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Kura–Araxes culture

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Kura–Araxes culture
Geographical range South Caucasus, Armenian Highlands, North Caucasus
Period Bronze Age
Dates circa 3,400 B.C.E. — circa 2,000 B.C.E.
Major sites Shengavit
Preceded by Shulaveri-Shomu culture
Followed by Trialeti culture
Kura-Araxes pottery fragments and obsidian from the Shengavit Settlement

The Kura–Araxes culture (Azerbaijani: Kür-Araz mədəniyyəti, Armenian: Կուր-արաքսյան մշակույթ, Georgian: მტკვარ-არაქსის კულტურა) or the early trans-Caucasian culture was a civilization that existed from 3400 BC until about 2000 BC,[1] which has traditionally been regarded as the date of its end, but in some locations it may have disappeared as early as 2600 or 2700 BC.[2] 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[3]).

Altogether, the early Trans-Caucasian culture enveloped a vast area approximately 1,000 km by 500 km,[4] and mostly encompassed, on modern-day territories, the Southern Caucasus (except western Georgia), Northwestern Iran, the Northeastern Caucasus, Eastern Turkey, and as far as Syria.[5][6]

The name of the culture is derived from the Kura and Araxes river valleys. Kura–Araxes culture is also sometimes known as Shengavitian, Karaz (Erzurum), Pulur, and Yanik (Azerbaijan) cultures.[7] It also gave rise to the later Khirbet Kerak ware culture found in Syria and Canaan after the fall of the Akkadian Empire.

Early history

Shulaveri-Shomu culture preceded the Kura–Araxes culture in the area. Yet there were many differences between these two cultures, so the connection was not clear. Later, it was suggested that the Sioni culture of Eastern Georgia possibly represented a transition from the Shulaveri to the Kura-Arax cultural complex.

At various sites, the Sioni culture layers can be seen as intermediary between Shulaver-Shomu-Tepe layers, and the Kura-Araxes layers.[8] This kind of stratigraphy warrants a chronological place of the Sioni culture at around 4000 BCE.[9]

Nowadays scholars consider the Kartli area, as well as the Kakheti area (in the river Sioni region) as key to forming the earliest phase of the Kura-Araxes culture.[9] To a large extent, this appears as an indigenous culture of Caucasus that was formed over a long period, but at the same time incorporating various foreign influences.

There are some indications (such as at Arslantepe) of the overlapping in time of the Kura-Araxes and Uruk cultures; such contacts may go back even to the Middle Uruk period.[10]


Rather quickly, elements of Kura–Araxes culture started to proceed westward to the Erzurum plain, southwest to Cilicia, and to the southeast into an area below the Urmia basin and Lake Van, and finally into the present-day Syria (Amuq valley), and as far as Palestine.

Its territory corresponds to large parts of modern Armenia, Azerbaijan, Chechnya, Dagestan, Georgia, Ingushetia, North Ossetia, and parts of Iran and Turkey.[5][6][11]

At Sos Hoyuk, in Erzurum Province, Turkey, early forms of Kura-Araxes pottery were found in association with local ceramics as early as 3500-3300 BC. During the Early Bronze Age period in 3000-2200 BC, this settlement was part of the Kura-Araxes phenomenon.[12]

At Arslantepe, Turkey, around 3000 BCE, there was widespread burning and destruction, after which Kura-Araxes pottery appeared in the area.[13]


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.[14] Structures within settlements have not revealed much differentiation, nor was there much difference in size or character between settlements,[3] 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.[3] 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.[3]

At some point the culture's settlements and burial grounds expanded out of lowland river valleys and into highland areas.[15] 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.[15]

Shengavit Settlement is a prominent Kura-Araxes site in present day Yerevan area in Armenia. It was inhabited from approximately 3200 BC cal to 2500 BC cal. Later on, in the Middle Bronze Age, it was re-used irregularly until 2200 BC cal. The town occupied an area of six hectares, which is rather large for Kura-Araxes sites.

