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Areni 1 (Armenia)

Chalcolithic Site in Armenia Areni 1


Areni-1 cave entrance

Areni-1 cave entrance

5500-year-old Leather Shoe from Areni-1

Leather shoe from Areni-1 in Armenia, made about 5500 years ago.

Pinhasi et al 2010

Areni-1 ( known locally as Bird's Cave) is a multicomponent karst cave site in Vayots Dzor province of Armenia. The site is approximately 1.5 km (~1 mi) east of the village of Areni. The extremely arid environment in the cave has led to exceptional preservation of organic materials, including textiles, plant remains and wooden artifacts. In particular, preserved organic remains from Areni-1's Chalcolithic occupation has proven important.

Cultural deposits within Areni-1 are located within three galleries of the cave, an external rock shelter, and the talus slope outside of the cave itself. The galleries extend into the cave a depth of more than 40 m (~130 ft) including subsidiary caverns and niches.

Areni-1 Cultural Occupations

Archaeological excavations at Areni-1 have shown that people used the cave fairly continuously between the Neolithic and late medieval times. The earliest occupation identified at the cave isdated to the Neolithic, consisting of a brief occupation with associated radiocarbon dates calibrated to 6390–6240 BC.

A substantial Chalcolithic occupation dated ~5000–3000 BC is in evidence in all parts of the cave and outside of it. an early Iron Age dated between 1100 and 800 BC, included  few potsherds and a bronze adze. One house dates to the Islamic caliphate during the eighth and ninth centuries A.D. The Medieval occupation dates between the 12th and 14th centuries AD, and includes cylindrical bread-baking ovens and a series of paved and plastered dwelling floors. The medieval occupation includes large quantities of cotton seeds, fibers and small amounts of dyed textiles. Scholars assign these materials to the second half of the Mongol Ilkhanid occupation.

Chalcolithic occupation at Areni-1

At least two Chalcolithic occupations are present within the cave, dating to the first half of the 4th millennium BC and the last quarter of the fifth. Evidence suggests that the inhabitants lived, worked and carried on ritual activities within the cave. Dwellings, hearths, stone tools and animals bones were found in parts of the cave, while at the rear of the central gallery were found three clay pots each containing the skull of a subadult.

Also identified within the Chalcolithic occupations was a complete shoe, the oldest complete specimen we have of a shoe to date, slight older than that of Otzi the Iceman.

The three human skulls identified within the rear gallery were each encased in a spherical receptacle of unbaked clay. The receptacles included skulls of two sub-adults and a child. Other similar receptacles contained burned long bones, each exhibiting postmortem carnivore damage. These burials date between 3800-4300 cal BC.

Artifacts discovered in the Chalcolithic levels included wood, cloth, and textiles. Plants represented include grapes, almonds, plums, pears, hackberry, and walnuts. Domesticated plants include Emmer and bread wheat, barley, lentils, and peas.

Wine Production at Areni-1

Reported in 2011 (Barnard et al.) was a platform installation dated to the Chalcolithic period that was apparently constructed specifically to produce and bottle grape wine. This installation included a pressing platform and several large storage–type jars, which the scholars interpret as evidence of possible secondary fermentation processes. Measurements of the Chalcolithic grape pips indicated to researchers that the grapes are of an intermediary status between wild and domestic.

History of Archaeology

Areni-1 was first identified as part of a 2006-2009 archaeological survey of the middle part of the Arpa River drainage drainage in the of Vyats Dzor province of Armenia. Excavations at the cave began in 2007, led by Gregory E Areshian, and an international team including the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA, and the University College Cork, Ireland. The excavations were sponsored by the Armenian National Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society among others.


This glossary entry is a part of the About.com guide to Chalcolithic, and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Areshian G, Gasparyan B, Avetisyan P, Pinhasi R, Wilkinson K, Smith A, Hovsepyan R, and Zardaryan D. 2012. The chalcolithic of the Near East and south-eastern Europe: discoveries and new perspectives from the cave complex Areni-1, Armenia. Antiquity 86(331):115 – 130.

Barnard H, Dooley AN, Areshian G, Gasparyan B, and Faull KF. 2011. Chemical evidence for wine production around 4000 BCE in the Late Chalcolithic Near Eastern highlands. Journal of Archaeological Science 38(5):977-984.

Carò F, Douglas JG, and Im S. 2010. Towards a quantitative petrographic database of Khmer stone materials — Koh Ker style sculpture. Archaeometry 52(2):191-208.

Pinhasi R, Gasparian B, Areshian G, Zardaryan D, Smith A, Bar-Oz G, and Higham T. 2010. First Direct Evidence of Chalcolithic Footwear from the Near Eastern Highlands. PLoS ONE 5(6):e10984.

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