History of the Site

Excavations over the past five summers have defined five periods of occupation at Oğlanqala, four ancient and one modern. Scattered finds of pottery suggest that the site may have been founded sometime between 1200 and 800 BC during the early Iron Age, Period V, but we have not yet found any architecture dating to this period.  The major occupation of the site began in Period IV, dating to the Middle Iron Age  between 800 and 650 BC,  when a large fortress surrounded by massive fortification walls was built on the summit of the hill. This fortress was eventually abandoned and the site lay unoccupied for over 300 years. It was briefly reoccupied during the Late Iron Age sometime between 400 and 200 BCE  (Period III) when a massive building project was undertaken in the ruins of the older fortress, but this project was abandoned in mid-construction. From 150 BCE-100 AD (Period II) much of the mountain may have been covered by small houses belonging to agriculturalists or pastoralists. During this period, the site may have been known as Olane, a town mentioned by Strabo in his geography. Finally, ephemeral architecture, pottery and graves dating to the Medieval and Modern periods cover much of the site (13th to 20th centuries AD), including glazed Ilkhanid pottery (Period Ib) and Russian Imperial coins (Period Ia).

Period IV: On the Borders of Urartu (800-650 BCE)

Radiocarbon analysis indicates that the citadel/fortress at Oğlanqala was first constructed in about 800 BCE. At the same time massive fortification walls and lookout towers were built around the periphery of the site. Construction techniques used in the fortifications and  at the citadel, included roughly worked limestone blocks between 35 and 90 cm2. The walls were founded on bedrock, which had sometimes been covered with a clay or concrete surface; stone foundations were topped with a mudbrick superstructure, although most of this had eroded away.


Northern Wall of Period IV Courtyard

The central citadel/fortress of Oğlanqala IV was arrayed around a very large square courtyard, 33 X 34 m, or 1122 m2. The courtyard was probably one of the main public spaces in the citadel. Its imposing size would have displayed the political power of the ruler of the fortress. East of the courtyard were a series of long narrow rooms. Because of the height of the bedrock in this area, we only recovered their foundations and have little evidence for their function. It is possible that they were storage rooms or other offices for the palace. On the southeast side of the building was a lone square buttress, while a possible circular tower could be traced on its southwest side.


Vəli Baxşəliyev and Emin Mammmadov with cuneiform inscribed jar sherd

In the Period IV courtyard we found evidence of the administrative function of the building, in the form of large storage jars and the oldest writing found in excavation in Azerbaijan, cuneiform inscribed sherds. Although no complete storage jars were found, storage jar sherds with their arrow molded decoration and occasional cuneiform inscriptions were found in almost every area and context. The fragmentary signs found on the storage jars probably recorded vessel capacity. We can reconstruct numbers as well as the common signs a-q[ar] and ru, which likely came from the words aqarqi and terusi, two volume measurements.

During the early 8th century many fortresses were founded in the Ararat and Horom plains by the leaders of the powerful Urartian Empire, but there is growing evidence that Oğlanqala was not an Urartian city. Architectural details, the layout of this complex and the distinctive pottery found here indicate that Oğlanqala was the capital of a small, local kingdom, probably centered on the Sharur Plains. It is possible that Oğlanqala belonged at some stage to the coalition of small states and tribes that the Urartians called Etiuni, against whom Urartu waged wars in the 9th and 8th centuries, although most of the states of Etiuni were located further north, near Lake Sevan.  Oğlanqala was thus located on Urartu’s border, and our excavations suggest that its early history is tied up with Urartu’s. Ceramics and small objects found at Oğlanqala attest to connections between Oğlanqala and Urartu—as well as trade with other communities in Iran and Georgia. The pithos fragments inscribed with cuneiform signs show that Oğlanqala probably borrowed writing from Urartu as well.

