By Peter Tase
In May 2016, I met in the city of Nakhchivan with Prof. Veli Bahşaliyev, from the Nakhchivan Academy of Sciences, with whom I discussed the importance of archeological discoveries in the Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan (Republic of Azerbaijan) and their impressive cultural influence within the context of South Caucasian archeological cultures. Prof. Bahşaliyev shared some of his research that was focused on the Middle and Late Bronze Age Painted Pottery in the region of Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan.
The following is the first part of my interview with Prof. Veli Bahşaliyev.
Peter Tase (PT): Based on your research, what are some of the features on Nakhchivan’s Painted Pottery?
Veli Bahşaliyev (VB): The painted pottery that is typical for the Nakhchivan region in the Middle Bronze Age appears in southern Azerbaijan (in the Urmiye basin), Mil Steppes of northern Azerbaijan, northeastern regions of Anatolia, Georgia and modern Armenia. If we are to make a general evaluation of the painted samples, despite of the local differences in form and decoration, we can assert that there is a common cultural atmosphere in the region located in the Lake Urmiye Basin, in the southern parts of the Caucasian mountains, north-eastern Anatolia and the Mil Muǧan Steppes. As a result of research executed in the region and also in consideration to topographical features, the region has been divided into six parts, namely the “Trialeti Culture”, “Tazekent Culture”, “Sevan-Üzerliktepe Culture”, “Kizilvank Culture”, “Nakhchivan Culture”, and the “Van-Urmiye Culture”. Although there are six different culture categories, we thought that it to be more convenient to divide these cultures into four categories, all of which will be examined thoroughly with their distinctive features and border lines.
PT: Can you further elaborate on the Sevan – Üzerliktepe Culture?
VB: K. H. Kuşnaryeva’s proposal for naming the painted pottery style in the Lake Sevan (Gökçe) Basin, Mil Steppes and the Nakhchivan region as “Sevan – Üzerliktepe Culture” and her suggestion of the Ararat valley as the origin of this particular culture is far from convincing. The centers characterized in K. H. Kuşnaryeva’s grouping are settlements and their necropolis is in high mountainous regions. The Üzerliktepe Hüyük located in the Mil Steppes of northern Azerbaijan is exemplified in this group, with its characteristics of Middle Bronze Age Culture. However, among the typical black burnished and stamped wares unearthed in this first, lowest stratum of the Üzerliktepe Hüyük, there cannot be observed any painted pottery.
Monochrome painted pottery found in the second stratum of this settlement shows us that these came out at a later stage of the Middle Bronze Age. The settlements included in this group, located on the slopes of high mountain regions and characterized by their black burnished pottery, definitely cannot be considered as the distribution centers of painted pottery. In our opinion the decoration style typical of Üzerliktepe in northern Azerbaijan, in the Lake Sevan Basin and the other settlements and necropolis of Armenia has originated from the Nakhchivan region and especially from the Kültepe II Hüyük. This unique decoration style has been widely used in the Nakhchivan region, especially in settlements like Kültepe II and Kültepe I.
The painted pottery founded at the Șahtahti, Șortepe and Nehecir Settlements and their Necropolis areas prove that this style was not limited to Kültepe II and Kultepe I settlements. On the other hand, starting from the Middle Bronze Age, unearthed pottery at the settlements in the Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan reflects different stages of development and continues to flourish uninterruptedly into the Iron Age.
PT: Tazekent (Karmir-berd) Culture expanded through the Aras Valley, what are some of its features?
VB: “Tazekent Culture” is another group of painted pottery that embody the local features in the Middle Bronze Age. This culture extends from the Aras Valley to the slopes of the high mountainous areas and into modern Armenia. It takes its name from the painted pottery found at the necropolis of Tazekent (Karmir-berd).
It is quite surprising and remarkable that excavations have not brought to light a settlement that belongs to this culture until today. Successive spirals, wired, triangular and rectangular forms widely used in this culture can also be seen at Göytepe, Haftavantepe, Nakhchivan and in Northeastern Anatolia. On the other hand, the culture layers of the Middle Bronze Age have not been studied properly in the settlements such as Ariç, Garni, Muhannettepe and Metsamor in Armenia. For this reason it is not possible to derive comprehensive and precise results from these settlements which do not have well-defined culture layers.
It is obvious that the painted pottery of the “Tazekent Culture” is under the influence of the painted pottery culture typical for Kültepe II Hüyük rather than being a local formation. The Kültepe II Hüyük, with a very rich and highly powerful Middle Bronze Age Culture, had become the center point of other settlements in the region. It is understood that very powerful culture centers like the Kültepe II and Kültepe I have established close relations with their surroundings and influenced them. I do not wish to state that these Hüyüks were the centers of origin for the Middle Bronze culture, but it is obvious that the painted pottery cultures of the Middle and Late Bronze Ages were much densely represented in the valley of the Aras River.
PT: What is the influence of Trialeti Culture within the Archeological sites of Nakhchivan?
VB: Having originated from the Çalkin Region of Georgia and spreading to various parts of southern Caucasus, the Trialeti Culture is characterized by its black burnished ware with incised decoration. The first stage of the Trialeti Culture was represented only in the necropolis areas with no pottery finds. Appearing only after the second stage of this culture, the painted pottery examples were found solely in the tombs of the rich, noble and ruling people.
On the contrary in Nakhchivan, Armenia and Northeastern Anatolia, painted pottery appears not only in the tombs of the abovementioned classes, but also in the graves of the common people. Doubtlessly, the region where this kind of pottery abounds in tombs is the Northeast Anatolian Plateau. For now it is not known whether the painted pottery unearthed in illegal digs by the locals of the region were found in the Hüyüks or not. The painted pottery, which is not dense in the Trialeti Culture, appears only in the southern part of this region.
Relying on this limited number of painted pottery finds, some researchers suggest that the Trialeti Culture has spread to Van, Nakhchivan and the Lake Urmiye region. In view of the case, such a proposal is far from being realistic. Unlike the monochrome painted ware of the Trialeti culture, the painted pottery unearthed in the Lake Urmiye Basin, Nakhchivan and Northeastern Anatolia shows variety in both form and decoration and has a wide area of distribution, proving the contrary of K. H. Kuşnaryeva’s proposal. The painted pottery of the Trialeti Culture obviously reflects the culture of the neighboring community.
In addition, the imported material found at the Trialeti kurgans shows the influence of Anatolia and Van-Urmiye regions. The small amount of painted pottery excavated at the Trialeti kurgans differs from the others in terms of decoration, indicating once again the great influence of Anatolia. Unfortunately some scholars accept the idea of synthesis in painted pottery, in a certain part of southern Caucasus, between the old Kura-Aras tradition of the Middle Bronze Age and the late comers to the same region. In the Trialeti Culture samples of painted pottery were found only in the tombs of the tribal leaders, thus indicating that the material was probably imported. Therefore it is quite clear that Trialeti, forming the northern border of the usage of this pottery, has not served as the production and distribution center of this material.
Source: “Middle and Late Bronze Age Painted Pottery Culture in the Nakhichevan Region” published in Istanbul (2001). Authors: Oktay Belli and Veli Bahşaliyev.