Humans have inhabited the Caucasus since before 200,000 B.C. Archaeologists have discovered prehuman remains thought to be 1.7 million years old, and all three countries maintain that they were settled by descendants of Noah after his ark came to rest on Mount Ararat, now in Turkey. Secular historians agree that the area’s roots lie in the beginning of organized humanity. The area we know as the Caucasus was the northern border of what historians studying ancient civilizations call the Fertile Crescent. The area extends roughly from the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea, arching up to the Black Sea, then curving under the Caspian Sea. It includes the area between the Black and Caspian Seas. The Fertile Crescent marks the first large movement of people to other lands. “No doubt it is much of the story of the appearance of the earliest civilizations there. A turmoil of racial comings and goings for three or four thousands years both enriched and disrupted this area, where our history must begin. The Fertile Crescent was to be for most of historic times a great crucible of cultures, a zone not only of settlement but of transit, through which poured an ebb and flow of people and ideas. In the end this produced a fertile interchange of institutions, language and belief from which stems much of human thought and custom even today.”
Whether one credits Noah and his ark for transporting the first nonnatives to the area or believes a more mundane explanation—that populations were expanding so quickly they needed to move—the Caucasus Mountains were, for centuries, the northern border of an expanding Eurasian population. The area became known as a hotbed of metalworking during the Copper and Bronze Ages, from 6000 to 1000 B.C. Civilization was thriving in the area between the Caspian and Black Seas, with various tribes known as the Hittites, Kanes, Hatti, and Wahsusana. The invention of writing took place in Mesopotamia and was quickly brought back by traders, making this also one of the first literate areas of the world. As the area continued to grow, both explorers and traders found reason to traverse the land. As a result, the area of the Caucasus became a natural route on the Great Silk Road, which brought goods from the Far East to the Black Sea and points beyond. Traders most commonly took the routes from Persia (now Iran) to Yerevan (in Armenia today) and farther north through the mountain passes on the east side of Mt. Aragats to the town of Tbilisi in Georgia. One ancient trading path along the Hrazdan River was used 3,000 years ago; today part of it is a highway frequently filled with trucks hauling goods from the south to the north of Armenia. Between 1200 and 1176 B.C., the Bronze Age kingdoms faced their last fight against a mysterious intruder known as the People of the Sea. The people, known as Ahhiyawa, traveled with their families and were seeking new lands to settle as they made their way through Greece, into Asia Minor (including the Caucasus region), and on to the Near East. Many stopped to settle in the Caucasus area and were greeted as both friends and conquerors, depending on the locality. In the eighth century B.C., the Medes, the original inhabitants of Iran, made their way into present-day Azerbaijan.