Urts Ridge, Armenia – Three New Caves Discovered by Speleologists

Urts Ridge, Armenia – Three New CavesGroup of Armenian-Italian speleologists discovered three new caves in Armenia. The discoveries they made in the territory of the Urts Ridge in Ararat Province and in Sisian in Syunik Province excited even the most seasoned speleologists.

Italian geologist and speleologists Rosario Ruggeri – who had studied numerous caves in Vayots Dzor and Tavush Provinces – was amazed by the miracles hiding in the mountains of Ararat and Syunik.

“We visited fairly deep caves and discovered many exemplars of endemic flora and fauna. We found interesting volcanic formations in one of the caves [in Sisian]. That particular cave was filled with lava and magma, and it probably formed over 2 million years ago as a result of the solidification of lava,” said Ruggeri.

The speleologists have yet to determine the age of the lava cave. However, the chairman of the speleological center of Armenia Samvel Shahinyan is assured that the lava tunnel in Sisian is the largest among similar caves in Armenia.

According to Shahinyan, the diameter of the entrance to the lava cave is more than 10 meters. The tunnel has a form of a funnel narrowing down to 2 meters in diameter.

The experts were surprised by the abundance of fauna in one of the caves of the Urts Ridge and by the changes that occurred there in 10 years. “We visited this cave for the first time in 1984 and then in 2008. This time, everything was different. Instead of pigeons, rooks now inhabit it. Most likely, the local pigeons were all killed by hunters,” said Shahinian. Bats, the traditional inhabitants of the cave, are still there, but they no longer appear to be its masters. These environmental changes provide researchers with vast material for geological and speleological study.

Due to the lack of guano (the accumulated excrement of seabirds and bats), it used to be quite cool in the cave. Over the years, the amount of guano in the cave has increased significantly. Along with it, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the cave has increased fourfold. As a consequence, now, the temperature in the cave is around 21 degrees Celsius (69.8 degrees Fahrenheit).

“This is an outstanding mark for any cave, especially in Armenia where cave temperatures typically are 8 – 13 °C (46.4 – 55.4 °F) at most. The elevated temperature created excellent conditions for snakes. We even registered how a snake swallowed a bat,” recalled Shahinyan.

The other cave in the Urts Ridge was first discovered by the expeditionary group of Soviet scientist Sergey Dal in the 1940s. Over the following 70 years, no group has managed to find this cave again.

“We have finally found the cave recorded by Sergey Dal. Now, we have his accounts, as well as opportunities to evaluate its actual condition. This could become a foundation for in-depth archaeological research.”, said Shahinyan. He also remarked that the group discovered human remains in that cave. Dal mentioned those remains in his notes as well.

The Italian participants of the expedition are assured that Armenia can strongly stimulate the development of speleotourism, mountain tourism, archaeology, speleology, as well as tourism in general in the country.

“I think that Armenia has good chances, especially when it comes to the development of ecotourism. The gorgeous nature is the main treasure of Armenia,” said Rosario Ruggeri.

According to Shahinyan, even though many Armenian caves have been inscribed in the state list of natural monuments, the government isn’t allocating any funds for their studies. Moreover, numerous Armenian touristic programs ignore speleotourism. Over the last years, the speleological center of Armenia has been relying on its own funds. However, foreign speleological associations supported the center’s six latest cave expeditions.

Caves in Syunik region
Speleologists in one of the caves of the Urts Ridge
Volcanic environment in the cave
Human bones in a cave
Armenian and Italian speleologists for studying the cave in the Urts Ridge

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