, they’re all itching to unveil something new about our ancestors’ daily lives, rituals and beliefs.

Already tempted to learn more? Let’s take a quick look at 4 large clusters of Armenian ‘landscape art’and include at least one of them in your must-see list during your trip to Armenia.

Geghama Mountains boast the largest number of petroglyphs (12000- together with the ones in the neighboring Vardenis Range). The crater of Azhdahak- the highest peak of the mountain range – is perhaps one of the most enigmatic sights in Armenia. The territory south from the crater of the volcano abounds in rock carvings featuring extinct and existing animals- the most frequently occurring motif of goats with large horns, fighting and hunting men as well as the sun, moon, constellations and other astronomical bodies. Other than petroglyphs, the ‘giant’ of the Geghama Mountains (Azhdaha- means ‘gigantic’) houses a bunch of vishaps – ‘dragon stones’ – on its slopes. Vishaps feature mythological characters in the Armenian folklore- dragons, who blocked the water springs demanding sacrifices- human lives. What is more intriguing is that myriads of remnants of dinosaurs were found in this neighborhood, so, there’s a sliver of truth in this myth, indeed.

Geghama rock art - petroglyphs

Sevsar Mount (‘Black Mount’), located in the Vardenis Range, is yet another ‘vault’ of Armenian rock art masterpieces. The peculiarity of these rock carvings is that they mostly feature astronomical figures and objects. You’ll be amazed to see the exact ‘mini-copies’ of some constellations, planets and stars. Of course, this is a fertile soil for all the possible ‘alien-intervention theories’: however, none of them has been proved so far. Just take your time on the slopes of this mystic mount and you’ll come up with your interpretation of the message these rock art pieces convey.

Aragats, the highest peak of the Armenian Highlands, is not only a perfect hiking and mountain climbing The southern slope of the mountain is home to linear groups of landscape art ‘gems’ created through pecking, scratching, incising or sometimes polishing of the rocks. Here again you can discover chaotically scattered figures of animals,hunting and dancing humans and…some fantastic characters, too! (e.g., a man with bird’s legs).

Ughtasar, perching within Syunik Mountain Range, is a less discovered yet a potentially enticing historical/archaeological tourism destination in Armenia. It’s, perhaps, one of the hardest-to-reach among all the above-mentioned sites, too. Despite another challenge- short visiting season- Ughtasar has a magnetic feel with its magnificent scenery, mountaintop pristine lake and up to 7-thousand-year-old petroglyphs. Make sure you get enough batteries in your camera or phone: you’ll be constantly feeling like taking tons of photos here!

Ughtasar Rock Art

Human mind has always sought for ways of creative expression, and rock art pieces are yet another manifestation of this. If you feel like exploring some and digging deeper in the history, Armenia should be the country of your choice.

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