Metsamor, old iron center being excavated, The New York Times-1971

Metsamor, old iron center being excavated, The New York Times-1971

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METSAMOR, U.S.S.R.—From more than 4,000 years ago until about 780 B.C. a volcanic hill that rises here from a fertile valley skirting Mount Ararat was a Pittsburgh of the ancient world.

While only about 5 per cent of the site here in Soviet Armenia has been excavated so far, it is believed that 500 smelting furnaces once existed. According to Koryun Mkrtchyan, director of the museum newly completed on one shoulder of the 90‐foot hill, 30 of the smelters have already been found.

It is, in his view, the oldest known center where largescale metallurgical processing was carried out. It is also, lie says, the first glace where iron is known to have been smelted, using bricks made of powdered bone and clay as the flux, or purification medium — a relatively sophisticated technique.

However, he said the traditional sites for initial iron smelting are further west at such places as Ergani and Maden both in what is now Turkey. The site here is 10 miles from the Turkish border.

Excavation of the hill by the Armenian Academy of Sciences, based in Yerevan, 22 miles to the east, began in 1965 and five cultural layers have been uncovered. They represent the evolution of a metal‐working culture that predated invasion of the area by Urartu. The latter evolved into the Armenian culture that dominated the entire region.

Little is known of the earlier culture. Its hieroglyphs, found on the rocks here, have never been deciphered. According to Emma Khanzadian, archeologist responsible for the excavations, the early inhabitants have no known name, although their land was called Aza.

Analysis of the metal fragments, droplets and other finds has revealed the production of 14 kinds of bronze (including alloys of copper with zinc, iron, tin and arsenic) plus a variety of metallic paints, ceramics and glasses. So far only a few bits of gold have been discovered.

Heat from Charcoal

That the smelting of iron reached a considerable scale before the site was destroyed by the Urartu invasion is indicated by the cavernous size of one undeground smelter already excavated. It was fed by shallow basins in which the flux was apparently prepared. Troughs carved in the rock lead from one to another.

In modern smelting a flux of limestone or dolomite is melted with the iron ore. The flux combines with unwanted elements of the ore to form a molten slag that rises to the top and can be drawn off. However, great heat is needed and some believe that in early smelting total melting was not achieved.

In the smelters here charcoal was used as fuel, and clay pipes were formed to provide a forced draft into flame. Animal bone was pulverized in great stone mortars, according to Mr. Mkrtchyan, then the bone powder was mixed with water in the shallow basins which were then drained so as to extract fine bone powder with a minimum of foreign matter.

This was combined with clay to form bricks for the smelters. The bone, he says, provided such elements as phosphorus that acted as a flux. The method seems to date clack to the ninth or 10th‐century B.C.

The inhabitants apparently worshiped seven gods, for the seven wandering objects of the heavens—sun, moon, and five visible planets—as was true of various later cultures. However there is an indication that the brightest fixed star, Sirius, was also worshipped.

At one end of the site an outcrop of volcanic rock seems to have served as an astronomical observatory. A platform was carved to point due south, and on it a geometric pattern is oriented toward the southeast at an angle of 122 degrees from due north. An astronomer from nearby Byurakan Observatory has calculated that this was where Sirius rose between 2600 and 2500 B.C.

If this was when the observatory was used, Mr. Mkrtchyan says, it predates similar astronomical observations of Sirius in Mesopotamia by 2,000 years.

By Walter Sullivan Special to The New York Times Oct. 31, 1971

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