A comprehensive study of the 14th–16th century anthropological materials from the Zarni Er Cave (Armenia)

Khudaverdyan A.Yu., Engibaryan A.A., Hovhannisyan À.À., Hobosyan S.G. (Yerevan, Republic of Armenia)


                   page 93117


Newly excavated materials from the Zarni Er cave (village of Hakhpat) have allowed the anthropological composition of the Late Middle Age (XIVXVI centuries) inhabitants of Armenia to be characterized for the first time. Two burials were discovered in the Zarni Er cave. In Burial 1, the skeletal remains of two individuals were recovered. They belonged to a subadult, whose age-at-death is estimated to be between 56 years, and to a middle-adult male. In Burial 2, the skeletal remains of two more individuals were discovered: those of a young adult female and of an adult male. The burials were found adjacent to a medieval wine press. On the basis of anthropological and paleopathological data, the physical features and disease pathology of the bones were analysed. The traces of unintentional head (occipital) deformation were found on the skulls, which is supposed to be associated with social-domestic conditions. Some crania are found to display traumatic lesions, with most such fractures being located on the front of the head and its sides (on the frontal and parietal bones). In addition, several well-healed fractures were observed, including facial and rib ones. A left fibula found in Burial 1 showed a healed fracture at its distal end. The degree of the muscular relief development points to a considerable physical activity associated with labour. Some signs of enthesopathy, which disorder had previously been noted in horse riders, were discovered at the proximal end of the individuals’ femora. In two skeletons, the femora featured strongly developed lineas aspera in conjunction with the pronounced areas of the insertion of all three gluteal muscles, in particular of the gluteus minimus and gluteus medius on the greater trochanter. Harris lines, or growth arrest lines, are clearly seen on the Õ-ray images of the tibial bone diaphyses. Some skeletal and dental markers, such as the frequencies of alveolar bone disease, cribra orbitalia, periostitis and Schmorl’s nodes, might be indicative of relatively poor living conditions (inadequate diet, occurrence of subadult anaemia and infectious diseases, extremely hard physical labour) in the Lori province, most probably due to a dramatic worsening of the political situation in Armenia at that time. The remains are believed to be those of the adherents of an anti-feudal, heretical Christian sect Tondrakians that flourished in the medieval Armenia. It is likely that the Tondrakian followers took refuge from persecution in the Zarni Er cave. The Tondrakian movement primarily had a social character and was used as a tool for class warfare. Many regions of Armenia were undergoing peasant uprisings, which first began in the form of open social protests, eventually adopting religious aspects.


Key words: Armenia, Middle Ages, Cave Zarni Er, craniology, odondology, osteology, paleopatho-logy, Tondrakians (Christian sect).


DOI: 10.20874/2071-0437-2018-42-3-093-117




A.Yu. Khudaverdyan

Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia, Charents st., 15, Yerevan, 0025, Republic of Armenia



A.A. Engibaryan

Yerevan Mkhitar Heratsi State Medical University, Koryun st., 2, Yerevan, 0025, Republic of Armenia



À.À. Hovhannisyan 

«Armenia» Republican Medical Center, Margaryan st., 6, Yerevan, 0078, Republic of Armenia



S.G. Hobosyan

Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia, Charents st., 15, Yerevan, 0025, Republic of Armenia