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Fig 1 Overview Ped_Drone surveys_edited.



The Kasakh Valley Archaeological Survey (KVAS), a field initiative of Project ArAGATS, entails a systematic transect survey of the upper Kasakh River Valley along the eastern and northeastern flanks of Mt. Aragats.  A total of 43.7 sq km have been surveyed to date during four field seasons between 2014-2017. Along with intensive and extensive pedestrian and aerial survey and mapping, the project has also included test excavations at select sites and cemeteries at Mirak and Aparani Berd to address questions about the changing uses of ancient fortified landscapes in the region. While fortresses served as the monumental foci of settlement systems on the Armenian Highland for approximately a thousand years during the later Bronze and Iron Age periods our understanding of conflict and its sociopolitical implications in these periods remains underdeveloped.

During our survey, data from all periods were recorded, although the particular research goals driving the study have focused on fortified landscapes as a means to better understand the shifting role of militarism and warfare in politics, settlement, and social identity. The results of the survey are currently in preparation for publication, but a summary of the survey’s general approach to investigations in the Kasakh Valley can be found below.

Survey team and data collection strategy

KVAS’s fieldwork has relied on the generous support of Purdue University, Cornell University, the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Stanford University, and the National Science Foundation (grant #BCS-1561237). The survey was co-directed by myself and Dr. Alan Greene (NYU/ISAW), and participants included a helpful and hardy survey team (listed alphabetically): Karen Azatyan (Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography graduate student), Salpi Bocchieriyan (Cornell graduate student), Gabrielle Borenstein (Cornell graduate student), Amy Cromartie (Cornell graduate student), Dr. Elizabeth Fagan (Truman State University), Bryan Fagan, Elizabeth Hardy (Cornell graduate student), Arshaluys Mkrtchyan (Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography employee), Chris Stevenson (Purdue graduate student), and Shujing Wang (NYU/ISAW graduate student).  

Our survey employs full coverage systematic techniques, meaning our team walks the landscape evenly spaced, records archaeological and architectural complexes from all time periods, and collects representative small finds. The chronological breadth of recorded sites and isolated finds spans the Paleolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages, early historic and Medieval periods, through the Soviet era, and up to the contemporary. The generally sparse ground cover has led us to use a rather wide 50 meter transect spacing, which also proved successful during our earlier survey of the Tsaghkahovit Plain. In the survey area’s diverse topography, we draw on satellite imagery, especially high-resolution Pleiades 1 (50cm) and ASTER DEM (30m) data, to identify the range and distribution of survey transects. 

During the initial 2014 season, we conducted a pilot survey of different sections of the upper Kasakh River valley as a means of field-testing a new ‘born-digital’ tablet-based data collection system I developed using ESRI’s Collector for ArcGIS mobile app (a detailed description of our mobile GIS system is currently being prepared for publication). Between 2015 and 2017, our survey team expanded the use of this data collection system to see how it would perform with a larger crew and amidst a more extensive data collection effort. The increased scale of data collection also allowed us to test basic analytical processes within the GIS and begin to quantify and visualize spatial patterns in the survey data.

In 2017 we initiated a more extensive survey strategy to cover territory and range that was difficult to survey through systematic transect walking, either due to its verticality, ruggedness, or relative distance from our core survey region along the Kasakh River’s main trunk. In order to identify potential areas for extensive survey with high site potential, we utilized two primary methods. The first, involved “manual” scanning of the project’s Pleiades satellite imagery of the Upper Kasakh Valley, including the arable valley tracts, Tsaghkunyats foothills, and the eastern slopes of Mt. Aragats. Limited work in site identification and ground-truthing during the 2016 field season familiarized us with the imagery colors, textures, and patterns associated with various types of fortification, habitation, and mortuary sites. Thus, we were able to pre-identify sites for 2017 ground-truthing and verify them through extensive survey during the field season (e.g., Dzoraglukh 2). 

Our second extensive survey method combined this approach with the use of the Armenian Commission for the Preservation of Monuments online site list. The List, while somewhat dated and speculative, provided general geographic parameters for identifying the broad, likely locations of prehistoric and historic sites, which were then cross-referenced with Pleiades imagery in order to evaluate the degree of preservation and find potential. Sites identified in this manner included Aver Berd and numerous Medieval and Modern settlements, churches, and cemeteries throughout the survey area. 

For the photogrammetric component of our aerial survey, we employed Pix4Dmapper Pro software package, a tool that uses drone-derived aerial photos to generate 3D models and orthomosaic images of sites. Click here to learn more about our aerial photogrammetry program. 

KVAS’s ongoing research is focused on the mapping, data analysis, and publication of the 2014-2017 investigations. Future efforts will be directed to expanded landscape sampling and test excavations throughout the upper Kasakh River Valley.

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