Silk Road: Ughtasar

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Silk Road 5: Ughtasar. The Petroglyphs.

Ughtasar

Ughtasar is the site of an important archaeological find, a large petroglyph field on top of Mt. Ughtasar (“Camel Mountain”) about 17.5 km NW of Sissian. The site is reached only by four-wheel drive in good weather (the best time to visit is between mid July and the end of August).

Spanning hundreds of kilometers of territory, the carvings (“itsagir” or “goat-letters” in popular lore) found on the slopes of Ughtasar can also be found on dozens of sites in Armenia; on mountains near Tsghuk (Mets Karakhach), the Vardenis Range, and at the sources of the Yeghegis (Mt. Vardenis), Arpa (Mt. Khachatsar) and Vorotan rivers (Mt. Davagioz) to name a few. Common among them is their altitude (3,000-3,300m), their iconography and their locations near glacial lakes - which were not nearly as cold as they are now.

The Ughtasar site is located by a small glacier lake nestled in a rim of an extinct volcano that blew itself out in the Pleistocene period. The lake can have ice floes year-round and patches of snow in the area never completely melt. The carvings are found on stones that surround the lake.

The number and development of the carvings suggest this field was used over thousands of years, beginning in the Paleolithic era (ca. 12,000 BCE).

People from later eras (Chalcolithic and Bronze Age) continued to record their prowess and beliefs on the stones. The largest variety and number of carvings date to this period and the early Iron Age, before it was finally abandoned except for a few carvings made by lonely shepherds spending their summers on the mountain top.

The Petroglyphs 

The petroglyphs at Ughtasar are images carved onto black and grey volcanic stone, using stone tools. The petroglyphs at Ughtasar are in the main considered memorials; commemorating the life and prowess of the dead. They are rich with flora and fauna imagery, along with human and animal images, circles, spirals, dots, lines, and other geometric and abstract forms.

The rudimentary carvings are amazingly perceptive, recounting origin myths and tribal traditions, emotions, beliefs, defeats and victories of the ancestors. Most images depict men in scenes of hunting and fighting, cultivating land, competing and dancing.

Carvings include depictions of animals (wild and domesticated aurochs urus - wild ancestors of cattle – goats, mufflon, gazelles, deer, horses, boars, wolves, dogs, jackals, leopards, bears and tigers); hunters with lassoes, traps, bows and arrows, pikes, spears and shields; carts and sleds pulled by oxen (aurochs). Cattle breeding and sheep and goat herding predominate. Interestingly, birds do not figure prominently in the Ughtasar carvings.

There are numerous cosmic symbols, including one for the zodiacal sign Aries and rudimentary calendars carved like wheels for dividing time by using a cross and four circles for the seasons. Geographic elements are also featured: rivers, lakes, springs etc., followed by astronomical bodies and phenomena: the Sun, the Moon, stars, stellar constellations and starry sky, comet, and lightning.

Among the more complex carvings are what some say are among the earliest depictions of dance in the ancient world; scenes of ceremonial dance with two or more figures. Others show figures performing, perhaps relating a famous fight or hunt, or depicting the figures as communal leaders.

Other scenes are social in nature, depicting moments revolving around the central figure's place in society, or performing ritual acts.