Journal of World Prehistory

, Volume 19, Issue 4, pp 229–279 | Cite as

Prometheus Unbound: Southern Caucasia in Prehistory

  • Adam T. Smith
Original Paper


This paper examines the intellectual traditions and recent advances in the archaeology of the Bronze and Iron Ages of the South Caucasus. The first goal of the paper is to provide an account of the scholarly traditions that have oriented research in the region since the mid-nineteenth century. This discussion provides a detailed case study of an archaeological tradition that arose within the context of Russian and Soviet research—traditions still poorly understood within Western archaeology. Yet archaeology in the South Caucasus was strongly influenced by international research in neighboring southwest Asia, and thus the region’s intellectual currents often diverged from the debates and priorities that predominated in Moscow. The second goal of this paper is to outline the primary issues that orient contemporary work in the region from the Neolithic through the Urartian period. My interest here is both didactic and prognostic. While I am concerned to fairly represent the primary foci of contemporary regional scholarship, I also make an argument for a deeper investigation of the constitution of social life. Such studies are critical to the advancement of archaeology in the South Caucasus over the coming decade.


Bronze Age Iron Age Urartu Caucasus History of archaeology 



Although the errors in this contribution are all mine, whatever I got right is largely thanks to my colleague, Dr. Ruben Badalyan of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography in Yerevan. The research that we have conducted under the auspices of Project ArAGATS since 1998 has been a constant source of illumination for me, second only perhaps to the conversations held over cognac after long days in the field. Thanks must also go to Pavel Avetisyan, also of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, who has been both a friend and a walking encyclopedia of regional material culture. Thanks are due to the stalwart students, friends, and colleagues who read through early drafts to provide comments and corrections to key parts of the text, including Gregory Areshian, Alan Greene, Philip Kohl, Maureen Marshall, Madeleine McLeester, Belinda Monahan, Giulio Palumbi, and Karen Rubinson as well as two anonymous reviewers. Special thanks to Lori Khatchadourian for her substantive commentary on increasingly lengthy versions of the text and for patiently thinking through many archaeological issues with me.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA

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