State History Museum
(Republic Sq; www.historymuseum.am; 11.00-18.00 Tue-Sat, 11.00-17.00 Sun, last entry 1 hour before closing)
Apart from the exposition 'Palaeolithic to Bronze Age' which opened in 2010, the museum is virtually devoid of labelling in any language but Armenian. This is a great pity as it is a well-displayed excellent collection. There are no brochures or floor plans. English-speaking guides are available but it can be difficult to persuade them to concentrate on the items in which you're particularly interested rather than to follow the standard tour. However, for the lower two floors of the museum public-spirited individuals have provided a guide which can be freely downloaded from www.tacentral.com. It is strongly recommended that you do so before visiting. Their advice - to save your visit to the museum until the end of your trip - is sensible; the most important exhibits can then be put into the context of sites with which you are already familiar.
The ticket office is to the right as you go in. Go up to the third floor, through the glass doors which lead to the art gallery, and up the stairs on your left to reach the new display covering two million-1000bc. These four rooms contain a fascinating collection of items showing the enormous wealth of historic objects unearthed in Armenia. The collection certainly brought to life for me the ancient history of the country, with finds from so many well-visited sites such as Garni, Lake Sevan, Metsamor and Dvin. There are introductory explanations in English although the English is often surprisingly poor, ending up with contortions such as 'The making of tools was a peaceful and trustworthy dialogue of the prehistoric man with materials to realise and obtain the spiritual energy of the image enclosed in stone.' Furthermore, whilst much is labelled in English, it's usually the obvious articles such as knives, beads, etc, and where labels would actually be useful and interesting they are often sadly lacking. Favourite items of mine include finds from Karmir Blur such as Argishti I's ritual helmet and decorative shield of the 8th century bc, jewellery from various pre-Christian sites, and the Bronze Age chariot burial from near Lake Sevan. Also on display is the world's oldest shoe found in a cave near Areni and radiocarbon dated to about 3500bc by laboratories in Oxford in the UK, and California, USA.
On descending to the second floor English disappears and it is here the online guide is helpful, at least in part although things have inevitably changed with the opening of the third floor. In the rooms to the right of the staircase the guide still (2010) corresponds exactly to the displays. However, the rooms to the left, from where many exhibits have been moved upstairs, now display items from the Armenian kingdom of Cilicia and information about 20th-century events. The first floor has also changed but there is still an extensive display of carpets and religious artefacts.
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