The Azokh cave is a complex of six smaller caves located on the left bank of the Guruchay River between the villages of Azokh and Drakhtik in the Hadrut district of Artsakh. The cave rises almost 900 meters above sea level and 400 meters from the ground level.
The Azokh cave shares its name with a nearby village. There are also other variations of the name of this cave complex, including Azykh, Azokh-Vorvan, Vorvan, as well as Virvan or Virapavan, which means “abode in the pit” in the local dialect.
According to the anthropologist of the international archaeological expeditionary group Levon Yepiskoposyan, on its one side, the cave is surrounded by a dense forest and on the other by a monolithic rock leading down to the river along a steep slope.
The Guruchay River is a possible source of drinking water and therefore, it is can be suggested that the ancient people lived here several thousand years ago and felt safe, making the cave their home and fortress.
“There are few such places in the world. The Azokh cave consists of several huge rooms with different levels and is a unique find of our time. The archaeologists are surprised by the fact that for several hundred thousand years, the cave has been inhabited,” Yepiskoposyan said.
The Azokh cave was officially presented to the archaeological scientific world by hunters of the local village in 1960. They showed the archaeologists two entrances to different grottoes over the villages of Azokh and Salakot.
Subsequently, it turned out that both entrances are connected by a corridor with an area of at least 8,000 square meters. When excavations began here in 1999, the corridor dividing 8 majestic grottoes with high 20-meter domes and 2-meter-long columns 2 meters wide was restored.
Since 2001, a group of scientists from the UK, Spain, Ireland, the Netherlands, Armenia, and the Republic of Artsakh began to explore the Azokh cave. According to Yepiskoposyan, during the excavations, bones of cave bears were found. The skulls of the animals had some scratches on them. According to later studies, these scratches were considered elements of the art of primitive people.
“Most likely, the inhabitants hid them in secluded places of the cave in order to frighten passersby,” Yepiskoposyan said.
Note that the remains of the bears are the oldest specimens of their kind in Europe and are more than 300 thousand years old. In addition to the bears in the Azokh cave, about 43 species of other animals, 6,000 stone tools, as well as traces of a medieval stone structure and a fragment of the jaw of a Neanderthal were discovered, which are now being processed in London.
“The Azokh cave is amazing with its scale and the huge number of bats, insects, and snakes. It is completely dark. Passing through the cave, the eyes get used to it, but you will not get used to the smell of bats, alas,” the anthropologist said.
The cave is an uneven mountain relief with majestic halls and narrow passages. According to the researchers, the largest hall in the cave occupies an area of 3,000 square meters. The cave is also quite curious because it is a Paleolithic site and a habitat for unique fauna listed in the IUCN Red List.
The entire area is of great interest to zoologists and paleozoologists. There is a hypothesis that the representatives of ancient fauna, such as lions, tigers, and even rhinos, lived in the area of the Azokh cave.
Not all secrets are revealed, but the vast primeval site, which has functioned for many millennia, is regularly studied and constantly presents new discoveries to researchers.
Azokh, Artsakh: an Archeological Trove