Archaeological work completed in Gobustan National Art and Historical Reserve in Azerbaijan

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From August 5 to 24, 2022, an international team of Spanish, Azerbaijani and Italian archaeologists carried out archaeological work in the Gobustan National Art and Historical Reserve of Azerbaijan.

Within the framework of the collaborations developed by the National Artistic and Historical Reserve of Gobustan, Azerbaijan, since 2019, and interrupted due to the COVID pandemic, archaeological works have been developed which aim to know the chronology of the rock art of Gobustan and its link with the human groups who occupied this territory during prehistory.

To this end, research activities have been carried out focusing on the study of prehistoric portable art (the materials of which are in the collection of the Gobustan Museum) and rock art located on the Boyükdaş mountain, more precisely around Ana Zaga.

The development of the project focuses on knowing the chronology of rock art, obtaining digital data and relating the art to prehistoric human occupations in order to get closer to its meaning.

Campaign 2022 to Ana Zaga

During the 2022 campaign work focused on Ana Zagadocumented the rock art of the shelter to discover the overlaps between the motifs and to be able to approximate the relative chronology of its execution, as well as to be able to understand the degree of reuse of the figures in the times after its execution.

In addition, a small excavation or “refreshment” of the stratigraphic section was carried out in order to specify the chronology of the prehistoric human occupations which covered part of the engravings, and thus to be able to date the rock art with minimum ages.

The small excavation was carried out taking advantage of a working front that was discovered by the excavations carried out by Rustamov in 1977.

This excavation area was chosen because the sediments covered part of the engraved rocks, and also the passage of time had altered the cut and there was a risk of losing the old stratigraphic front, which if it had fallen would have meant the loss of part of the archaeological materials.

This archaeological work, whose study is in a preliminary phase, brought to light 5 archaeological levels containing archaeological occupations ranging from the Middle Ages (around the 15th century) to the Mesolithic (around 10,000 years ago).

During the work carried out, lithic industry (stone tools), animal bones consumed by prehistoric groups (among others sheep, goats, horses and cattle), personal ornaments, ceramic remains and numerous bones of small animals and charcoal ‘they will let you know what the climate was like over the past 10,000 years.

The most notable discovery was the discovery of human remains at level 5, attributed to the Mesolithic, a period between about 10,000 years ago when human groups were hunter-gatherer populations..

Human remains recovered from level 5 of the Ana Zaga shelter (about 10,000 years old). Credit: Atapuerca Foundation.

Concretely, a human foot was recovered from a young person (between 4 and 8 years old) who was in an anatomical position.

In the absence of precise works, the documented vestiges allow to consider provisionally that it is about a human burial which took place in Ana Zaga.

Further studies will specify the age of the individual, and will have to determine the relationship between the human remains and those previously located, since it is possible that they are the same individual; this will make it possible to determine the type of burial and the possible existence of a funeral ritual.

Ana Zaga’s human remains are key to studying the symbolic behaviors and ancestral rites of the last hunter-gatherer groups.

These human remains join the select and rare set of prehistoric human remains known before the first breeding and agricultural populations, among whom burials and the associated funeral ritual became widespread.

Further studies will identify the DNA of this individual and its relationship to other Eurasian populations, and isotopic analyzes will provide data on the diet of these populations.

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