Field survey and geochemical characterization of the southern Armenian obsidian sources

John F. Cherry, Elissa Z. Faro, Leah Minc

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


In comparison with those of the west Mediterranean, the Aegean, and Anatolia, the numerous obsidian sources in the southern Caucasus have begun to receive archaeological attention only recently. The least research has been directed to the southernmost of these sources, in the province of Syunik in southern Armenia. These sources lie close to the border with Azerbaijan, in remote mountainous uplands reaching elevations above 3200 m and under snow for more than half the year. The flows around the volcanic domes at Bazenk, Satanakar, and Sevkar provide abundant, high-quality obsidian which, although geologically well documented, has been neither adequately characterized in terms of geochemical variability, nor assessed archaeologically with regard to its past utilization. Research at the Syunik obsidian sources has been undertaken since 2005 as one part of the Armenian-American Vorotan Project. The purpose of the fieldwork and analyses presented here was to characterize the flows by means of large-scale sampling for Instrumental Neutron Activation Analysis; to assess the distribution of the raw material, by both natural and cultural means; and to evaluate source preference and utilization in antiquity. Study has concentrated on the documentation and sampling of the sources, as well as secondary obsidian deposits along the Vorotan River, together with morphological, technological, and metrical analyses of the large obsidian assemblage collected in the course of survey and excavation by the project. Results indicate that the Bazenk and Satanakar sources have more than one geochemically-distinct flow, whereas all of the samples from the various Sevkar flows are indistinguishable. Analysis of artifacts from sites ranging in date from the late 5th to 1st millennium B.C. indicate an overwhelming preference for Sevkar obsidian. Heavy use of cobbles taken from the Vorotan River appears to have affected local lithic reduction strategies in significant ways.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)147-163
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Field Archaeology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Lithic analysis
  • Neutron activation analysis
  • Obsidian
  • Sourcing
  • Southern Armenia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology


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