By Kristine Martirosyan-Olshansky and Emily Uyeda Kantrim
On August 2, 2020, the field of Armenian archaeology lost one of its most dedicated scholars, Dr. Gregory E. Areshian. He was a member of the UCLA community since 2001 serving as the inaugural Director of the UCLA Research Program in Armenian Archaeology and Ethnography, Assistant Director of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, editor of Backdirt, a visiting scholar and an Adjunct Associate Professor in the department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures.
Areshian’s archaeological career started at an extraordinarily early age with his first archaeological site visit to Teishebiani (Karmir Blur) when he was five years old. Due to his close familial connection with archaeologist Boris Piotrovsky, Areshian began to “work” in archaeological excavations every summer at the age of 11 and directed excavations in his own trench at the age of 14. The enthusiasm of his youth carried into his studies as he became the youngest person to graduate with a PhD from the Institute of Archaeology of the National Academy of Sciences of the USSR in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) at the age of 26 in 1975.
During his long and distinguished career Areshian published more than 150 scholarly works in five different languages with his first peer-reviewed paper published at the age of 20. His work, spanning the Neolithic to the High Middle Ages, was mostly devoted to topics in the social sciences and the humanities, including the archaeology of the Near East, Eastern Mediterranean, southeastern Europe and Central Asia from the Neolithic to the High Middle Ages. Other publications focus on interdisciplinary linguistic-archaeological-folkloric and art-historical reconstructions of ancient Near Eastern and Indo-European mythologies, interdisciplinary studies of social contexts of the development of ancient technologies, applications of natural sciences in archaeology, as well as theory and methodology in archaeology and human adaptive responses to changes in the natural environment. Areshian also wrote on the interactions between nomads and sedentary civilizations of Eurasia, long-term trends in history and trajectories of social complexity, visual arts and architecture of Ancient Near East, Armenian history and the ancient and medieval empires of the Near East and Eurasia. His last edited volume focusing on multidisciplinary study of empires was published by the Cotsen Press in 2013.
Areshian directed and participated in a number of archaeological field projects in Armenia, Georgia, Syria, Egypt and Central Asia. The UCLA-IAEY excavations of the Neolithic settlement of Masis Blur was his most recent undertaking, but he is best known for his work at the world-renowned Areni-1 cave complex which produced the oldest known examples of wine making (6100 BCE) and intact leather shoe (3600 BCE).
Areshian distinguished himself as a successful institution-builder and administrator at different levels, establishing and directing the Center for Archaeological Research at Yerevan State University, serving as Deputy Director of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the Armenian National Academy of Sciences, the First Vice Director General of the Directorate of Antiquities of the Republic of Armenia, and Minister of State/Deputy Prime Minister in the government of the independent Republic of Armenia. It was his passion for Armenian archaeology, his dedication to educating future generations of scholars and his ability to engage with people outside of academia that resulted in the establishment of the Research Program for Armenian Archaeology and Ethnography at UCLA.
He taught a variety of undergraduate and graduate courses in history, archaeology and anthropology at the University of Chicago, University of Wisconsin, University of California at Los Angeles, University of California, Irvine and Yerevan State University.
Since his 2016 return to living full time in Yerevan, Armenia, Areshian became a member of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia and regularly taught and held salons with students of the American University of Armenia where he serves as professor of history and archaeology in the College of the Humanities and Social Sciences.
His personal archive has made permanent contributions to the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago at the Gregory E. Areshian Reading Room, as the Founding Director of the UCLA Research Program in Armenian Archaeology and Ethnography (Research Center for Armenian Archaeology) and as a co-founder of ARAMAZD, the Armenian Journal of Near Eastern Studies.
Gregory will be sorely missed by his friends, colleagues, students, and most of all, of course, by his family. He is survived by his sons Alex and Tigran.