Pages 52-57

by Veli Aliyev

Architectural surveys that I conducted in Gamigaya from 1968-2005 revealed seasonal dwelling settlements – sites with mud huts of circular design, characteristic of the ancient architecture of Nakhchivan, as well as many rock carvings. The walls of these dwellings (ranging from 5-11metres in diameter) were constructed from large rocks.

Most of the petroglyphs were found on rocks surrounding the dwelling sites. There are about one hundred huge rocks engraved with pictures of people, goats, deer, dogs, horses, bulls, leopards, birds, carts and symbolic hieroglyphs.

Images of people and animals are most prevalent at Gamigaya. The animals appear singly, in pairs and in herds. Goats constitute the overwhelming majority. The long, semi-circular horns of male goats curve back to the middle of their spines. There are notches on their horns indicating age.

The paintings of goats with bodies depicted schematically in the form of joined triangles are of special interest. The front and rear of one of the goats depicted at the summer dwelling site Garangush (swallow) are divided into several sections by straight lines. There are also oval symbols next to the picture of the goat.

This kind of goat image is also seen in black dye on jugs from the middle of the Bronze Age in Nakhchivan and Urmiya. They were drawn by scratching on pots of grey clay relating to the late Bronze and early Iron Ages of Khojaly-Gadabay culture. Coloured jugs, discovered in Bronze Age settlements in Nakhchivan, are painted with goat images entirely identical to some of the images in Gamigaya.

A jug dyed red, identified in a Middle Bronze Age burial mound in Nahajir village in the Julfa region, bears a black dye drawing of a goat with a rope around its neck and a man standing in front of it. There are rock paintings with the same details in Gamigaya. Goats are also depicted on Middle Bronze Age jugs covered in monochromatic and polychromatic dye, identified in stone-case tombs in the villages of Ashagi Yayji and Shahtakhtli in Sharur region.

The common features on these cultural remains indicate that the Gamigaya drawings were done by settled tribes engaged in agriculture and cattle-breeding in Bronze Age Nakchivan.

Keeping the wolf at bay

There are many carvings of interesting composition on Gamigaya, reflecting the religious beliefs of the ancient population. One appealing drawing depicts a confrontation between a goat and a predator – a wolf. One end of a long, wavy drawn in front of the goat resembles a ring-shaped rope, a kind of lariat. Ears pricked, the wolf moves towards the goat, while the goat is still, awaiting the threat. A circle engraved behind the wolf’s image is thought to represent the sun.

A multi-coloured jug identified in the Bronze Age necropolis in Shahtati village in Sharur district, also carries a picture of a predatory animal (a wolf) attacking a goat with a representation of the sun.

Clearly, the confrontation of goat and wolf depicted at Gamigaya, is an attempt to conjure up a tying of the wolf’s mouth. This connects with ancient beliefs in conjuration widespread in Azerbaijan, especially among the cattle breeders and mountain dwellers. The spell was intended to save an animal separated from the rest of the herd and lost. The animal’s owner, thinking that the animal would encounter a wolf at night, asked a shaman (or priest) to close the wolf’s mouth. The shaman read a special prayer, fastened a loop, made a knot and bent a knife. Thus the predator’s mouth was ostensibly sealed and the lost animal safe from danger. The knot at one end of the wavy line (or rope) in the Gamigaya painting symbolised the tying, and the split at the other end was intended to lead the wolf astray; the depiction of the sun represented hope that sunrise would soon save the goat.

Thus some paintings at Gamigaya reflected ancient ideas and beliefs connected with the struggle of good and evil powers.

Many rocks have pictures of big-horned cattle (bulls, cows). Bulls are depicted in small herds, in hunts and harnessed to carts.

The shoulders of some bulls’ bodies are represented with as humped. This suggests that a bull like the zebu was bred here in the Bronze Age.

Different varieties of bulls have horns either jutting forward in crescents or standing like an archway.

Working bulls

A picture of a bull drawn in red on a dyed clay pot, which I discovered in the ancient dwelling site Gultepe II in Nakhchivan’s Chay valley, is identical to the Gamigaya figures in the crescent shape of the horns. This picture is further evidence that the art of Gamigaya can be linked directly to that of early urban cultural centres, which were well developed in the 3rd–1st millennia B.C. on the flatlands of Nakhchivan. There is a drawing of a bull in red on a multi-coloured pot from the 2nd millennia B.C. and found in the ancient dwelling site Gultepe II.

