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Stone & Bronze Age

Crudely worked stone tools found on the slopes of Mount Aragats have been dated to around 600,000 to 800,000 years ago and more sophisticated ones such as spear points and knives to the period between 40,000 and 100,000 years ago. The transition from hunting and gathering to a more settled way of life sustained by agriculture began in Armenia in the Arax Valley about 10000bc. However, the first people to leave significant traces on the Armenian landscape did so in the form of petroglyphs, or images carved on rock, which can be found in various regions of Armenia. Those in the Gueghamian Mountains west of Lake Sevan have been studied in detail but the carvings in other regions are similar. They are believed to date from around the period 5000-3000bc. The oldest show both wild animals such as deer, wild boar, wolves, foxes, snakes, rabbits, storks and game birds as well as the earliest domestic animals such as dogs and goats. Pictures of hunters using bows, clubs or slings are common and the hunters are often accompanied by their dogs. However, the carvings also show many animals tethered or bound indicating that some of the game may have been kept alive either for future consumption or even for breeding.

In the later carvings the portrayal of human figures had developed considerably from the original vertical line with a circle for the head. As well as outstretched or raised arms some figures began to have waving arms as one of the first representations of movement. There are also many carvings of celestial bodies: the sun, moon, stars, and also lightning. Some of the later carvings show a multitude of carts and chariots drawn by oxen or bulls with stellar symbols on their fronts and these are likely to be connected with a cult of the sun.

Little is known about these hunters but during the period when the later carvings were created a series of villages and fortified settlements developed in the Arax Valley based on metalworking. Local high-quality supplies of ore led to the forging of copper and bronze and then the smelting of iron by around 3000bc. Artefacts found in these settlements include black-varnished red and grey pottery in geometric patterns, similar to those of contemporary Minoan culture. Burial goods suggest a religious belief centred on the sun and planets. Armenia has two monuments from this period believed to be astral observatories. At Metsamor (Armavir province) there is a series of stone platforms dated to 2800bc oriented towards Sirius, the brightest star visible, and there are also numerous carvings showing the position of stars in the night sky together with a compass pointing east.

At Karahunj (near Sisian in Syunik province) there is an elaborate arrangement of stones in which holes are bored strongly suggesting an astronomical purpose and possibly enabling the tracking of solar and lunar phases. It has even been suggested that it was in Armenia at this period that the signs of the zodiac were named: certainly the animal signs are all of creatures which would have been familiar in Armenia with no obvious omissions apart possibly from the leopard.

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