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Mount Mets Ishkhanasar

Mount Mets Ishkhanasar (3,548m), an extinct volcano, is the tallest peak of the Ishkhanasar range which lies to the northwest of Goris on what was the border with Azerbaijan and is now the de facto border with the self-declared Republic of Nagorno Karabagh. It lies to the left of the road but visitors wishing to see the immensely worthwhile and fascinating petroglyphs at Ughtasar-will need a local guide and probably transport, since the track is too rough for even a Niva 4x4.

It takes about 90 minutes to drive to the site from Sisian although the last 500m has to be walked as the vehicle cannot make the steep ascent when fully laden. The petroglyphs are accessible only from mid July to late September because of snow and it can be bitterly cold at the high site even in summer. To anyone who has seen supposed rock carvings in museums the petroglyphs here are an absolute revelation with numerous designs scattered on boulders over a large area. The site is beautiful in itself with the volcano towering above and a small lake. It is also the haunt of bears and wolves, as is attested by the droppings and footprints.

Petroglyphs, called 'goat letters' in Armenian, are found in several parts of Armenia but these at Ughtasar are the most accessible. The site itself is at 3,300m altitude and over 2,000 individual petroglyphs have been found here scattered over tens of square kilometres. Some of the carvings depict animals, mostly the wild animals of the region but also domestic ones. Deer and wild goats are especially common as are aurochs, ancestors of domestic cattle. There are carvings of hunting scenes and ones showing the impedimenta of hunting. Birds are rarely depicted, while snakes feature frequently. People also feature in scenes depicting dancers, either two dancers together or communal dancing. Some rocks have just a single design but others have a whole collection of carvings, as many as 50 in extreme cases. The preponderance of hunting scenes and cattle has led to speculation that the people who carved the stones lived partly by cattle breeding, presumably pasturing their cattle here in summer, and partly by hunting. They must have been at least semi-nomadic since it would not be possible to survive here in winter. The age of the carvings is difficult to ascertain but estimates have varied between 10,000BC and 2,000BC.

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