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  Field Notes From
Armenia



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Armenia On AssignmentArrows

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From Author

Frank Viviano



Armenia On Assignment

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From Photographer

Alexandra Avakian



In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Brian Strauss (top) and Ruben Mangasaryan


 

Armenia

Field Notes From Author
Frank Viviano

Best Worst Quirkiest
    Armenia is among the archaeology world's best-kept secrets. It's a treasure trove of extraordinary sites dating back as far as the Paleolithic period (circa 300,000 B.C.), most of which have been barely touched by researchers—or by thieves, which is why I won't specify their location.  On an overcast winter morning, I was accompanied to one of the most awe-inspiring of these sites by archaeologist Boris Gasparian. We stood on the windswept slope of a mountain composed entirely of black obsidian. Around us, as far as the eye could see, lay tens of thousands of hand-chipped prehistoric tools. "I know of no other place quite like it on Earth," Gasparian told me. "We believe that this was, in effect, a Paleolithic manufacturing center," a mass-production line for the implements used to fashion Stone Age civilization.

    Armenia has no railroads or internal air links, and it would be hard to find a nation with worse roads, thanks to the combined effects of natural erosion, the post-Soviet economic collapse, earthquakes, and war.  Efforts to rectify the situation, backed mostly by overseas funding from the Armenian diaspora, are slowly moving ahead, but at present a 50-mile (80-kilometer) drive can sometimes take six hours.

    The self-proclaimed ethnic-Armenian Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway region of Azerbaijan, is not recognized diplomatically by any nation, not even by the neighboring Republic of Armenia. It also has virtually no trade relations with the outside world. One result is that its few restaurants boast menus with none of the mass-produced or processed foods that prevail elsewhere. Instead, typical entrees are likely to include such otherwise exotic items as venison, wild boar, and hare, garnished with vegetables that are certified organic, if only because local farmers have no access to chemical fertilizers or pesticides.

   


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