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Archaeological Fieldwork in Armenia Exciting Opportunity for UGs

A team from HKU has embarked on an ambitious, five-year archaeological project to excavate ancient settlements in Armenia. HKU’s participation marks one of the first times a university from East Asia has taken on a significant role in a major archaeological expedition to the Ancient Near East, and is the start of an important collaboration with the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the Republic of Armenia’s National Academy of Sciences (NAS RA).


Dr Peter J. Cobb, Assistant Professor in the Faculties of Education and Arts, is directing the project in collaboration with Dr Artur Petrosyan and Mr Boris Gasparyan of the NAS RA, whom he met when running a surface survey project in Armenia in 2018. In the following year, they developed together the Ararat Plain Southeast Archaeological Project (APSAP), which concentrates on understanding human life and mobility in the Vedi river valley, a tributary valley to the Ararat Plain south of the capital of Yerevan. The project focuses particularly on the Late Bronze and Iron Ages (ca 1550 BCE – 300 CE) and the Medieval period (ca 1100 – 1400 CE).


“The Vedi river valley connects the Plain to the west with the mountains to the east,” said Dr Cobb, “and is thus a natural corridor for travel and the exchange of ideas throughout history, leading to great potential for archaeological field research in this area. In 2019, the team surveyed parts of the valley to discover new sites and we began the excavation of the main local site, the Vedi Fortress, a 3,000-year old defensive point in the centre of the valley.


For the initial expedition, the team from HKU included four undergraduates and two postgraduates, who joined forces with undergraduates and researchers from universities in Turkey, Armenia and the USA. It would prove an exciting – and for most who took part – unique experience and the project as a whole represents a great opportunity for Education undergraduates. “The Armenia field project has now become an official credit-bearing course in the Faculty of Education,” said Dr Cobb, “and, in addition to excavating, the HKU students will join a teaching project that introduces archaeological fieldwork to local Armenian school children.”


This pedagogical opportunity was made possible through partnership with Dr Ani Avagyan and the Education Department of the National Gallery of Armenia. The experiential learning class, which will first occur in the summer of 2020, is called BBED6796: Cultural Heritage and Information in the Field.


“At the same time, an internship collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania should see three students join from that university. The class will enable all students to gain experience in field archaeology, to learn about the Ancient Near East, and to develop new skills in digital humanities technologies and information management during a complex data collection project. We plan to offer this class at HKU every summer.


As a member of the Faculty’s Academic Unit of Human Communication, Development, and Information Sciences, Dr Cobb’s research focuses particularly on deploying innovative information science techniques to archaeological fieldwork. “Archaeology is a science that collects detailed data about the material remains of human life, communications and development in the past. Today, we have many new digital technologies that help us collect these data more efficiently and at higher accuracies than ever before. Through the critical support of the Faculty of Education and a close collaboration with the Faculty’s Technology and Infrastructure Development Office under Mr Desmond Ho, we now have the ability to test many new types of digital equipment in the field in Armenia.


“In the summer, we will use an unmanned aerial vehicle to map our sites and excavation from above with photography. We will also use a set of compact but high-resolution cameras to map everything we excavate in 3D.”


Asked to sum up the whole experience, Dr Cobb said: “Archaeology is fun because you never know what you will find as you dig or hike. Each day is a new experience. Learning about the past is so important for helping us understand the present and prepare for the future. Archaeology is unique in that it allows us to study very long time-spans – to see how human societies change and adapt over centuries and millennia. Asia, like the Ancient Near East, has a long history of complex society, and thus makes a good place for comparative understanding. I invite everyone to get involved in our project, even alumni and volunteers from the public.”


Dr Peter Cobbs

Students make exciting discoveries as they uncovered the past during the excavation.


Pieces of ancient pottery were found at the excavation sites. (Credit: Yadian Wong)

Noravank Monastery

Dr Peter Cobb and his students in front of the Noravank Monastery.