Knowing Where To Dig; Cave at Altamira; Berdavan/Ghalinjakar Fortress – Armenia

How Do You Know Where To Dig?

There are a number of ways archaeologists can decide where to dig. They usually combine a number of these activities together so they can be as accurate as possible.

Old Maps – A good historical source are old and antique maps. Although these are not usually to scale or the most accurate, they do provide evidence of structures and places that once existed within an area that the archaeologist is interested in.

Denchworth Enclosure ©
Denchworth Enclosure

Place Names – These can give clues as to what once may have been in the area. In England places which include the name burgh means they were once fortified or defended places, as in Burgh (Suffok), Burgh-by-Sands (Cumbria), Bamburgh (Northumberland) and Burgh Island (Devon).

Fields also have names, and by looking into these names we can find out part of their history too.

Hoton Field Names Map ©
Hoton Field Names Map

Other clues lie in places with the spelling which can be dated to periods, like the Anglo-Saxon period, which shows in place names that include -ham, -feld, -ford and –dun. Clues are all around us in the places we live!!

Patterns in the Landscape – Our landscape is not flat. Areas are made up of lumps and bumps. Some of these are natural, yet others are not. By looking around and studying the landscape we can see where and why lumps and bumps are there, why hedges are in certain areas, why fields may be of an odd shape and why some ruins are in the places they are – miles away from anywhere.

Walburn Deserted Medieval Village ©
Walburn Deserted Medieval Village

Photographs – This can be separated into two categories – old photographs and aerial photographs.

      • Old Photos – These can show the buildings and structures that may once have existed, but are no longer part of the landscape. By viewing these we can see what the old buildings may have looked like, the features they had and also what may be left behind in terms of remains under the ground.
    • Aerial Photos – These are very valuable and have been responsible for many new discoveries. Viewing the landscape from above we are able to see cropmarks of what once may have survived, but now lies under the ground; we can see the layout of the landscape and any irregularities that may be there, for example, a river that seems to be an odd shape, can give clues that once it may have been diverted for a certain reason, like an old mill or foundry.
Beaumont Otes ©
Beaumont Otes

Aerial photos can also show how the landscape has changed over time, through growth, decline and settlement patterns.

ArchivesArchives are old documents that relate to events that have happened in the past. These are not just old maps, they can also include

      • Old documents relating to a town or area,
      • Wills people have made
      • Personal diaries that tell us how people once lived
      • Notes made by people that have been kept by family members, for example, letters home from World War I and World War II. These have been very helpful inn understanding the Wars and how they affected people.
Old Document ©
Old Document

Field walkingField walking means walking up and down a field! Yes, it may seem crazy but it is actually very helpful. By field walking we can find a large number of artefacts that have been dug up when a field is being ploughed.

By plotting out where we find artefacts in a field, we can discover areas of concentration, that is, an area where a lot of artefacts have been found together. This would then give a clue as to where we could dig.

Field walking ©
Field walking

GeophysicsGeophys (for shot) is used by archaeologists to detect what is under the ground. Before geophys was around archaeologists relied upon old documents, maps, field walking and place names for clues.

Dr. John Gater Geophysing a Field ©
Dr. John Gater Geophysing a Field

Geophys has enabled us to see in the ground without digging – and this is awesome!! We can see the best places to dig which can give us the results we need for our research, without the place being full of test pits!!

Over the years geophys has developed and can now give very accurate data on what lies beneath the ground.

Magneto Imagry ©
Magneto Imagry


Archaeology Wow!! –  The Cave of Altamira

The Cave of Altamira is an Upper Paleolithic cave painting site in Spain. It was discovered in 1879. Marcelina Sanz de Sautuola was out walking with his daughter and their dog, when the dog got stuck down a hole. They managed to get him out and found the hole was an entrance to a cave. When looking around inside, Marcelina’s daughter noticed the paintings on the roof and pointed them out to her dad.

Maria ©

No one believed the paintings to be real and they accused Marcelina Sanz de Sautuola of being a fraud. It was not until 1902, after other cave paintings had been discovered, that people then realized that the Altamira cave paintings were original Upper Paleolithic art.

Paintings on Roof of Altamira Cave ©
Paintings on Roof of Altamira Cave

The cave was then investigated further and found to be 300m long with chambers leading off in both directions. There is only evidence of people having lived at the entrance of the cave. The art on the roof and walls depicts images of bison, horses, stags, deer and ibex.

Altemira Bison ©
Altemira Bison

Artefacts found dated from the Upper Solutrean period, dating from about 18,500 years ago and from the Lower Magdealenean period dating from between 16,500 – 14,000 years ago. In the 1960’s and 1970’s there were so many visitors to the caves that it was found the breath from people looking at the art work was actually damaging it, and in 1977 the cave was closed to the public.

Bison ©Daniel Villafruela.
©Daniel Villafruela.

In order to preserve the caves a replica cave as made and this opened to the public in 2001.  In 2012 up to date dating techniques have now dated the art to 35,600 years ago, with art work covering a period of 20,000 years.

Altamira is a UNESCO World Heritage site. References

    • Bahn. P. 1998. The Cambridge Illustrated History of Prehistoric Art. Cambridge University Press.
    • Gunn. J. 2004. Encyclopaedia of Caves. Taylor Francis.
    • Lawson. A. 2012. Painted Caves: Palaeolithic Rock Art in Western Europe. Oxford University Press.
    • Murray. T. 2007. Milestones In Archaeology. ABC-CLIO.


Archaeological Site Guide – Berdavan Fortress/ Ghalinjakar Fortress

The fortress in is Armenia, close to the border with Azerbaijan. It dates from the 10 – 11th century and was reconstructed in the 17th century. In the 1980’s it was repaired and cleared out inside.

Ghalinjakar Castle ©
Ghalinjakar Castle

The fort is built on a triangular shaped hilltop and its walls follow this shape. The walls are 4 foot thick (1.2m) and around them are semi-circular towers facing outwards. There is believed to be a secret passage leading from the fort to the canyon below.

Castle Walls ©
Castle Walls

Armenia is located on the crossroads between Europe and Asia, and as such, its lands have been fought over for centuries. In its early history it was influenced from the south by Mesopotamia, the Cradle of Civilization.

In the 10th century the Bagratuni dynasty, of Jewish origin, became the leading princes and ruled the area. They spent their wealth building cities and fortresses and royalty was restored to the country. The Byzantine Empire invaded and took over the country; however this did not last for long as in 1047 Armenia was invaded and captured by the Seljuk Turks.

The exact date of the building of the fort is unknown and it could have been built by either the Bagratuni dynasty or when the Turks invaded the country. More archaeology will be able to answer these questions.

Castle ©

Archaeological investigations were undertaken in 1960-1961 by L. Barseghian and Zh. Khachatrian when ceramic plates and metal axes were uncovered, as well as other finds.


    • Adalian. R. P. 2010. Historical Dictionary of Armenia. Scarecrow Press.
    • Lindsay. I., & Smith. A. T. 2006. A History of Archaeology in the Republic of Armenia. Journal of Field Archaeology, Vol. 31, No. 2 (Summer, 2006), pp. 165-184.
    • Runciman. S. 1988. The Emperor Romanus Lecapenus and His reign: A Study of Tenth century Byzantine. Cambridge University Press.

Great Books to Read…….

Great Web Pages to Look At…….

2 Comments on “Knowing Where To Dig; Cave at Altamira; Berdavan/Ghalinjakar Fortress – Armenia

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  2. Pingback: How Does Stuff Get Covered up?; The Venus of Willendorf; Lake Mungo, Australia | The Young Archaeologist

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