Faculty Publications

"Every contact leaves a trace: Documenting contamination in lithic residue studies at the Middle Palaeolithic sites of Lusakert Cave 1 (Armenia) and Crvena Stijena (Montenegro)"
Plos One (2022)

Authors: Ellery Frahm, Daniel S. Adler, Boris Gasparyan, Bing Luo, Carolina Mallol, Goran Pajovic, GIlbert B. Tostevin, Benik Yeritsyan, Gilliane Monnier
Abstract: Investigations of organic lithic micro-residues have, over the last decade, shifted from entirely morphological observations using visible-light microscopy to compositional ones using scanning electron microscopy and Fourier-transform infrared microspectroscopy, providing a seemingly objective chemical basis for residue identifications. Contamination, though, remains a problem that can affect these results. Modern contaminants, accumulated during the post-excavation lives of artifacts, are pervasive, subtle, and even “invisible” (unlisted ingredients in common lab products). Ancient contamination is a second
issue. The aim of residue analysis is to recognize residues related to use, but other types of residues can also accumulate on artifacts. Caves are subject to various taphonomic forces and organic inputs, and use-related residues can degrade into secondary compounds. This organic “background noise” must be taken into consideration. Here we show that residue contamination is more pervasive than is often appreciated, as revealed by our studies of Middle Palaeolithic artifacts from two sites: Lusakert Cave 1 in Armenia and Crvena Stijena in Montenegro. First, we explain how artifacts from Lusakert Cave 1, despite being handled following specialized protocols, were tainted by a modern-day contaminant from an unanticipated source: a release agent used inside the zip-top bags that are ubiquitous in the field and lab. Second, we document that, when non-artifact “controls” are studied alongside artifacts from Crvena Stijena, comparisons reveal that organic residues are adhered to both, indicating that they are prevalent throughout the sediments
and not necessarily related to use. We provide suggestions for reducing contamination and increasing the reliability of residue studies. Ultimately, we propose that archaeologists working in the field of residue studies must start with the null hypothesis that miniscule organic residues reflect contamination, either ancient or modern, and systematically proceed to rule out all possible contaminants before interpreting them as evidence of an artifact’s use in the distant past.
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"Middle Pleistocene environments, landscapes and tephrostratigraphy of the Armenian Highlands: evidence from Bird Farm 1, Hrazdan Valley"
Journal of Quaternary Science (2021)

Authors: Jennifer E. Sherriff, Keith N. Wilkinson, Poppy Harding, Hayley Hawkins, Rhys G. O. Timms, Daniel S. Adler, Emily J. Beverly, Simon P. E. Blockley, Boris Gasparyan, Christina G. Manning, Darren Mark, Samvel Nahapetyan, Katie J. Preece
Abstract: The significance of the southern Caucuses in understanding Pleistocene hominin expansions is well established. However, the palaeoenvironments in which Palaeolithic occupation of the region took place are presently poorly defined. The Hrazdan river valley, Armenian Highlands, contains a rich Palaeolithic record alongside Middle Pleistocene volcanic, fluvial and lacustrine strata, and thus offer exciting potential for palaeoenvironmental reconstruction. We present the first results of sedimentological, geochemical, tephrostratigraphical and biological (diatoms) study of the sequence of Bird Farm 1, located in the central part of the valley. These data show six phases of landscape development during the interval 440–200 ka. The sequence represents the first quantitative Pleistocene diatom record from the Armenian Highlands and the southern Caucasus, and indicates the persistence of a deep, stratified lacustrine system, with evidence for changing lake productivity that is tentatively linked to climate. Furthermore, major element chemical characterization of visible and crypto‐tephra horizons in the sequence enables the first stages of the development of a regional tephrostratigraphy. Together, the evidence from Bird Farm 1 demonstrates the importance of lacustrine archives in the region for palaeoenvironmental reconstruction and highlights the potential for linkages between archives on both a local and regional scale.
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"Geochemical changes in obsidian outcrops with elevation at Hatis volcano (Armenia) and corresponding Lower Palaeolithic artifacts from Nor Geghi 1"
Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports (2021)

