Written in Rock
Front row, left to right: Namil Memmedi (Azeri), Ben Wilson (OP&A), Nurane Shahbazova (Azeri), Diana Farajova (Azeri), Umay Mammadzada (Azeri), Ann Brierty (Laguna), Laurie White (archaeologist/artist); Back row left to right: Lorraine Caté (Santo Domingo), Claire Eckert (OP&A), Carolyn McClellan (NMAI), John Fryar (Acoma), Harold Joseph (Hopi), Lee Francis (Laguna), Jonathan Sims (Acoma), Elvin Abdullayev (Azeri), Novruz Hikmet (Azeri) and Rehman Abdullayev (Azeri and Gobustan staff member).
I’m writing from the Gobustan National Artistic Historical Preserve just outside of Baku, Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is a country located north of Iran, south of Russia, and to the east of Georgia and Armenia. Baku, the capital, borders the Caspian Sea and has a population of more than 2 million.
I am here with six Azerbaijani and six Pueblo Indian students and researchers to study the cultural significance, recording methods, and preservation of the more than 6,000 petroglyphs and pictographs found in the Gobustan Preserve, about an hour’s bus ride from Baku. Though the Gobustan Preserve was founded in 1950, a new museum was just built there last year. It is a beautiful facility, with six exhibition halls on two levels in addition to well as many interactive components.
One of the most famous iconic glyphs from the Gobustan Preserve.Dr. Malahat Farajova, the museum’s director, provided us with an overview of the history of the preserve and the museum. After a delicious lunch, we traveled to one of the sites, where Ramin Bagirov provided an interpretive tour. Many of the participants tried to place themselves back in time to understand what the original artist may have been thinking during the creation of these images.
When our day of familiarizing ourselves with the rock art was over, we boarded our bus to return to Baku, each person reflecting on the day’s activities. Once back in the capital city, we gathered together for a dinner at our now favorite local restaurant. To conclude our meal, we asked each person to reflect on the day’s events and to share with the others at least one thing he or she learned that day. It was very rewarding to hear the many comments about how much each person had learned from the other, from Azeri to Pueblo and Pueblo to Azeri.
The following day was an ambitious one for our travelers, who were on the bus bright and early for a full day of recording images in the field using two different techniques: tracing and photography. Dr. Farajova took one group to demonstrate tracing techniques, while Laurie White, an artist and archaeologist with Sacred Sites Research Inc., a small non-profit based in Albuquerque, N.M., who led another group in capturing images with an iPad. White then demonstrated tracing techniques with readily available software. Each Pueblo participant was paired with an Azeri participant so they could better become acquainted and share their individual knowledge with each other.
Participants examine petroglyphs at night under artificial lighting to look for variances in the carvings that might not be visible in natural light. In this photo, a small glyph becomes visible that is overshadowed by the larger animal glyph.
After a light dinner on site, the group reassembled to try their hand at night photography. The rock art can seem entirely different when photographed at different times of the day and year. Nuances not seen in bright sunlight may become visible when observed at dusk (see images). Even though everyone was exhausted after a grueling day in the field, most were hesitant to leave.
This project is a partnership between the Smithsonian Office of Policy and Analysis, the National Museum of the American Indian, and the Gobustan Preserve and is funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the American Alliance of Museums. In addition to 12 participants selected from Azerbaijan and the Pueblo Indian communities of New Mexico, McClellan was joined by two of her colleagues from the Smithsonian Office of Policy and Analysis, Ben Wilson and Claire Eckert; Dr. Malahat Farajova, director of the Gobustan Preserve; and Rehman Abdullayev and Ramin Bagirov, members of Dr. Farajova’s staff.
Carolyn McClellan is the Assistant Director, Community and Constituent Services, of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.