Big-horned cattle were very important to the cattle farming of ancient tribes living on the territory of Nakhchivan in the Eneolithic Period, Bronze and early Iron (5th-1st millennia B.C.), and were bred in large numbers. Clay figures of bulls and bull’s-head hearth structures, discovered in Gultepe I, Gultepe II, Makhta, Shortepe settlements and other stages of the Kur-Araz culture of the early Bronze Age in Nakhchivan, show that cattle breeding was widespread. The bull had become a totem. It was regarded as a symbol of power, a source of life and prosperity. Big-horned cattle had a significant role in economic life as a working animal. With the development of ploughing and a vehicle – a cart - the bull became the basic source of power. Further, semi-nomadic cattle-breeding tribes mainly used big-horned cattle to pull their loads during periods of migration to summer pastures and lowlands (winter quarters). In the Bronze Age, as agricultural and cattle-breeding cultures developed intensively in Nakhchivan, big-horned cattle assumed a highly important role in social and economic life. In a petroglyphic scene depicting the pasturing of big-horned domestic animals at a summer dwelling site, images of cattle, shepherd and a dog form a very interesting composition. The dog was important to the rearing and protection of herds for ancient cattle-breeding tribes. It is interesting that a dog was buried alongside a man in a grave inside a house in the Eneolithic Gultepe I settlement. The ancient agricultural and cattle-breeding tribes living there regarded the dog as the most reliable and faithful protector of their personal and agricultural security. The fact that clay figures of bulls and dogs were found lying together in the cultural layer of the early Bronze Age Gultepe settlement may also be linked to the beliefs of ancient agricultural and cattle-breeding tribes, beliefs which were held for millennia.

The ‘tomb’ of a dog (named Gitmirin) next to Ashabi Kaf shrine in Hachaparaq village. Julfa district, and the historical roots of its worship are also linked to the ancient remains in Gultepe and Gamigaya. [see,263 for more on this story – ed]

The Ashabi Kaf legend relates delicate issues of spiritual culture and the political, social and economic changes which occurred in Nakhchivan’s remote past, and the dog is a special symbol of trust and fidelity.

Snake charms

At Gamigaya we met pictures of snakes depicted singly, in pairs and as compositions. The snake was then a totem of belief. Images of snakes in pictures and as decoration on ceramic crockery are identical to the Gamigaya petroglyphs.

It is interesting that pictures of snakes in groups and in pairs also appear on spiritual-cultural artefacts from ancient Elam and Egypt. Dyed household implements from Bronze Age Elam and from the same period in Nakhchivan, as well as many ornaments and pictures of snakes, have much in common. For Elam people, a couple of snakes symbolized fertility. The pictures at Gamigaya probably also symbolised fertility in the minds of the ancient stock breeders. These similarities indicate that the population of ancient Nakhchivan had economic-cultural relations with Elam.

Legends reflecting interesting beliefs connected with the snake totem continue to the present, particularly in the mythology surrounding Ilan Dagh (Snake Mountain) in Gilanchay valley, to the south of Gamigaya, are prominent in the history of local spiritual culture.

The Sumerian legend of Noah, linked to Gamigaya, is directly related to Ilan Dagh and the snake is a powerful force in the legend.

Fight and dance

Men are depicted at Gamigaya singly, in scenes of battle, hunting, dancing and also in certain compositions with various pictograms.

There are very vivid scenes of men armed with bows and arrows hunting a wild goat, an aurochs and a deer. Masters of archery, ancient hunters worked alone and in groups.

The pictures representing battle scenes give us some idea of military tactics and the weapons used by the Bronze Age tribes. Warriors were armed with bows, arrows, daggers, shields etc.

A fight between two men armed with daggers and shields, pictured on a stone near Garapir, is particularly vibrant.

Near Settlement V a scene of a couple performing a dance holding hands resembles the traditional Azerbaijani dance, Yalli. A man and woman dancing are also painted in a very original manner in black and red on a jug from the middle of the 2nd millennium B.C and found in the necropolis at Gizilburun.

