Archaeology of Azerbaijan
The Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences now conducts researches into archaeology, ethnography, numismatics, epigraphy, anthropology, ethnosociology and ethnopolitology in Azerbaijan. Since 1999 the Department of History and Archaeology of Khazar University publishes the Journal of Azerbaijan Archaeology.
In 1920, the Museum of History of Azerbaijan was established, exhibiting archaeological finds from different parts of Azerbaijan. The Ancient and Medieval History sections of the museum have a total of over 25,000 items. Since 1969, museum archaeologists have been conducting underwater archaeological excavations beneath the Caspian Sea.
The Lower Paleolithic, the first stage of the Paleolithic era, covers the period from 3.2 million years ago to 100,000 years ago. The main belongings to prehistoric humans for this period were found in the Azykh cave in the Guruchay valley near Fuzuli region. It is hard to distinguish the instruments found here from river stones. Bashing, cracking, knapping, pecking, grinding or polishing stones of various kinds to manufacture tools were found in this period. As well as the bones of various wild animals were found here. Azikh cave is in the fourth place in the world by its age (but it was the first in the former USSR). The remains of the jawbone of human lived 350-450 thousand years ago, which were found in 1962 by Azerbaijani historian Mammadali Huseynov proved it.
The Middle Paleolithic period of Azerbaijan was studied on the basis of Taghlar in Karabakh, Damcıli and Dashsalahli caves in Gazakh region. The Taghlar cave was explored by archaeologist Mammadali Huseynov in 1960.
There is a two large cave in the Avey mountain of the Gazakh region. The cave on the south-western side of the mountain is called Dassalahli, and on the south-east side is called Damcılı. In 1957-1958, scientists studied these caves and found labor tools of humans who lived here. Examples found in the Tamtama cave, 20 km north of Lake Urmia, show that humans living here had hunting ability.
Archaeological research shows that about 40-35 thousand years ago, the Mustye culture in Azerbaijan was replaced by Upper Paleolithic culture.
Nearly 12 thousand years ago, the Upper Palaeolithic period was replaced by the Mesolithic period in the territory of Azerbaijan. Melting of glaciers and warming of the weather in this period resulted in climate change, some changes in humans’ life and economy. The Mesolithic period in Azerbaijan was mainly studied on the basis of Gobustan monuments. Large limestone fragments were found on the slopes of Boyukdash, Kichikdash and Cingirdash mountains, located 60 km away from Baku. A number of drawings were detected on these limestone pieces and on the walls of the caves. During the archaeological digs in Boyukdash Mountain, it was determined that the drawings here were covered by the material and cultural remains of the Neolithic and Mesolithic era. Studies show that prehistoric humans living in Gobustan had ideological imaginations about totem and enchantment. The lifestyle and occupation of humans were clearly reflected in these illustrations. During the archaeological investigations, in Firuz camp that had been used as seasonal dwellings in that period 12 buried human skeletons have been found.
Archaeological research shows that during the 7th-6th millennium B.C the Mesolithic period was replaced by the Neolithic period. At present, researchers divide the Neolithic period into two stages: The Pottery Neolithic Period and Pre-Pottery Neolithic period. Material and cultural examples of the Neolithic period were found in Damcılı cave, Gobustan monuments (Ovçular mağarası (Hunters' cave), Anazagha, Firuz, Buyukdag mountains ), Nakhchivan Kultepe, Khanlar, Garakopektepe, Yanigtepe, Haji Firuz, Shomutepe, Toyretepe and other monuments. The study of the monuments shows that during this period humans settled in open camps and were living sedentary lifestyle. Some Instruments found in Gobustan such as fork-like, resembling the harvesting sickles show that farming had been developed. Pre-historic human prepared these tools from mainly river stones. One of the most important innovations belonging to the Neolithic era is the formation of pottery and weaving.
The Eneolithic period in this region is dated 6th-4th millennium B.C. The basis of smelting and working copper was laid in Azerbaijan during this period.
Guruchay culture is an archaeological culture in the territory of Azerbaijan. Prehistoric humans collected stones from Guruchay valley and brought them to the cave for preparing the tools. At the same time, Azokh humans were engaged with hunting in the Guruchay valley. The Guruchay valley had all the conditions for the living of prehistoric humans. Therefore, remains of the new archaeological culture discovered in the 7-10th layers of the Azykh Cave were named as a Guruchay culture. During the complex archaeological digs, several developed stages of the Guruchay culture have been identified. The preparation of tools was simple in the early stages of culture, but it was improved in later stages. Labor tools of Guruchay culture are closely related to labor tools of the Olduvai Gorge of Africa. However, there are differences in the typology of labor tools. During the investigations, the period of Guruchay culture began about 1.2 million years ago and continued until 700,000 years ago in Azerbaijan.