Authors: Ellery Frahm, Kristine Martirosyan-Olshansky, Jennifer E. Sherriff, Keith N. Wilkinson,, Phil Glauberman, Yannick Raczynski-Henk,  Boris Gasparyan, Daniel S. Adler
Abstract: Most descriptions of obsidian-bearing rhyolitic lava flows and domes are largely based on relatively simple cases of tectonic plate subduction in North America, but Armenian geologists proposed since the 1960s that these models are less suitable for describing rhyolitic volcanism in their research area. Obsidian-producing volcanoes that lie in the Armenian Highlands, they argued, are more complex in form and stratification. Hatis volcano in central Armenia is one such example. As we document, Hatis is highly unusual, perhaps unique, in that its obsidian changes in composition with elevation. Prior studies of Hatis obsidian recognized the existence of two different chemical types. Here though, we report a series of four obsidian chemical types and their spatial distributions across the slopes. Our findings were enabled by the use of portable XRF during our field surveys of Hatis. Additionally, we recognized each of these four chemical types of Hatis obsidian at the Lower Palaeolithic site of Nor Geghi 1, where thousands of obsidian artifacts reflect Pleistocene hominin behaviors from Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 11 (~424-374 ka) to 9 (~337-300 ka). Thus, all four types of Hatis obsidian are archaeologically significant despite the fact that their outcrops span more than 500 m (from <1600 to greater than 2100 m asl) in elevation on the volcanic slopes, thereby enabling future studies on links between altitude and hominin toolstone acquisition behaviors over hundreds of millennia.
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"The Techno-typological and 3D-GM Analysis of Hatis-1: a Late Acheulian Open-Air Site on the Hrazdan-Kotayk Plateau, Armenia"
Journal of Paleolithic Archaeology (2021)

Authors: Jayson P. Gill, Daniel S. Adler, Yannick Raczynski-Henk, Ellery Frahm, Jennifer E. Sherriff, Keith N. Wilkinson, Boris Gasparyan
Abstract: Hatis-1 is a Lower Paleolithic open-air site on the Hrazdan-Kotyak Plateau of central Armenia. Although the site was tested in the 1980s, little has been published regarding the material. Consequently, we reinvestigated the site by expanding the original test pit to better understand the stratigraphy and recover a new sample of artifacts. As a result, more than 300 obsidian artifacts were recovered from colluvial deposits found close to primary obsidian outcrops, which sourcing data show to be the exclusive areas of toolstone procurement used by the inhabitants. The recovered assemblages are Late Acheulian in character and are largely homogenous across strata in terms of techno-typology. Hatis-1 records the use of large flakes for production of cores and tools indicative of the Large Flake Acheulian, but also contains limited evidence for simple prepared cores and the recycling of bifaces as cores, suggesting expansion of the technological repertoire of hominins in this region during the Late Acheulian. The in-depth study of large cutting tools presented here reveals that differences in the shape and typology of these tools are largely determined by different production strategies. While samples suitable for direct chronometric dates were not recovered, constraining geological factors suggest this material was deposited after c. 700/480ka. This study expands our understanding of Late Acheulian and further contextualizes the later Lower-Middle Paleolithic technological transition in the region. In a broader sense, our interpretation of the techno-typological patterns at Hattis-1 expands the current understanding of geographical and chronological variation in the Acheulian record.
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"Study of the Stone Age in the Republic of Armenia (Part 1 - Lower Palaeolithic)"
Aramazd: Armenian Journal of Near Eastern Studies (AJNES) (2020)

