BY JOSEPH DAGDIGIAN
YEREVAN—A delegation from the U.S. embassy in Armenia, headed by US ambassador John Heffern, visited the Shengavit Historical and Archaeological Culture Preserve across Yerevan Lake from the embassy on July 25.
Heffern and his accompanied by his wife Libby, as well as Cultural Affairs officer Sean O’Hara. Greeting the US delegation was Vladimir Tchagharyan, director of the Shengavit preserve; Gagik Gurdjyan, director of the Erebuni Historical and Archaeological Culture Preserve which oversees Shengavit as well. Dr. Hakob Simonyan, director of Armenia’s Research Center for Historical and Cultural Heritage (RCHCH); and Dr. Mitchell Rothman, head of the anthropology department at Widener University in Pennsylvania. Drs. Rothman and Simonyan are both conducting excavations at Shengavit.
While examining excavations dating to the fourth millennium B.C., Gurdjyan explained why the study of the Shengavit site was important not only for understanding the development of civilization in Armenia, but for the study of the entire region as cultural developments here were contemporary with developments in Mesopotamia, the Middle East, and elsewhere. The visitors viewed ongoing excavations by Dr. Rothman and Dr. Simonyan who both discussed the significance of their finds.
Following examinations of the excavations Shengavit director Tshagharyan led the group to the museum in which a number of Shengavit artifacts are on display. These include stone, bone, and metal tools as well as pottery, a hearth, and jewelry. Of special interest to Ambassador Heffern was a forensic reconstruction of a human head based on skeletal remains found at the site. The reconstruction illustrates what 4th millennium B.C inhabitants looked like. Of particular interest was the fact that the forensic reconstruction was done by noted doctor Antranig Tchagharyan, the father of Shengavit’s director. Ambassador Heffern expressed amazement that Yerevan’s history goes back not 3,000 years, as is often cited, but 6,000 years. Comparing this with the brief history of the United States, he stated that he would encourage all the staff members of the embassy to visit Shengavit while expressing hope that the embassy and the Shengavit preserve could work together to further develop the site. Director Tchagharyan invited the ambassador to visit the site again. The visit was followed by refreshments.
The Cambridge Yerevan Sister City Association (CYSCA) is currently working with the Shengavit Historical and Archaeological Culture Preserve director to provide amenities for visitors, preserve the aging museum building and its artifacts, and enhance the security of the site.
Before archaeological excavations are conducted, however, it is crucial that both government authorities and the participating archaeologists agree on a detailed plan for the preservation of the excavations and that adequate financing for preservation efforts be allocated. Currently there appears to be no firm plan for the preservation of the excavations and no available financing. Once exposed to the elements, the archaeological structures can quickly deteriorate preventing further scientific research and preventing public examination of these important historical and archaeological finds.
Details of CYSCA’s project may be found at www.cysca.org. More information on Shengavit is also available on the Erebuni Museum web site at www.erebuni.am.