University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

In among the Hills: Prepping for the Excavations at Oglanqala – Petra Creamer


June 16, 2015

Every year, the Penn Museum provides support to Penn undergraduates and graduate students as they deepen their understanding of the human experience outside the Museum’s walls. Follow these blog posts from our intrepid young scholars as they report on the sights and sites that they encounter throughout their travels in the field.


Just like every year, the summons to the field is upon us! My first year at Penn as a graduate student in the Art and Archaeology of the Mediterranean World program (AAMW) was supremely rewarding, and I’m thrilled to have the Penn Museum’s generous support in rounding it off with a summer of survey and excavation! I cannot wait to feel dirt under my fingernails once again as my team and I strive to unearth new and exciting features, objects, and hopefully, insights.

Oglanqala and its surrounding areas.  The Araxes River separates Naxcivan from Iran.  (Taken from Ristvet et al. 2012.  “On the Edge of Empire: 2008 and 2009 Excavations at Oglanqala, Azerbaijan.”  American Journal of Archaeology.  Vol. 116, No. 2.)
Oglanqala and its surrounding areas. The Araxes River separates Naxcivan from Iran. (Taken from Ristvet et al. 2012. “On the Edge of Empire: 2008 and 2009 Excavations at Oglanqala, Azerbaijan.” American Journal of Archaeology. Vol. 116, No. 2., Pages 321-362.)

The focus of my summer will be the Iron Age site of Oglanqala in the Naxcivan Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan. Excavations at Oglanqala are part of the joint American-Azerbaijani Naxcivan Archaeological Project, with participants from many different institutions. Oglanqala is located roughly 15 km from the Iranian border in the northern half of the Serur Plain, the most fertile valley in Naxcivan. One of the most notable features of the site is its Iron Age fortress; this, combined with its strategic position high on a hill overlooking the valley, most likely allowed Oglanqala to control both the plain and a mountain pass further north along the Arpacay River. This will be my first season excavating at this site, and I’m extremely excited to see the site and landscape, experience Azerbaijani culture, and learn how to camp in a tent for two months without going insane! (I’ve been camping before, but more to the tune of eight days, not eight weeks – this will be interesting, to say the least.)

The settlement at Oglanqala was founded in the Early Iron Age around 1000 BCE. Five levels of occupation have been identified at the site, spanning from its establishment to medieval times. Its location is especially interesting to us because it was settled on the fringes of several empires, including the powerful and widespread Achaemenid Persian Empire. We are interested in exploring this relationship between the Serur Plain’s sites and the empires which undoubtedly interacted with the area. The excavation and survey in the area aim to answer questions we have about the origins, operations, and collapse of a series of 1st millennium BCE polities in the Serur Plain.

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Oglanqala was right at the edge of multiple empires, which makes it an exciting place to excavate! (Taken from Ristvet et al. 2012. “On the Edge of Empire: 2008 and 2009 Excavations at Oglanqala, Azerbaijan.” American Journal of Archaeology. Vol. 116, No.  2, Pages 321-362.)

This summer, I will be arriving in Azerbaijan on June 9th as part of the survey team under Dr. Emily Hammer (Oriental Institute, University of Chicago). Surveys in previous years have worked to map the surrounding areas of Naxcivan and the sites contained within it, while also working to measure and map Oglanqala. We will be expanding that work this year with two weeks of active surveying to gather as much information on the surrounding area as possible. After the survey is over, I will then be joining the rest of the Oglanqala team at the beginning of the second week of excavations. This season we will be focusing on uncovering parts of the local settlement and its houses surrounding the fortress, and might also continue work on the site’s Iron Age cemetery.

The internet will be a rare luxury while camping on the hillside, but I will continue to give updates on the site and my experiences in Azerbaijan (whether related to archaeology or not!). Right now, however, I have to finish packing…

ONE of the two huge suitcases I am bringing. Also absent is the Total Station I’m in charge of!
ONE of the two huge suitcases I am bringing. Also absent is the Total Station I’m in charge of!

To learn more about the site and past excavation seasons, please check out www.oglanqala.net, which gives a much more comprehensive overview of the site than I could fit here. Excavations at Oglanqala are led by Dr. Lauren Ristvet (University of Pennsylvania), Dr. Hilary Gopnik (Emory University), and Dr. Vǝli Baxșǝliyev (Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences, Naxcivan) as part of the joint American-Azerbaijani Naxcivan Archaeological Project.


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