Authors: Boris Gasparyan, Daniel S. Adler, Keith N. Wilkinson, Samvel Nahapetyan, Charles P. Egeland, Philip J. Glauberman, Ariel Malinsky-BUller, Dmitri Arakelyan, Makoto Arimura, Roberto Dan, Ellery Frahm, Hayk Haydosyan, Hayk Azizbekyan, Artur Petrosyan and Andrew W. Kandel
Introduction: The area encompassing the modern Republic of Armenia lies within the Armenian highlands and is situated at the very core of a dynamic corridor between Africa and Eurasia. As such, Armenia proves critical for understanding the initial stages of human settlement and the formation of ancient civilizations in the Near East and beyond. Stone Age artefacts have been known to exist within the territory of Armenia since the end of the 19th century, and they indicate that the area attracteed a variety of Stone Age populations, from early hominids to early complex societies of the Chalcolithic. Presented work is the first attempt to summarise the results and achievements fo the Stone Age archaeology in Armenia which is counting its history more then a century.

This article is composed from four parts. Part 1 is introducing the background on Palaeolithic research in Armenia during the end of the 19th and the whole of the 20th century, as well as the latest achievements of the Lower Palaeolithic study recorded through the passed 20 years. Part 2 will be devoted to the similar progress recorded for the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic. Part 3 will present the review of the Armenian Neo-Chalcolithic research, including the latest results of the excavations and discoveries. And finally, Part 4 will be focused on the history of study of rock-art and the development of the archaeological science as a whole with a brief discussion of the future plans and perspectives.
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"Evidence for Middle Palaeolithic occupation and landscape change in central Armenia at the open-air site of Alapars-1"
Quaternary Research (2020)

Authors: Ariel Malinsky-Buller, Phil Glauberman, Keith Wilkinson, Bo Li, Ellery Frahm, Boris Gasparyan, Rhys Timms, Daniel S. Adler, Jennifer Sherrif
Abstract: Here we report the findings from excavations at the open-air Middle Palaeolithic site of Alapars-1 in central Armenia. Three stratified Palaeolithic artefact assemblages were found within a 6-m-thick alluvial-aeolian sequence, located on the flanks of an obsidian-bearing lava dome. Combined sedimentological and chronological analyses reveal three phases of sedimentation and soil development. During Marine Oxygen Isotope Stages 5-3, the manner of deposition changes from alluvial to aeolian, with a development of soil horizons. Techno-typological analysis and geochemical sourcing of obsidian artefacts reveal differential discard patterns, source exploitation, and artefact densities within strata, suggesting variability in technological organization during the Middle Palaeolithic. Taken together, these results indicate changes in hominin occupation patters from ephemeral to more persistent in relation to landscape dynamics during the last interglacial and glacial periods in central Armenia.
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"Comparing Lower and Middle Palaeolithic lithic procurement behaviors within the Hrazdan basin of central Armenia"
Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports (2020)

Authors: E. Frahm, C. Owen Jones, M. Corolla, K.N. Wilkinson, J.E. Sherriff, B. Gasparyan, D.S. Adler
Abstract: The Hrazdan River valley in Armenia contains Lower, Middle, and Upper Paleolithic archaeological sites and offers access to the Gutansar Volcanic Complex, a large and important source of obsidian. The sites’ occupants primarily acquired lithic material from this obsidian source, which is manifested throughout the local landscape, but its obsidian exposures, produced during a single eruptive phase, exhibit the same geochemical signature. This situation inspired the development of rock magnetic characterization as a means to recognize obsidian from different spots across the volcanic complex (i.e., intra-source, not inter-source, characterization). This intrasource approach was first applied to the Middle Palaeolithic site of Lusakert Cave 1, where the data revealed that the occupants collected obsidian throughout the river valley, rather than a preferred outcrop, quarrying area, or secondary deposit. Such a finding implied that the toolstone procurement spatially coincided with the valley and was embedded in subsistence activities. In this new study, the same approach to intra-source magnetic characterization is applied to the Lower Palaeolithic site of Nor Geghi 1 – specifically, to obsidian debris dated between 440 and 335 millennia ago. The magnetic measurements show that, like at Lusakert Cave 1, toolstone acquisition occurred within the valley. If, as we propose, obsidian procurement reflects the spatial distribution of subsistence activities, it attests that archaic hominins at both sites and in both periods were able to effectively exploit a resource-rich riparian ecosystem. Consequently, this study provides an example of behaviors shared by Middle and Lower Palaeolithic hominins whereby, placed within the same landscape, their resource exploitation behaviors appear indistinguishable.
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"Barozh 12: Formation processes of a late Middle Paleolithic open-air site in western Armenia"
Quaternary Science Reviews (2020)

