In search of the stones of the Dragon in Armenia
The Dragon Stones Archaeological Project is the name of the project started in 2012 to analyze the megalithic steles found on the Armenian mountains.
The project aims at tracing the original chronological horizon of the artifacts, the oldest in the whole Caucasus area, to identify the archaeological and landscape context in which they were made as well as to understand the symbolic meaning of these artifacts for the community that generated them.
Legends tell us of how the peaks of the American mountains were populated by giant dragons, semi-god beings who had the task of guarding the sacred springs. These megalithic steles, called «vishap», meaning «dragon» in Armenian decorated in relief, are placed between 2,000 and 3,000 metres and are thought to be offers to these legendary creatures.
They are basalt monoliths which can reach 5 metres in height and can be of two types: on the first one is the fur of a sacrificed goat, which suggests a commemoration of a religious practice. The second type is worked into the shape of a fish, with gills and fins, and is certainly related to the cult of a sacred animal in the mountain springs. In some examples, the iconographies are changing and the goat’s skin is represented on the belly of the fish, demonstrating that it is the very same artistic and cultural phenomenon.
The archaeological mission is investigating at the Karmir Sar site, the “Red Mountain”, at 2850 m in altitude and 20 km from the last village situated at the bottom of Mount Aragats, with two springs in which eleven vishaps were identified, as well as burial mounds and rock engravings from the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C..