Period III: The unfinished palace (400-200 BCE)


Unfinished Column Elements Lying on Sloping Construction Debris


Unfinished Column Drum with Lifting Boss

More than three centuries after the 8th century fortress was abandoned, the people of ancient Oğlanqala began work on a second palace, built directly atop the earlier ruins. As part of this project they brought 31 unfinished column pieces, made from two types of non-local stone, into the 700m2 (7500 sq ft) central courtyard. These had to be hauled up the mountain, probably in pre-worked blocks. Then masons began to carve bell-shaped column bases, column drums, and even a column capital—as part of a project to rebuild and decorate this hall. But the project was never finished. Seemingly in mid chisel strike, the construction workers left, and  we found the half-finished column pieces lying as they had been left on top of construction rubble. Some column drums were only partly shaped from their original square slabs. Most others still retained their lifting or transportation bosses, which would have been removed when the columns were erected.


Achaemenid Related Bell Bottom Column Base with Hellenistic Torus on Top

The material from Period III is enigmatic—it’s hard to date precisely or to determine which culture it belonged to. The radiocarbon dates and some associated pottery indicate that the reconstruction project could coincide with either of two historical periods: the last 50 years of the Achaemenid Empire or the immediately post-Achaemenid period when Seleucus was consolidating his empire after Alexander’s untimely death. Given the many local features of the citadel at Oğlanqala, it may be most likely that the construction of this building dates to the second period. Oğlanqala is strikingly different from other Achaemenid sites—including other sites in the Caucasus like Qaracəmirli, Gumbati and Benjamin, which often look very like sites in Persia itself. At Oğlanqala, certain symbols of authority—like the bell-shaped column bases—were adopted but rendered in a local style. The person who ordered its construction may have been a local strong man seeking to consolidate his rule over the Şərur plains or perhaps a larger area. His ascendancy probably did not last long, and the building project, site, and landscape of fortresses were abandoned. Iron arrowheads and slingshot stones were found in the ruins of this building, and may  indicate a possible violent end to this phase.

Period II: The Parthian Period Town (100 BC-100 CE)

After the palace at Oğlanqala was abandoned, there is little evidence of occupation in this area for as long as two hundred years. Reoccupation on the summit of the hill in Period II consists of nearly 100 trash pits and hearths that were dug into the ruins of the Period III and IV palaces. Some of these may have been dug by labourers working on the palace’s reconstruction during Period III , but others, particularly several large pits full of ash, animal bones, and cooking and serving ware can be dated by radiocarbon to Period II. The Period II pits are not clearly associated with any architecture or other living remains. An analysis of the animal bones from these pits indicates that they differ in composition from those found elsewhere on the site. They could contain the remains of feasts–the bones left from sides of beef and mutton, eaten in the ruins of the palace, or other special processing activities. A pithos burial found just outside the wall of the citadel also dates to this period and contained artifacts associated with the Roman sphere of influence including Augustan denarii and Roman period signet rings.   A number of small houses were built on the side of the hill during Period II, and earlier fortification walls were renovated and rebuilt, indicating more extensive occupation at Oğlanqala.

Period I: World War I

More than 2000 years after Period II, Oğlanqala was reoccupied for a brief period, possibly just a few months to a year from the summer of 1919 to 1920. Warfare continued on the Caucasus front during WWI long after it had ended in Europe, devolving into a series of skirmishes fought by the fleetingly independent republics of the Southern Caucasus– Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan—with the diplomatic and military involvement of Turkey, France, Britain, the US and the Soviet Union. In June 1919, the Azerbaijani speaking inhabitants of Naxçıvan revolted against Armenia, creating a very short-lived independent republic out of this exclave. One year later, Soviet tanks rolled into Naxcivan, intent on finishing their conquest of the Southern Caucasus. During the ensuing chaos, Naxçıvani villagers and resistance fighters fled to the hills. Some of them set up camp in the ruins of Oğlanqala’s palace, using ancient stones to build temporary shelters across the site. Eighteen modern graves from this period have been excavated. At least seven children and one woman are among the dead. The other ten individuals are young men, at least one of whom may have served in the Imperial Russian army, judging by a button from his great coat.

For further information on Oglanqala and the Naxcivan Archaeological Project go to:




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