Other dancing scenes depicted at Gamigaya are quite complex. One shows a man with horn-like objects on his head. The man seems to be wearing a mask of a bull or goat. People are dancing separately with arms and legs set widely apart, each in a different corner. Radial lines extend from a circle in the middle of the dance floor; this is believed to symbolize the sun or fire. Somewhat lower a goat moves towards the circle. Not far from the goat, a man stretches out a three-fingered hand towards the circle. Perhaps this is a fascinating rite connected to ancient hunting and cattle-breeding and performed around the fire, which was held sacred.

Enter horse and cart

Images of saddles and draught animal (a bull, a horse), as well as cart-like vehicles in the Gamigaya pictures, indicate that various carrying devices were used in ancient times here.

Several rocks at the summer settlement of Garangush are inscribed with carvings of four-wheeled horse carts. A two-wheel cart is oval in form with five-spoke wheels. Two horses are harnessed to the cart.

Researchers think that the two-wheeled cart appeared earlier and was used for transportation and military purposes.

The ancient city-fortresses and defensive fortifications in Nakhchivan support the view that military skills were well-developed among the tribal unions formed in these areas between the 3rd and 1st millennia B.C.

Most of the drawings show four-wheeled carts, quadrangular in structure. The front, the driver’s place, is semi-oval in shape.

Pairs of bulls or oxen are yoked to the four-wheel carts. One man, standing at the front, to the left of the bulls, has his arms open at shoulder level, as if urging them on.

A man standing to the left of another four-wheeled cart, with no oxen yoked, has his left arm stretched out to the side; the right arm is raised with the elbow bent.

A pictogram is engraved to the front and right of another four-wheeled cart and pair of bulls.

Models of cart wheels and ceramic figures of oxen and horses have been identified with other materials during archaeological excavations in the settlements: Makhta, Ovchulartepesi, Dasharkh, Sederek, Gultepe I, Gultepe II etc. The finds were from the agricultural and cattle-breeding tribes of the Eneolithic and Bronze Ages who populated the valleys along the Araz river and its tributaries – the Arpachay, Nakhchivanchay, Alinjachay and Gilanchay.

A fragment of bronze belt, characteristic of the late Bronze and early Iron Ages, found in a necropolis at Yurdchu settlement, has a cart engraved on it.

The question of when and what means of draught, riding and transport were used by primitive people has always been one of the most significant focuses of ancient historical research.

Cattle and horse breeding

The carvings at Gamigaya show that from the 3rd to the 1st millennia B.C. big-horned cattle had a significant place in cattle breeding, they were used as harnessed beasts of burden.

The images of horses on the rocks are of special interest. Some rocks bear pictures of horses alone, others are with people. There is a carving of a standing horse on a rock not far from the circular Settlement I.

There are images of people riding horses or standing in front of them. One horse is depicted galloping with a rider sporting a long plait.

Another painting has a horse and a man standing in front of it. The horseman stretches his hand towards the horse’s head. The other side of this rock has images of goats.

Both riders are apparently hunting, as in other pictures.

Thus horse breeding was developed in ancient Nakhchivan.

An image of a red horse decorates a jug discovered in the layer from the Gultepe II settlement, dating from the 2nd millennium B.C.

The large number of horse bones discovered during excavations of Gultepe II points to the probability that horse breeding and horses were important to the military and economic life, trade relations, domestic life and the development of culture within tribes living in Bronze Age Nakhchivan.

Tracing the tradition of burial alongside a horse, the presence of whole horse skeletons in stone-chamber burials in barrows at Shakhtati, Garabulag and other Bronze Age (2nd-1st millennia B.C.) burial grounds unearthed in Sharur district, indicate that horse breeding was widespread.

There are paintings at Gamigaya showing horses harnessed to carts and an identical artwork was found in South Azerbaijan (in Iran), in the Bronze Age Haftavan dwelling site around Lake Urmia. A jug found there has a colourful painting of two horses harnessed to a cart. Thus horse breeding was developed as a separate field of economy in ancient Azerbaijan within the period from the 3rd-1st millennia B.C.

At the Nabi dwelling site figures of birds resembling partridges and ostriches are engraved on rocks along with other symbols. The birds have long necks and their bodies are triangular in form.

Early symbolism….

