O. Barge / C. Chataigner
(CNRS, Maison de l’Orient et de la Méditerranée, Lyon, France)

During prehistoric periods, obsidian was widely used for making tools or weapons, and circulated as raw material or finished objects over long distances between the volcanic sources and the villages. A first study, carried out with a GIS, of the movement of obsidian in a “producing” zone (the territory covering present-day Armenia in the mountains of the Little Caucasus) has enabled comprehension of several parameters related to the distribution of this material; this was achieved through calculation of time-distance defined by a constraint value imposed by the relief, and through modelling of the least restricting pathways according to the least gradient. The study in progress concerns a much larger territory (the whole of Transcaucasia and the northern Near East) covering the regions producing obsidian and the territories situated at their periphery. The investigations carried out with the aid of the GIS have two goals, archaeological (to reveal the pathways and the modes of circulation of obsidian in this vast region) and methodological (to adapt the new functionalities offered by the GIS).
This study thus develops new approaches:

  • the interaction between the circulation of different materials, obsidian often being in the exchange networks which included other goods, such as shells, semi-precious stones, copper ore…
  • the addition of the role of bio-climatic contexts to the constraints imposed by the pathways along which these goods travelled, such as desert crossings, river crossings…
  • the modelling of a network of these movements, in order to reveal the pathways of irculation used and the “areas of regular exchange” related to the sources of obsidian.

keywords: northern near east, prehistory, obsidian exchange networks, GIS network analysis, time-distance analysis