Authors: P. Glauberman, B. Gasparyan, J.E. Sherriff, K.N. Wilkinson, B. Li, M. Knul, A. Brittingham, M. Hren, D. Arakelyan, S. Nahapetyan, Y. Raczynski-Henk, H. Haydosyan, D.S. Adler
Abstract: Barozh 12 is a Middle Paleolithic (MP) open-air site located near the Mt Arteni volcanic complex at the margins of the Ararat Depression, an intermontane basin that contains the Araxes River. Sedimentology, micromorphology, geochronology, biomarker evidence, together with an assessment of artifact taphonomy permits the modelling of site formation processes and paleoenvironment at a level of detail not previously achieved in this area. Obsidian MP artifacts were recovered in high densities at Barozh 12 from four stratigraphic units deposited during marine oxygen isotope stage 3 (MIS 3) (60.2 ± 5.7 e31.3 ± 3 ka). The MIS 3 sequence commences with low energy alluvial deposits that have been altered by incipient soil formation, while artifact assemblages in these strata were only minimally reworked. After a depositional hiatus, further low energy alluvial sedimentation and weak soil formation occurred, followed by higher energy colluvial (re)deposition and then deflation. Artifacts in these last stratigraphic units were more significantly reworked than those below. Analysis of plant leaf wax (n-alkane) biomarkers shows fluctuating humidity throughout the sequence. Collectively the evidence suggests that hunter-gatherers equipped with MP lithic technology repeatedly occupied this site during variable aridity regimes, demonstrating their successful adaptation to the changing environments of MIS 3.
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"Pleistocene volcanism and the geomorphological record of the Hrazdan valley, central Armenia linking landscape dynamics and the Palaeolithic record"
Quaternary Science Reviews (2019)

Authors: J.E. Sherriff, K.N. Wilkinson, D.S. Adler, D. Arakelyan, E.J. Beverly, S.P.E. Blockley, B. Gasparyan, D.F. Mark, K. Meliksetyan, S. Nahapetyan, K.J. Preece, R.G.O. Timms
Abstract: The Southern Caucases lies at the intersection of Africa, the Levant and Eurasia, and is thus a region of considerable interest in the study of Pleistocene hominin population dynamics and behaviour. While Palaeolithic archaeological sites in the region such as Dmanisi and Nor Geghi 1 attest to such palaeogeographic significance, a greater understanding of the chronology and nature of climatic and geomorphic changes in the region is needed to fully understand hominin settlement dynamics. The Hrazdan river valley, central Armenia, has the potential to offer such insights given its rich Palaeolithic record and complex history of Pleistocene infill as a result of alluvial, lacustrine, aeolian, and volcanic processes. We therefore present a stratigraphic framework for basin infill and hominin activity during the Pleistocene, based on extensive geomorphological and geological mapping, published chronometric results (40Ar/39Ar and K-Ar), and archaeological survey. We demonstrate that the onset of Pleistocene volcanism in the Gegham Range to the immediate east of the Hrazdan valley occurred around 700 ka BP, after which there were several phases of effusive eruption lasting until 200 ka. Interbedded with lava emplaced by these eruptions are alluvial and lacustrine sequences, some with evidence of pedogenesis and several of which have yielded Palaeolithic artefacts. Taken together these sequences suggest a cyclical model of infill whereby lava flow along the valley resulted in the blockage of the palaeo-Hrazdan river and lake formation in the lea of lava dams. Breaching of these dams resulted in a shift to predominately fluvial deposition, and the consequent development of floodplain soils. Hominin populations explited the floodplains at times when the last of these phases coincided with interglacial and interstadial climates, but they also occupied the surrounding valley sides during the same warm, humid phases.
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"Geochemical Evidence for the Control of Fire by Middle Palaeolithic Hominins"
Scientific Reports (2019)