To the right of the entrance into an ancient cyclopean citadel in the Nabi settlement there is a picture of a bird accompanied by conventional pictograms (a circle, a rhomb, an oval, a straight line and a symbol of the sun). The bird is pointing towards the signs drawn in a row with the sun symbol. To the right of the sun stands a figure of a man with arms raised and a short straight line. The composition probably carries a specific symbolism.

There is a rhomboid with projections in front of the carving of a bird (ul keklik – partridge) on one a rock at the summer dwelling site of Garangush. This symbol is also found in ancient Turkic script.

The birds portrayed at Gamigaya have a shape typical of the Kur-Araz culture of Nakhchivan.

In the chronology of Gamigaya pictures, the bird figures date to the early Bronze Age. Similar forms were identified on a ceramic fragment from the Kur-Araz culture, which was found in the early Bronze Age Garabulag barrow in Sharur district.

Several rocks at the Garangush site have engravings of a spiral figure encircled by various pictographic symbols. The external end of the large spiral is split and ends in three straight parallel projections. There are various symbols comprising a special system on one side of the spiral. There is also a symbol of the wheel of fortune among other signs. Images of a goat and a man follow these pictures. It seems that this was a text of definite content.

On another rock the external end of the spiral is slightly prolonged and split into two branches, whose ends curve round. A wavy line extending from the left branch forms another small spiral. The end of the line emerging from the left branch ends in an oval form which is divided in two by a straight line across its narrow section.

Spiral pictograms were carved onto clay ware by potters who created the Kur-Araz culture in the 3rd millennium B.C. in the ancient settlements of Nakhchivan.

Shards of light pink clay pot typical of the Kur-Araz culture were found not far from the citadels in the Nabi settlement. The shoulders and upper edges of this pail-type jug are connected by elbow-like handles.

Clay pots of this type are known from the cultural layer of the Gultepe II dwelling site; they date to the 3rd millennium B.C.

The discovery of clay pots characteristic of the Kur-Araz culture at Gamigaya indicates that early Bronze Age cattle breeding tribes inhabiting Nakhchivan’s flat lands developed the alpine meadows of highland areas and made efficient use of local summer dwelling sites.

….and astrology?

The Gamigaya pictures also reveal an interest by these tribes in celestial bodies.

Ideas related to worship of the sun, moon and stars are reflected in the use of circles, crescents and fylfots (swastika) – symbolic of celestial bodies and the sky.

There is a small dot-like cavity in the centre of several round signs. The edges of a number of circles are fringed with radial lines. This sun symbol is also seen in some scenes of hunting and dancing.

Belief in sanctity of the sun was principal among the beliefs of Gamigaya’s seasonal inhabitants. Rites connected with hunting and cattle breeding were apparently conducted in address to the sun. The use of various signs and symbols suggest this.

There are some discrete rock carvings at Gamigaya connected with worship of the moon. Fascinating rock images of a crescent, circle and man can still be seen here and there are pictographic texts representing a man bowing to the moon with arms raised.

As the sun was the source of light, warmth and life for primitive people, addressing the light of the moon and stars at night also arose from the necessities of life. It seems that ancient people carried out a ritual asking the celestial bodies to get the sun back. The realization of this wish every morning reinforced these beliefs.

Some of the Gamigaya petroglyphs mirror the order and location of certain stars in the sky. The constellations of the Great Bear and Little Bear, as well as a number of other planetary systems which are still of great interest to contemporary astronomers, also attracted the attention of Nakhchivan’s ancient ‘astrologers’. Naturally-occurring changes at certain times of the year and life’s triumphs and calamities came to be associated with the position and movement of the stars.

One side of a large rock shows the wheel of fortune and a man, another side has nine small circles arranged in a definite system –in rows of three. Three of these circles are comparatively large and are drawn next to each other in a curved line. No doubt it depicts a star system easily observable from Gamigaya.

A huge number of petroglyphs were cut into the eastern slope of Garangush.

One of the rocks there has a pictogram consisting of nine circles. Six of the circles are arranged in arch-like format and are linked by lines. An arced line extends out of the last circle on the right. In front of this two other circles are spaced some distance apart; they are also connected by an arced line. There is a large circle with projections engraved between the two rows.

Carvings of goats, people, horse-riders, carts and snakes were discovered on different rocks at the southern edge of the Garangush site, not far from a circular stone construction. One of the rocks has an image of a goat below that of a bull; there are two circles between them. It is supposed that the composition reflects belief in a heavenly world.

