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The Kura–Araxes culture (Georgian: მტკვარ-არაქსის კულტურა) or the early trans-Caucasian culture was a civilization that existed from 3400 BC until about 2000 BC, which has traditionally been regarded as the date of its end, but it may have disappeared as early as 2600 or 2700 BC. The earliest evidence for this culture is found on the Ararat plain; thence it spread northward in Caucasus by 3000 BC (but never reaching Colchis), and during the next millennium it proceeded westward to the Erzurum plain, southwest to Cilicia, and to the southeast into an area below the Urmia basin and Lake Van, and finally down to the borders of present day Syria. Altogether, the early Trans-Caucasian culture, at its greatest spread, enveloped a vast area approximately 1,000 km by 500 km.
The name of the culture is derived from the Kura and Araxes river valleys. Its territory corresponds to parts of modern Armenia, Azerbaijan, Chechnya, Dagestan, Georgia, Ingushetia and North Ossetia. It may have given rise to the later Khirbet Kerak ware culture found in Syria and Canaan after the fall of the Akkadian Empire.
Archaeological evidence of inhabitants of the Kura–Araxes culture had shown that ancient settlements were found along the Hrazdan river, as shown by drawings at a mountainous area in a cave nearby. Structures within settlements have not revealed much differentiation, nor was there much difference in size or character between settlements, facts that suggest they probably had a poorly developed social hierarchy for at least a significant stretch of their history. Some, but not all, settlements were surrounded by stone walls. They built mud-brick houses, originally round, but later developing into subrectangular designs with structures of just one or two rooms, multiple rooms centered around an open space, or rectilinear designs.
At some point the culture's settlements and burial grounds expanded out of lowland river valleys and into highland areas. Although some scholars have suggested that this expansion demonstrates a switch from agriculture to pastoralism, and that it serves as possible proof of a large-scale arrival of Indo-Europeans, facts such as that settlement in the lowlands remained more or less continuous suggest merely that the people of this culture were diversifying their economy to encompass both crop and livestock agriculture.
The economy was based on farming and livestock-raising (especially of cattle and sheep). They grew grain and various orchard crops, and are known to have used implements to make flour. They raised cattle, sheep, goats, dogs, and in its later phases, horses.
There is evidence of trade with Mesopotamia, as well as Asia Minor. It is, however, considered above all to be indigenous to the Caucasus, and its major variants characterized (according to Caucasus historian Amjad Jaimoukha) later major cultures in the region.
In the earliest phase of the Kura-Araxes culture, metal was scarce, but the culture would later display "a precocious metallurgical development, which strongly influenced surrounding regions". They worked copper, arsenic, silver, gold, tin, and bronze.
Their pottery was distinctive; in fact, the spread of their pottery along trade routes into surrounding cultures was much more impressive than any of their achievements domestically. It was painted black and red, using geometric designs for ornamentation. Examples have been found as far south as Syria and Israel, and as far north as Dagestan and Chechnya. The spread of this pottery, along with archaeological evidence of invasions, suggests that the Kura-Araxes people may have spread outward from their original homes, and most certainly, had extensive trade contacts. Jaimoukha believes that its southern expanse is attributable primarily to Mitanni and the Hurrians.
The Kura-Araxes culture was contiguous, and had mutual influences, with the Maikop culture in the Northwest Caucasus. According to E.I.Krupnov (1969:77), there were elements of the Maikop culture in the early memorials of Chechnya and Ingushetia in the Meken and Bamut kurgans and in Lugovoe in Serzhen-Yurt. Similarities between some features and objects of the Maikop and Kura-Araxes cultures, such as large square graves, the bold-relief curvilinear ornamentation of pottery, ochre-coloured ceramics, earthen hearth props with horn projections, flint arrowheads, stone axes and copper pitchforks are indicative of a cultural unity that pervaded the Caucasus in the Neolithic Age.
Inhumation practices are mixed. Flat graves are found, but so are substantial kurgan burials, the latter of which may be surrounded by cromlechs. This points to a heterogeneous ethno-linguistic population (see section below). Late in the history of this culture, its people built kurgans of greatly varying sizes, containing greatly varying amounts and types of metalwork, with larger, wealthier kurgans surrounded by smaller kurgans containing less wealth. This trend suggests the eventual emergence of a marked social hierarchy. Their practice of storing relatively great wealth in burial kurgans was probably a cultural influence from the more ancient civilizations of the Fertile Crescent to the south.
Hurrian and Urartian elements are quite probable, as are Northeast Caucasian ones. Some authors subsume Hurrians and Urartians under Northeast Caucasian as well as part of the Alarodian theory. The presence of Kartvelian languages was also highly probable. Influences of Semitic languages and Indo-European languages are also highly possible, though the presence of the languages on the lands of the Kura–Araxes culture is more controversial.
- The early Trans-Caucasian culture - I.M. Diakonoff, 1984
- Edens, Christoper (Aug–Nov 1995). "Transcaucasia at the End of the Early Bronze Age". Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (The American Schools of Oriental Research). 299/300 (The Archaeology of Empire in Ancient Anatolia): p. 53, pp. 53–64 .
- Edens. p. 54. Missing or empty
- The Hurro-Urartian people - John A.C. Greppin
- Encyclopedic Dictionary of Archaeology - Page 246 by Barbara Ann Kipfer
- Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Africa and the Middle East: L to Z - Page 52 by Jamie Stokes
- Edens. p. 55. Missing or empty
- Jaimoukha, Amjad. The Chechens. Pages 25-6
- Mallory, James P. (1997). "Kuro-Araxes Culture". Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture (Fitzroy Dearborn): 341–42.
- The Pre-history of the Armenian People. I. M. Diakonoff
- Jaimoukha. Chechens. Page 26
- Edens. p. 56. Missing or empty
- Edens. p. see generally. Missing or empty
- Jaimoukha, Amjad. The Chechens. Pages 29-30
- Renfrew, A.C., 1987, Archaeology and Language: The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins, London: Pimlico. ISBN 0-7126-6612-5; T. V. Gamkrelidze and V. V. Ivanov, The Early History of Indo-European Languages, Scientific American, March 1990; Renfrew, Colin (2003). "Time Depth, Convergence Theory, and Innovation in Proto-Indo-European". Languages in Prehistoric Europe. ISBN 3-8253-1449-9.
- Russell D. Gray and Quentin D. Atkinson, Language-tree divergence times support the Anatolian theory of Indo-European origin, Nature 426 (27 November 2003) 435-439
- Mallory. Missing or empty
- Kura-Arax Pottery - Karnut I (2900-2500 BC) The Kura-Arax Pottery Technology Database (KAPTech)
- The Chronology of the Caucasus During the Early Metal Age: Observations from Central Transcaucasus - Giorgi L. Kavtaradze
- The Beginnings of Metallurgy - includes extensive discussion of Kura-Araxes metalworking
- James P. Mallory, "Kuro-Araxes Culture", Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture, Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997.