A monumental horse burial in the armenian highlands

A. Nachmias, G. Bar-Oz, D. Nadel, L. Petrosyan, B. Gasparyan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Here we report on the unprecedented discovery of the complete skeleton of a ritually interred adult stallion with a bronze ring in its mouth. The horse was buried in a unique 15-meters diameter monumental stone-built tomb excavated in the Aghavnatun necropolis located on the southern slopes of Mt. Aragats, in the northern fringes of the Ararat Depression, Republic of Armenia. The tumulus was roughly circular; the horse's remains were found in situ, in an inner oval-shaped structure. Our methodological procedure included a detailed description of the burial, a taphonomic study of the bones, and meticulous morphometric observations and measurements, and thus we could provide a taxonomic definition and an age estimate. Direct radiometric dating of the horse's skeleton provided a date of 2130±20 BP. The morphological characteristics of the horse, with its tall stature and slender feet, suggest that it was a large individual, similar to the extinct breed of Nisean horse previously known mainly from textual and iconographical sources. The metal ring found in the mouth of the horse suggests that it likely served as a breeding stallion. This discovery presents a unique combination of zooarchaeological evidence for the importance of the horse in the Parthian-Hellenistic worlds, and advances our understanding of the broad social significance of the past breeding of equids in the Armenian Highlands.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-50
Number of pages10
JournalArchaeology, Ethnology and Anthropology of Eurasia
Volume49
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank Pavel Avetisyan—the Director of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia—for long-standing assistance and support of the project. The funds for the 2008 excavations in Aghavnatun were provided by the Gfoeller Renaissance Foundation (USA). We are also grateful to Nina Manaseryan for allowing us to examine the horse bones, and to architect Koryun Ghafadaryan for the drawing of the Aghavnatun tomb; to Dmitri Arakelyan, Narine Mkhitaryan, and Garik Prevyan for artifact illustrations; to Professor Makoto Arimura (Tokai University, Japan) for obtaining the 14C date; and to Sariel Shalev for examining the metal ring. We acknowledge the memory of our passed away colleague Firdus Muradyan, who was an important member of the Aghavnatun archaeological team.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Institute of Archaeology and Enthnography of the Siberian Branch of The Russian Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

Keywords

  • Ararat Depression
  • Armenia
  • Classical archaeology
  • Horse burial
  • Nisean horse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Cultural Studies

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