FRAL - Programme franco-allemand en SHS

On Salt, Copper and Gold : the Origins of Early Mining in the Caucasus – MINES

Submission summary

This project is a development of previous investigations carried out respectively in Azerbaijan, on the salt mine of Duzdagi and the settlement of Ovçular Tepesi, and in Georgia, on the gold mines and related landscape of Sakdrissi/Dzedzvebi. Our research programme will take place in two regions: 1) the Naxçivançay valley in Azerbaijan (Nakhchivan); 2) the Mashavera valley in Georgia. Our work will concentrate on the early mining and associated mining economy of salt and gold, but also copper, since major copper mines (Misdagi) are attested in Nakhchivan in the vicinity of the Duzdagi, together with several Late Prehistoric settlements.
The main objectives of this project will be to study the conditions (social, economic, technological, environmental) that presided over the development of early mining in the Caucasus (salt, copper and gold), with a special focus on the reasons why early mining was so intimately linked to the Kuro-Araxes cultural complex. Our goal is to complete the information so far retrieved from the mines themselves (Duzdagi and Sakdrissi) by data to be obtained from the miners’ settlements (Kültepe I and Dzedzvebi), especially as concerns technology, socio-economic structures and subsistence strategies. In Nakhchivan, work on early mining and the mining economy will be extended to the copper mines of Misdagi and the coppersmiths’settlement of Zirinçlik. In both Georgia and Azerbaijan, archaeological excavations and surveys will be associated with specific environmental studies in order to complete our data on subsistence strategies. Another aim of these studies will be to reconstruct the environmental setting in which these new technologies (mining, metallurgy) developed. Isotope analyses carried on animal teeth (caprines) will also help to assess the nature of pastoral herding (local/long-distance) and provide indirect clues to the intensity of interregional exchange (goods, animals, people). The extension of the mining economy, as well as the impact of new technologies upon surrounding regions, will also be studied through provenance studies on gold and copper artefacts from Caucasian sites (Ovçular Tepesi, Kültepe I, Zirinçlik, Dzedzvebi, Soyuk Bulaq, Sioni) but also from Eastern Anatolia (Arslantepe) and Northwestern Iran (site ?).
Several operations are planned: in Nakhchivan, work will be divided into excavations and surveys: 1) excavations on the salt mine of Duzdagi, inside the tunnels; 2) excavations on the miners’ settlement of Kültepe I (1 ha); 3) excavations on the coppersmiths’ settlement of Zirinçlik (0,2 ha); 4) surveys on the copper mine of Misdagi. All these sites are known for their significant remains of Kuro-Araxes exploitation or settlement.
In Georgia, work will focus on Dzedzvebi, which is an outstanding settlement (60 ha) located on a plateau at the foot of the Sakdrissi gold mine. Previous, small-scale excavations on this site have yielded Kuro-Araxes graveyards, workshop-areas related to gold-processing, as well as domestic quarters. Emphasis will be laid on the reconstruction of the chaîne opératoire through experimental studies and the econometrics of gold production, in order to assess the quantity of excavated gold.
In this project, Kültepe I/Duzdagi represents an earlier (ca. 4500-3800 BC), Zirinçlik/Misdagi an intermediate (ca. 4000-3500 BC) and the Maschavera group a later step (ca. 3400-3000 BC) of the Kuro-Araxes culture and its mining development.
Beside archaeological operations, the coring of marshy areas both in Georgia and Azerbaijan should provide mineralogical and organic proxies (insects, pollens, molluscs) in order to document the interactions between the evolution of the climate, the vegetation cover and pastoral herding. These operations will be completed by the study of the erosion/accumulation sequences within the embedded watersheds of the Naxçivançay, the Arpaçay (Nakhchivan) and the Mashavera rivers (Georgia).

Project coordinator

Madame Catherine Marro (Archéorient-Environnements et Sociétés de l'Orient Ancien) –

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


Archéorient Archéorient-Environnements et Sociétés de l'Orient Ancien

Help of the ANR 378,248 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: February 2013 - 36 Months

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