Rocks bearing images gradually became special sites of worship, but the exact meaning of these ancient pictographic annals remains a mystery.

The origins of an alphabet

Some symbols carved at Gamigaya are very similar in form to runes in the ancient Orchon-Yenisei Turkic alphabet. These symbols are also found among rock carvings in areas inhabited by Turkic tribes. Thus we may conclude that the Gamigaya petroglyphs were carved by tribes of Turkic origin which inhabited the territory between the 4th and 1st millennia B.C.

The Orchon-Yenisei alphabet was probably developed gradually from the pictograms of earlier Proto-Turkic tribes. Further linguistic study of the Gamigaya symbols is necessary in order to test this theory.

Symbols of the wheel of fortune at Gamigaya are intriguing. A clay plate found in Nakhchivan in the layer of the middle Bronze Age Gultepe I settlement (2nd millennia B.C.) has a symbol of the wheel of fortune.

The symbol is also often found on ceramic fragments and clay pintaders (discs) from the Khojaly-Gadabey culture of Azerbaijan (14th-7th centuries B.C.).

The rock carvings at Gamigaya appear reflect the artistic way of thinking, aesthetic views and religious-ideological conceptions of ancient people. Comparative analysis of these petroglyphs with similar sites may lead to interesting scientific conclusions about the spiritual culture and art of the ancients who lived here.

This artwork from the 4th-1st millennia B.C. was well-developed: interesting drawings relating to life and possessing realist and figurative meaning were created on rocks, ceramics, and jewellery made of metal and other materials.

Development of the artwork led to the appearance of early specimens of written and pictographic texts. Most of these are connected with agriculture, cattle breeding, hunting and other activities which people considered as necessities for life. Some images of totems and astral bodies mirrored early religious and ideological views.

During the Bronze Age (4th-2nd millennia B.C.) the cultural development of people inhabiting the territory of Nakhchivan advanced considerably, culminating in dance associated with specific rituals and the appearance of primitive music. Scenes of dancing on painted pots of the Bronze Age from Gamigaya and Nakhchivan, as well as stones used as a kind of tambourine (Gaval Dash) and reproductions of the Yalli dance at Gobustan prove that music was also developed during the Eneolith and Bronze Ages in Azerbaijan.

Noah in Nakhchivan

Similarities in style and subject matter between pictures at Gamigaya, Sunik, Kelbajar, Garadagh (South Azerbaijan) and Anatolia, indicate that the Nakhchivan region and most of the Southern Caucasus, South Azerbaijan and Anatolia were inhabited by tribes close to each other culturally and ethnically from the 4th-1st millennia B.C.

The pictographic characters at Gamigaya do not duplicate each other in their plots. However, the same symbols were used in different compositions, thus a range of special symbols was used in compiling separate ‘texts’.

Perhaps the rock paintings and pictographic texts were carved by priests/shamans who played a leading role in forming and spreading religious and ideological attitudes towards their environment, especially towards unique features of the universe.

The adoption of Gamigaya as sacred land has an immediate connection with the rock carvings located there. Mythological ideas associated with the mountain in all probability formed as early as the Bronze and Early Iron Ages (4th-1st millennia B.C.), during the development of relations between early urban centres in Nakhchivan and the Sumerian centres of Mesopotamia. They remain today. For example, the interesting myth of the ‘World Flood’ associated with Noah is well-known in Nakhchivan. Local people will tell you that the Ark’s first sight of land was the peak of Ararat, the boat then crashed through the peak of Ilan Dagh, creating the cleft which is there today, and finally grounded at Gamigaya.

The many toponyms, even the name Nakhchivan, linked to the legend of Noah is strong evidence that the population of Nakhchivan was always aware of historical events which took place in the ancient Sumerian world.

The similarity of many of the ancient Gamigayan and Sumerian pictograms also implies a close relationship between these two centres of civilization.

About the author: Veli Huseyn oglu Aliyev is an Associate Member of the Academy of Sciences and Doctor of Historical Science, Professor and Head of Department at the Pedagogical University. He is a well-known researcher into Bronze Age Azerbaijan. He is the author of monographs and articles on Azerbaijani archaeology.