Caucasus connections? New data and interpretations for Armenian obsidian in Northern Mesopotamia

Ellery Frahm, Stuart Campbell, Elizabeth Healey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Contact across long distances is evident in the Neolithic of the Near East, whether driven by social networks, exchange links, or movement of individuals or populations. Movement of material, such as obsidian, can elucidate these processes but is often studied within a bounded world that places Mesopotamia at the center. This paper focuses on links that cut across the traditionally imposed boundaries between Northern Mesopotamia and the Caucasus. While Armenia is one of the world's most obsidian-rich landscapes, reports of Armenian obsidians in Northern Mesopotamia are scarce. The confirmation (or lack thereof) of these rare reports has important consequences regarding the movement of people, material, and information out of the Caucasus. As discussed here, all but one report either cannot be corroborated or are demonstrably erroneous. For one archaeological site, data processing methods led to overlaps in the signals for different obsidian sources. For another site, one element used in source identification suffered from unsystematic error. For other sites, data and key details went unpublished at the time. To corroborate past work that had identified Armenian obsidian at Domuztepe, 66 artifacts were newly sourced by electron microprobe analysis and confirmed by portable X-ray fluorescence. This sample was biased toward artifacts potentially from Armenia. Our analyses revealed that 15 artifacts match Pokr Arteni, one of the most used obsidian sources in Armenia. For reasons not yet clear, obsidian was brought to this Late Neolithic settlement over a distance of 670 km linearly and > 800 km on foot. Additionally, there are artifacts from four other sources in the Kura-Araxes basin, lending extra support to movement of materials, if not people, between the Caucasus and Domuztepe. Furthermore, there are similar patterns in the two chemical varieties of Pokr Arteni obsidian at Domuztepe and at a Late Neolithic site in Armenia, Aratashen, potentially reflecting similar processes or behaviors at this source.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)543-564
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science: Reports
StatePublished - Oct 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The Kahramanmaraş Museum and Turkey's Ministry of Culture and Tourism supported export and testing of the Domuztepe artifacts. Many of the Armenian obsidian specimens were collected by Frahm as part of the Obsidian Resources and Landscapes of Palaeolithic Armenia project, which he co-directs with Boris Gasparyan, Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, National Academy of Sciences, Armenia and Daniel S. Adler, University of Connecticut. Pavel Avetisyan, Director of the Institute for Archaeology and Ethnography, is greatly thanked for his continuing support of Frahm's work there. Some of the Armenian specimens were also collected by Frahm in collaboration with Khachatur Meliksetian and Sergei G. Karapetian, Institute of Geological Sciences, National Academy of Sciences, Armenia. Suren Kesejyan aided Frahm in sampling at the Arteni complex. Leslie Hale, Smithsonian Institution, arranged for Frahm to analyze obsidian specimens in the collection from M. James Blackman, Robert L. Smith, and James F. Luhr. Michael Glascock at MURR provided NAA and EDXRF data for matched obsidian specimens from the geological reference collection. Phillip Ihinger and Giselle Conde acquired WDXRF data for matched obsidian specimens in the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire's Materials Science Center. Conde's work on this project was supported, in part, by a Grant for Underrepresented Minority Research from the American Chemical Association . The pXRF instrument used for this study is part of the research infrastructure of the University of Minnesota's Wilford Laboratory of North American Archaeology, directed by Katherine Hayes. Frahm's work was supported, in part, by the University of Sheffield's Department of Archaeology ; the NARNIA Project, a Marie Curie training network (Grant # 265010 ); and by the Department of Earth Sciences, Institute for Rock Magnetism, and Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota . Two anonymous reviewers contributed to the clarity of the final paper.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Elsevier Ltd


  • Armenia
  • Caucasus
  • Electron microprobe analysis (EMPA)
  • Inter-regional contact
  • Late Neolithic
  • Northern Mesopotamia
  • Obsidian sourcing
  • Portable XRF (pXRF)
  • Syria
  • Turkey


Dive into the research topics of 'Caucasus connections? New data and interpretations for Armenian obsidian in Northern Mesopotamia'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this