Kura-Araxes mounds

In the 3rd millennium B.C., one particular group of mounds of the Kura-Araxes culture is remarkable for their wealth. This was the final stage of culture's development. These burial mounds are known as the Martqopi (or Martkopi) period mounds. Those on the left bank of the river Alazani are often 20-25 meter high and 200-300 meter in diameter. They contain especially rich artefacts, such as gold and silver jewelry.[16]


The economy was based on farming and livestock-raising (especially of cattle and sheep).[17] 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.[17]

There is evidence of trade with Mesopotamia, as well as Asia Minor.[17] 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.[17]


Early expansion of the Kuro-Araxes culture (light shading) shown in relation to subsequent cultures in the area, such as Urartu (dark shading).

In the earliest phase of the Kura–Araxes culture, metal was scarce. In comparison, the preceding Leilatepe culture's metalwork tradition was far more sophisticated [18]

But the Kura–Araxes culture will later display "a precocious metallurgical development, which strongly influenced surrounding regions".[19] They worked copper, arsenic, silver, gold,[3] tin, and bronze.[15]

Their metal goods were widely distributed, from the Volga, Dnieper and Don-Donets river systems in the north to Syria and Palestine in the south and Anatolia in the west.


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.[3] 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.[20] 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.[17]

They are also remarkable for the production of wheeled vehicles (wagons and carts), which were sometimes included in burial kurgans.[15]


Viticulture and wine-making were widely practised in the area from the earliest times. Viticulture even goes back to the earlier Shulaveri-Shomu culture.

The earliest evidence of domesticated grapes in the world has been found at Gadachrili Gora, near the village of Imiri, Marneuli Municipality, in southeastern Republic of Georgia; carbon-dating points to the date of about 6000 BC.[21][22]

Grape pips dating back to the V-IVth millennia B.C. were also found in Shulaveri; others dating back to the IVth millennium B.C. were found in Khizanaant Gora—all in this same Shulaveri area of the Republic of Georgia.[23]

A theory has been suggested by Stephen Batiuk that the Kura-Araxes folk may have spread Vitis vinifera vine, and wine technology to the “Fertile Crescent”—to Mesopotamia and the Eastern Mediterranean.[24] The spread of wine-goblet form, such as represented by the Khirbet Kerak ware, is clearly associated with these peoples. The same applies to the large ceramic vessels used for grape fermentation.


The culture is closely linked to the approximately contemporaneous Maykop culture of Ciscaucasia. As Amjad Jaimoukha puts it,

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.[25]

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).[citation needed] 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.[2] This trend suggests the eventual emergence of a marked social hierarchy.[2] 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.[2]

According to Giulio Palumbi (2008), the typical red-black ware of Kura-Araxes culture actually originated in eastern Anatolia, and then moved on to the Caucasus area. But then these cultural influences came back to Anatolia mixed in with various other cultural elements from the Caucasus.[26]

Ethno-linguistic makeup

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.[27] 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.

In the Armenian hypothesis of Indo-European origins, this culture (and perhaps that of the Maykop culture) is identified with the speakers of the Anatolian languages.[28][29][30][31][32]