Authors: Alex Brittingham, Michael T. Hren, Gideon Hartman, Keith N. Wilkinson, Carolina Mallol, Boris Gasparyan, Daniel S. Adler
Abstract: The use of fire played an important role in the social and technological development of the genus Homo. Most archaeologists agree that this was a multi-stage process, beginning with the exploitation of natural fires and ending with the ability to create fire from scratch. Some have argued that in the Middle Palaeolithic (MP) hominin fire use was limited by the availability of fire in the landscape. Here, we present a record of the abundance of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), organic compounds that are produced during the combustion of organic material, from Lusakert Cave, a MP site in Armenia. We find no correlation between the abundance of light PAHs (3-4 rings), which are a major component of wildfire PAH emissions and are shown to disperse widely during fire events, and heavy PAHs (5-6 rings), which are a major component of particulate emissions of burned wood. Instead, we find heavy PAHs correlate with MP artifact density at the site. Given that hPAH abundance correlates with occupation intensity rather than IPAH abundance, we argue that MP hominins were able to control fire and utilize it regardless of the variability of fires in the environment. Together with other studies on MP fire use, these results suggest that the ability of hominins to manipulate fire independent of exploitation of wildfires was spatially variable in the MP and may have developed multiple times in the genus Homo.
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"Lithic raw material units based on magnetic properties: A blind test with Armenian obsidian and application to the Middle Paleolithic site of Lusakert Cave 1"
Journal of Archaeological Science (2016)

Authors: Ellery Frahm, Joshua M. Feinberg, Beverly A. Schmidt-Magee, Keith N. Wilkinson, Boris Gasparyan, Benik Yeritsyan, Daniel S. Adler
Abstract: Classification of lithic artifacts’ raw materials based on macroscopic attributes (e.g., color, luster, texture) has been used to pull apart knapping episodes in palimpsest assemblages by attempting to identify artifacts produced through the reduction of an individual nodule. These classes are termed “raw material units” (RMUs) in the Old World and “minimum analytical nodules” in the New World. RMUs are most readily defined for lithic artifacts in areas with distinctive cherts and other siliceous raw materials, allowing pieces from different nodules to be recognized visually. Opportunities to apply RMUs, however, are strongly limited at sites where lithic material visual diversity is low. The magnetic properties of obsidian, which result from the presence of microscopic iron oxide mineral grains, vary spatially throughout a flow. Consequently, obsidian from different portions of a source (i.e., different outcrops or quarries) can vary in magnetic properties. This raises the possibility that magnetic-based RMUs (mRMUs) for obsidian artifacts could be effective to distinguish individual scatters from multiple production episodes and offer insights into spatial patterning within a site or specific occupation periods. First, we assess the potential of mRMUs using obsidian pebbles from Gutansar volcano in Armenia. Second, we evaluate the validity of this approach based on a double-blind test involving an experimental assemblage of Gutansar obsidian flakes. Cluster analysis can successfully discern flakes from obsidian specimens containing high concentrations of iron oxides. Obsidian with more magnetic material has more opportunities for that material to vary in unique ways (e.g., grain size, morphology, physical arrangement). Finally, we apply the mRMU approach to obsidian artifacts from the Middle Palaeolithic site of Lusakert Cave 1 in Armenia and compare the results to traditional RMU studies at contemporaneous sites in Europe. In particular, we seek e but do not find differences between retouch flakes (which reflect rejuvenation of tools) and the other small debris (which reflect other reduction activities). This result likely reflects the local landscape, specifically the abundance of obsidian and, thus, little pressure to curate and retouch tools. As this approach is applied to additional sites, such findings will play a central role in regional assessments about the nature and timing of the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic “transition” and the relationship, or lack thereof, between technological behaviors and presumed population dynamics.
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"Middle Palaeolithic toolstone procurement behaviors at Lusakert Cave 1, Hrazdan valley, Armenia"
Journal of Human Evolution 91 (2016)

