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Site Preservation, Tourism and Excavations at Areni-1 Cave in Southeastern Armenia
I recently completed a Site Preservation and Tourism plan for Areni-1 Cave in Southeastern Armenia. Although difficult to photograph, the site is incredible and filled with loads of artifacts including:
- The world's earliest known leather shoe (3500 BCE)
- The world's earliest known wine-making facility (4000 BCE)
- Wine press for stomping grapes, fermentation and storage vessels, drinking cups, withered grape vines, skins, and seeds
- Perhaps the earliest existence of domesticated grapes
- Seeds from more than 30 types of fruit including grape seeds and vines of the species Vitis vinifera
- Earliest known human brain
- Array of culturally diverse pottery
- Copper Age artifacts dating as far back as 4000 BCE including knives, picks and beads
- Dating for metallurgy has gone back 1,000 years because of discoveries made at Areni-1 Cave
- Baskets, ropes, reeds, textiles, dried fruit and dozens of cereal species
- Medieval cloth
Armenia is a beautiful country, with stunning scenery that changes from north to south and loads to see and do. The problem is that very few people know about the country and its treasures - aside from (sadly!) The Kardashians on American TV.
The primary tourist attractions revolve around monastery tourism due to the fact that Armenia was home to the first Christian church in 301AD. The problem I found is that after you’ve seen a few monasteries (there are hundreds), you feel like you’ve seen them all – except for Tatev which is truly spectacular.
The good news is that an ‘Archaeological Renaissance’ of sorts has begun to take place due to over USD $1 million in international funding that has been injected into the field over the past decade – thanks to former U.S. Deputy Ambassador Michael Gfoeller and his Gfoeller Foundation. The country's Department of Tourism is also excited about the recent archaeological news - particularly about having the world's oldest wine-making facility, as they look to diversify their cultural heritage product offerings. In response, they have begun to offer annual nationwide festivals including the annual Areni Wine Festival due to its rich history in the region.
Armenia is teeming with archaeological sites and artifacts, waiting to be uncovered and analyzed. It could take lifetimes to put the pieces of the past together into a puzzle, which could alter the course of history.
For now, the biggest challenge for Areni-1 Cave is the oftentimes opposing objectives of archaeology (to guard, study and preserve) and tourism (to exploit, market and generate economic revenue). The delicate balance between archaeological sites, which are non-renewable resources, and tourism must be maintained and if not, sites can deteriorate and eventually be destroyed, which will result in a decline in tourism.
Due to Areni-1 Cave’s strategic location along the road to Noravank Monastery, it can easily become a heavily-visited tourist destination. Therefore, it is hoped that the advice and recommendations I provided in the management plan will be heeded for a win-win situation for both the cave and visitors who wish to come and explore it.
Please visit my website to learn more about me and my work at: www.susankennedy.org