See also


  1. ^ The early Trans-Caucasian culture – I.M. Diakonoff, 1984
  2. ^ a b c d 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 [56]. JSTOR 1357345. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f 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.54. JSTOR 1357345. 
  4. ^ The Hurro-Urartian people – John A.C. Greppin
  5. ^ a b K. Kh. Kushnareva. [The Southern Caucasus in Prehistory: Stages of Cultural and Socioeconomic Development from the Eighth to the Second Millennium B.C" UPenn Museum of Archaeology, 1 jan. 1997. ISBN 0-924171-50-2 p 44
  6. ^ a b Antonio Sagona,Paul Zimansky. "Ancient Turkey" Routledge 2015. ISBN 1-134-44027-8 p 163
  7. ^ Rothman, Mitchell S. (2015). "Early Bronze Age migrants and ethnicity in the Middle Eastern mountain zone". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112 (30): 9190. doi:10.1073/pnas.1502220112. 
  8. ^ Kighuradze T. 1998:19
  9. ^ a b Guram Mirtskhulava, Guram Chikovani, PHASE OF TRANSITION TO THE KURA-ARAXES CULTURE IN EASTERN GEORGIA. Problems of Early Metal Age Archaeology of Caucasus and Anatolia. Proceedings of International Conference. Tbilisi, 2014
  10. ^ Giorgi Leon Kavtaradze (2012), On the Importance of the Caucasian Chronology for the Foundation of the Common Near Eastern – East European Chronological System
  11. ^ Encyclopedic Dictionary of Archaeology – Page 246 by Barbara Ann Kipfer
  12. ^ Kibaroğlu, Mustafa; Sagona, Antonio; Satir, Muharrem (2011). "Petrographic and geochemical investigations of the late prehistoric ceramics from Sos Höyük, Erzurum (Eastern Anatolia)". Journal of Archaeological Science 38 (11): 3072. doi:10.1016/j.jas.2011.07.006. 
  13. ^ Frangipane, Marcella (2015). "Different types of multiethnic societies and different patterns of development and change in the prehistoric Near East". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112 (30): 9182. doi:10.1073/pnas.1419883112. 
  14. ^ Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Africa and the Middle East: L to Z – Page 52 by Jamie Stokes
  15. ^ a b c d 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): 55. JSTOR 1357345. 
  16. ^ Konstantine Pitskhelauri, (2012). "Uruk Migrants in the Caucasus" (PDF). Bulletin of the Georgian National Academy of Sciences 6 (2). 
  17. ^ a b c d e Jaimoukha, Amjad. The Chechens. Pages 25-6
  18. ^ Tufan Isaakoglu Akhundov, AT THE BEGINNING OF CAUCASIAN METALLURGY. Problems of Early Metal Age Archaeology of Caucasus and Anatolia. Proceedings of International Conference. Tbilisi 2014
  19. ^ Mallory, James P. (1997). "Kuro-Araxes Culture". Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture (Fitzroy Dearborn): 341–42. 
  20. ^ The Pre-history of the Armenian People. I. M. Diakonoff
  21. ^ Nana Rusishvili, The grapevine Culture in Georgia on Basis of Palaeobotanical Data. “Mteny” Association, 2010
  22. ^ Peter Boisseau, How wine-making spread through the ancient world: U of T archaeologist. June 17, 2015 –
  23. ^ Malkhaz Kharbedia, THE HISTORY OF GEORGIAN WINE 01/20/2015
  24. ^ Batiuk, Stephen D. (2013). "The fruits of migration: Understanding the 'longue dureé' and the socio-economic relations of the Early Transcaucasian Culture". Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 32 (4): 449. doi:10.1016/j.jaa.2013.08.002. 
  25. ^ Jaimoukha. Chechens. Page 26
  26. ^ D. T. Potts (2012). A Companion to the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East. p. 677. ISBN 978-1-4443-6077-6. 
  27. ^ Jaimoukha, Amjad. The Chechens. Pages 29-30
  28. ^ Renfrew, A. C., 1987, Archaeology and Language: The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins, London: Pimlico. ISBN 0-7126-6612-5
  29. ^ T. V. Gamkrelidze and V. V. Ivanov (March 1990). "The Early History of Indo-European Languages". Scientific American 262 (3): 110–116. 
  30. ^ Renfrew, Colin (2003). "Time Depth, Convergence Theory, and Innovation in Proto-Indo-European". Languages in Prehistoric Europe. ISBN 3-8253-1449-9. 
  31. ^ Gray, Russell D.; Atkinson, Quentin D. (2003). "Language-tree divergence times support the Anatolian theory of Indo-European origin" (PDF). Nature 426 (6965): 435. doi:10.1038/nature02029. PMID 14647380. 
  32. ^ James P. Mallory, "Kuro-Araxes Culture", Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture, Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997.

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