Authors: Ellery Frahm, Joshua M. Feinberg, Beverly A. Schmidt-Magee, Keith N. Wilkinson, Boris Gasparyan, Benik Yeritsyan, Daniel S. Adler
Abstract: Strategies employed by Middle Palaeolithic hominins to acquire lithic raw materials often play key roles in assessing their movements through the landscape, relationships with neighboring groups, and cognitive abilities. It has been argued that a dependence on local resources is a widespread characteristic of the Middle Palaeolithic, but how such behaviors were manifested on the landscape remains unclear. Does an abundance of local toolstone reflect frequent encounters with different outcrops while foraging, or was a particular outcrop favored and preferentially quarried? This study examines such behaviors at a finer geospatial scale than is usually possible, allowing us to investigate hominin movements through the landscape surrounding Lusakert Cave 1 in Armenia. Using our newly developed approach to obsidian magnetic characterization, we test a series of hypotheses regarding the locations where hominins pro- cured toolstone from a volcanic complex adjacent to the site. Our goal is to establish whether the cave's occupants procured local obsidian from preferred outcrops or quarries, secondary deposits of obsidian nodules along a river, or a variety of exposures as encountered while moving through the river valley or across the wider volcanic landscape during the course of foraging activities. As we demonstrate here, it is not the case that one particular outcrop or deposit attracted the cave occupants during the studied time intervals. Nor did they acquire obsidian at random across the landscape. Instead, our analyses support the hypothesis that these hominins collected obsidian from outcrops and exposures throughout the adjacent river valley, reflecting the spatial scale of their day-to-day foraging activities. The coincidence of such behaviors within the resource-rich river valley suggests efficient exploitation of a diverse biome during a time interval immediately preceding the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic “transition,” the nature and timing of which has yet to be determined for the region.
Note: Officially updated at the beginning of 2016, this journal acknowledges various funding provided by Norian and Dr. Dan Adler's Education Abroad field school over the years. This article recognizes the financial support by the Norian Armenian Programs committee. 
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Scholarly output resulting from Norian-funded projects conducted in Armenia by UConn’s Anthropology Department and international collaborators, 2008–present

Submitted by: Daniel S. Adler
Date Submitted: May 5, 2014
Location: Norian Armenian Studies Committee Meeting
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"Stone Age of Armenia"
A Guidebook to the Stone Age Archaeology in the Republic of Armenia

Monograph of the JSPS-Bilateral Joint Research Project
Authors: Daniel S. Adler, Levon Aghikyan, Gregory E. Areshian, Makoto Arimura, Pavel Avetisyan, Karen Azatyan, Ruben Badalyan, Tamara Bagoyan, Arsen Bobokhyan, Christine Chataigner, Charles P. Egeland, Sumio Fujii, Ivan, Gabrielyan, Boris Gasparyan, Phil Glauberman, Armine Harutyunyan, Hayk Haydosyan, Armine Hayrapetyan, Andrew W. Kandel, Anna Khechoyan, Lusine Margaryan, Kristine Martirosyan-Olshansky, Khachatur Meliksetian, Cyril Montoya, Firdus Muradyan, Samvel Nahapetyan, Ernst Pernicka, Ron Pinhasi, Arthur Petrosyan, Alexia Smith, Lyssa C. Stapleton, Diana Zardaryan
Editors: Boris Gasparyan, Makoto Arimura
Publication by: Center for Cultural Research Studies, Kanazawa University, Kanazawa, Japan. 2014
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