Armenia July 2013
In the framework of the ANR ORIMIL project, I visited a colleague, Roman Hovsepyan, archaeobotanist at the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography (National Academy of Sciences of Armenia), between the 1st and 8th of July 2013.
The purpose of this visit was to draft a database of archaeobotanical millet in Armenia and more broadly, in the Caucasus. This step required the examination of both literature and archaeological material. Several goals were defined:
1) to produce a state of the art and to understand how and when millet arrives – or appears – in the Caucasus region
2) to collect modern material (Panicum miliaceum and Setaria Italica)
3) to constitute a reference collection for macro- and microremains (mainly phytoliths), as well as for isotopic analysis.
In order to collect modern samples of millet, we visited Dr. Nina Stepanyan at the Institute of Botany in Yerevan and went to the herbarium to look at samples of modern millet (fig. 1). Locations where millet was collected provided good information on where we could find some millet today. Unfortunately, some samples were collected in Nakhichevan, a region not accessible from Armenia, due to a complex political situation.
Then we spent 3-4 days surveying the outskirts of Yerevan looking for millet. We identified a field of Panicum miliaceum the first day, and nothing after that. In fact it seems that millet is hardly anymore in Armenia, according to seed’s sellers.
The first day, we visited the Scientific Centre of Agriculture and Plant Protection in Etchmiadzin (Armavir) (fig. 2).
Dr. Roland Ghazaryan confirmed that millet is not cultivated anymore in Armenia, to the exception of a few fields which products are used to feed birds. Following his suggestion, we went to the seed market and we found one lady who sold millet originating from a village close by. We finally found the only field of Panicum miliaceum of the trip in Mrgastan (Armavir) (fig. 3).
The second day we drove to the Hatis Mountain, on the Kotayk plateau. Emmer and barley are cultivated there. A shepherd told us that millet use to be cultivated in this region and in particular in the village of Zar, but hasn’t been since the collapse of Soviet Union.
We eventually visited Vedi and Areni. On our way there, we asked several people (seed sellers, farmers) who confirmed that millet was not cultivated in this area. Some fodder seed sellers told us that it was imported from Russia. In Sharap and Lusashogh, millet was cultivated until WWII and possibly up to the 1950’s. It is in Areni that is located the famous Areni-1 cave complex where the earliest known shoe was discover, a 5,500-year-old leather shoe, probably the oldest preserved shoe in the world and a grape pressing device dated between 4223 and 3790 cal BC. Roman studied the archaeobotanical material from the Chalcolithic layers (4300-3300 cal BC). We finished the day with some touristic activities at Noravank, a 13th century monastery, and with local wine tasting!
The third day was dedicated to a visit of the Ararat plain. In Armavir, some people didn’t even know was millet was. We asked several seed sellers and different seed markets, but without success. On the way to Aratashen, people told us that millet was cultivated in Talin but when we got to Talin, we could not find any evidence supporting this.