To study of Paleolithic monuments of Azerbaijan began in the 1950s. The Paleolithic camp was discovered in Damcılı cave located in Dashsalahli village of Gazakh region by S. N. Zamyatin and Mammadali Huseynov during archaeological investigations in 1953. In 1968, fossilized fragments of lower jawbone were found in the Acheulian layer, Guruchay culture which had some common features with the Olduvai Gorge was found in 1974.
Labor tools found on the eighth layer of the Azykh cave are similar to tools found in below layers according to their typological features. However, heavy tools such as choppers and chopping tools are characteristic for this layer.
The seventh layer of Cave reflects the complementary stage of the Guruchay culture. This layer is similar to below layers as typological features but completely different with early Acheulean culture. Stone products on this layer consist of choppers and chopping tools, cubic items, industrial wastes, river stones, and others.
It is not impossible to determine bones belonging to which animals found in the X-VII layers of the Azykh cave, because most of the patterns of fauna were damaged. The detected animal bones belonged to deer, antelope, bird, rodent and carnivora animals. Vulpes aff volpes, Crocuta spelaea, Spelearstos spelaeus, Ursus, Cervus Mesopotamia, Equus sussen bornansis, Equus hydruntinus, Dicerorhinus mercki, Bison schotensaci and other animals lived in the Absheron era of Guruchay culture.
Some rough stone tools prepared from gravel in the Azykh Cave were similar with findings in Olduvai (Tanzania), Koobi-Fora (Kenya), Melka Kontura (Ethiopia), Vallona (France), Ubeydiye (Israel) and other monuments.
Early traces of humans on the territory of Azerbaijan have been found in Azykh Cave (c. 2 million years ago), together with the remains of a fireplace in the same cave dating to 700,000 years BC. The deposits of Azykh Cave span a vast period of the Paleolithic Age from Early Acheulian to Mousterian. The Taglar Cave is considered the richest example of the Mousterian culture in Caucasus and the Near East. The findings in Gobustan and the Damjili Cave represent Early and Late Mesolithic evidence. In the Early Bronze Age the territory of Azerbaijan was the site of Kura–Araxes culture. The artifacts from Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages are represented particularly by over 230 burials in the vicinity of Lankaran.
As a result of surveys and excavations, that began in Mingachevir in 1935, rich archeological evidence from the end of Eneolithic Period to the Late Middle Ages was revealed and more than 20,000 objects have been found. In 2006 a French–Azerbaijani team discovered nine kurgans at the cemetery of Soyuqbulaq. It was dated to the beginning of the 4th millennium BC, which makes it the oldest kurgan cemetery in Transcaucasia. There is also an evidence that the Duzdağı salt deposits in the Araxes valley were already being exploited from the second half of the 5th millennium BC, which is the most ancient exploitation of rock salt attested as of 2010.
The excavations on a cemetery at Yaloylu Tepe revealed important archaeological evidence from the 3rd to 1st centuries BC. The site gave its name to a culture found in the lower parts, steppes and foothills of the Greater Caucasus. In 1926 D. Sharifov discovered previously unknown pottery forms at Yaloylu Tepe.
Notable findings related to Ancient Rome include the rock inscription in Latin at Boyukdash mountain (carved between 81 and 96 AD), which is the easternmost known Roman evidence. It was discovered in 1948 by Ishag Jafarzadeh and mentions Domitian and Legio XII Fulminata. Another Roman inscription, which also mentions that legion, was reportedly seen in 1934 by the paleobotanist Petrov near the town of Füzuli.
In 1894 a Roman silver plate with a Nereid riding a hippocamp and surrounded by tritons, was unearthed in the Yenikend village of Goychay Rayon. Kamilla Trever characterized the plate as "one of the most interesting examples of Roman toreutics".
In 1897, a bronze lamp in the shape of theatrical mask (presumably from the eastern provinces of Roman Empire or from the Hellenistic countries of Near East), dated to 1st–2nd century AD, was found in the village of Zerti.
In the 1960s, the content of the Qabala treasures revealed the coins of Emperors Otho, Vespasian, Trajan and Hadrian, as well as drachmas of Alexander the Great and tetradrachms of the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom. There were also coins of Antiochus IV, Antiochus VI and Eucratides.
In 2005, joint Azerbaijani–Korean researches began on the site of ancient Qabala, where archaeological studies had been suspended since 1990.
In the Azykh Cave, the period of the Guruchay culture was replaced by ancient Acheulean after its long-term development. The ancient Acheulean culture was detected during the archaeological excavations in the VI section of the Azykh cave. More than 2,000 stone products and many hunted animal bones were found here.
The culture of the late Eneolithic and Early Bronze Age (end of 4th millennium BC - 3rd millennium BC). This culture, which firstly appeared in the territory of Azerbaijan, covered the area from the North Caucasus to Mesopotamia, from East Anatolia to Central Asia.
Large-scale excavations on the left bank of Shamkirchay, that started in 2007, revealed the remnants of monumental public building, dated to 9th–10th century. Studies of medieval Azerbaijani fortresses like Chirag Gala, Shindan, Gazankeshki, Ballabur and Gilgilchay defence system have been also conducted.
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