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Study and conservation of the Neolithic settlement of Goytepe

Study and conservation of the Neolithic settlement of Goytepe

The University of Tokyo

Azerbaijan

The Göytepe site

2008-Ongoing Human Resource Development,Fundamental Research
01/03/2013
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BACKGROUND

Investigating the northward diffusion of the food production economy

Research objectives

The world’s oldest subsistence economy based on cereal cultivation and stock breeding emerged in West Asia approximately ten thousand years ago. How did it spread to the surrounding regions? Much less has been discovered about the diffusion of this economy towards the north compared to westward expansion into Europe or to the east in Iran and Pakistan. How did this early agrarian society manage to get over the mountainous regions of Anatolia and the Caucasus? How did they interact with the hunter-gatherers native to the region? Research on the geographical expansion of the Neolithic economy presents extremely interesting challenges both in the field of archaeology and anthropology. In order to approach these issues, our team commenced fieldwork in the Republic of Azerbaijan in 2008.

Archaeology and cultural heritage conservation in Azerbaijan today

Following the independence of the Republic of Azerbaijan in 1991, the higher education system, which had been organized under the former Soviet Union, collapsed. In addition, opportunities for advanced education even within the new state institution were interrupted due to the political instability. This unfortunate situation has caused a serious lack of action in archaeological research, including the research on the Neolithic era mentioned above, as well as in human resource development in the field of heritage conservation.
Although our project in Azerbaijan had initially focused solely on scientific research, we were very happy to cooperate on the development of management and human resource training in heritage conservation at the request of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography now that the political situation has stabilized.

Excavation of Göytepe in progress

Schematic framework of cooperation on the investigation and conservation of the Göytepe site.

ACTIVITIES

Göytepe, one of the oldest Neolithic settlements in the South Caucasus

Research history

In Azerbaijan, full-scale investigations regarding the origins of agricultural society had been suspended in the 1970s for the reasons mentioned above. In order to overcome this situation, in 2008 a young archaeologist, Dr. Farhad Guliyev from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Azerbaijan, launched an excavation project at Göytepe, which was believed to be one of the oldest Neolithic sites in the country. We received a request for collaboration on this research via a French researcher who was a mutual acquaintance, and, since we shared the same interests, we decided to participate. We conducted a preparatory investigation in 2008, followed by full-scale fieldwork starting in 2009. In 2010, a new plan emerged to conserve and exhibit the site to the public. The University Museum, the University of Tokyo exchanged a memorandum of understanding with the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography. In response to this memorandum, the local state institution allocated a significant budget, which marked the formal commencement of the current conservation project.

Scientific research and conservation of the site

We believe that the exhibition of cultural heritage should be initiated and managed by the institutions of the state in which the heritage exists. Moreover, our team is not in a position to provide funds and/or human resources for an exhibition project. Instead, our expertise lies mainly in cooperation in the field of scientific research. The most feasible approach is for us to concentrate our efforts on collaboration on scientific research onsite and training of experts. Based on that, the state institutions can make a management plan for the conservation and public exhibition of the site. Although the two sides do not operate completely in isolation from each other, the responsibilities of each are clearly distinguished. Our project is now well underway, and in 2011, we took part in a training program sponsored by Azerbaijan to train young archaeologists from the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States), providing part of the curriculum.

Excavation at the CIS training workshop

Remains of Neolithic mud-brick architecture

Members of the excavation team in Göytepe

RESULTS

The emergence of a food production economy in the Caucasus

Research results

Our research at the site of Göytepe has revealed that the emergence of a subsistence economy based on cereal cultivation and stock breeding in the South Caucasus dates back to at least the early 6th millennium BC. The community lived in a village consisting of a cluster of mud-brick buildings, and they survived by growing several species of crops and raising livestock. However, our excavation has not yet reached the oldest layers of this settlement. Therefore, we must wait for further results to determine whether there existed an even older village, and if so, what its economy was like and where it originated.

Toward the construction of an archaeological park at Göytepe

The site of Göytepe is one of the largest and oldest Neolithic villages known in Azerbaijan, and furthermore it is the first prehistoric site to have been fully investigated since the state achieved independence. It is comparable to the Toro site in Shizuoka, Japan. Because of its unique value, the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography put forward a project to establish an archaeological park at Göytepe. The plan is to cover the site with a large roof structure to protect the archaeological remains, and to construct a new museum next to the site. The facility will thus give the public an opportunity to see the on-going excavation at the site and will allow us to disseminate world-class research results at the museum. To date, a road to access the site from the nearby highway, as well as a fence with a temporary gate to protect the site have been constructed. We are very honored to continue our collaboration on this wonderful project until its completion.

Access road to the Göytepe Archaeological Park

Temporary gate of the Göytepe Archaeological Park

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