Cultural History: Georgia: Bronze & Iron Ages
Bronze Age - Iron Age
Early Bronze Age societies seemed to have been relatively stable socially and economically. In the middle of the 3rd millennium BC the Culture of Early Bronze Age Kurgans developed in the Eastern Caucasus. It co-existed with the later stage of the Kura-Araxes culture in the Southern Caucasus and was situated between between the Kura (Mtkvari) and Araxes rivers. Both cemeteries and settlements have been uncovered in this area. Typically, houses were single story, mud and stone brick that were reinforced with wood frames. The primary new element of this culture was a distinctive burial ritual: the deceased were buried in kurgans, graves defined by stone or soil mounds; in some cases, the kurgans exceeded 100 meters in diameter and 8-10 meters in height. The Culture of Early Kurgans persisted through the end of the 3rd millennium BC. The Kura- Araxes culture also characterized with special ceramic decorative traits and the bronze smelting technology in the mid-fourth millennium BC.
Two kurgans, both dated to the mid-3rd millennium BC, were excavated in different parts of Georgia— Tori and Kvemo Kartli—during the pipelines project. The Tori site, known as the Kodiani Kurgan, is located on a ridge dividing two drainages of the Kodiana Mountain in the Borjomi district. A rockfilled mound measuring 14 meters in diameter with a pit (burial chamber) defines the kurgan at this site. Fragments of the burned human remains of a woman of about 50 in the burial chamber suggest that the deceased was cremated. The items buried with her included pots with black polished surfaces, one of which was decorated with incised and grooved ornaments. Generating the most interest, however, was evidence of apiculture (honey making) in the burial’s ceramic vessels. Previously, the earliest archaeological evidence of apiculture was found in Asia Minor and Egypt, but the Tori site now appears to represent one of the earliest honeymaking locations.
The Tremlara Kurgan was found at the Kvemo Kartli site in the Tetritskaro district. It lies on the slope of the Bedeni Mountain and is characterized by a circular, rock- and soil-filled mounds 23m in diameter that encompassed two human graves (both 3rd millennium BC). The first grave, which did not have human remains inside of it, occupies a main central chamber cut in the bedrock and filled with stones, and contained a polished stone axe, bronze dagger, several small pots, and carbonized fragments of four wooden chariot wheels. The second grave is cut into the northwest side of the main chamber, and contained the remains of a woman. Both graves date to the mid-3rd millennium BC.
The Middle Bronze Age corresponds to Trialeti Culture (2000-1500 BC) in Georgia. The culture is named for the Trialeti Plateau, the area of southcentral Georgia traversed by the pipeline. The culture is best known for large and elaborate tombs and kurgans and cobbled access roads. These kurgans are famous for their brilliant grave goods that contain ceramic and bronze objects, which include fine jewelry.
Although these elaborate burial rituals suggest a complex social structure, almost nothing is known about the domestic life of Trialeti people because to date very few examples of Trialeti settlements have been found.
During the pipeline construction, a settlement from the Middle Bronze Age was excavated in the historical province of Georgia Trialeti, Tsalka District, on the plain north of Jinisi village, on the left bank of Gumbatistskali River. The Jinisi settlement consisted of two construction layers. Some of the earliest artifacts also came from the Mousterian or Middle Paleolithic.
The most important discoveries, however, were the houses and artifacts from the Middle Bronze Age. Four houses dating back to the end of the Middle Bronze Age featured a semi-dugout design. Stone walls were built in single-row bond masonry, and the floors were leveled with clay. Stone bases that fixed the wooden columns were situated in front of the walls and at the center of the interior. The columns supported flat roofs, and each house contained an oven and a hearth. The construction technique was similar to that used in the burial chambers of kurgans of the Trialeti Culture. The pottery discovered on the floors of the houses was black-burnished and ornamented with imprinted triangles, again typical of the pottery found in kurgans of the Trialeti Culture.
Jinisi is the first settlement where this type of pottery has been uncovered. Other artifacts found at the site—a variety of querns, mortars, chopping tools—along with the results of pollen studies indicate the advanced development of agricultural crop production in the 18th-17th centuries BC, with wheat and rye the major crops. Bones of wild animals discovered on the floors of the houses demonstrate the importance of hunting and well-developed experience with farm animals, including horse breeding.
The Late Bronze Age in Georgia saw the start of the historical distinction between eastern and western Georgia. Assyrian and then Urartian written sources contain the first references to proto-Georgian tribes and states. The proto- Georgian state of Diauehi (Diauhi or Diaokhi) was formed in the 12th century BC at the sources of the Chorokhi and Euphrates Rivers. It is first identified with the state of Daiaeni and with an inscription dating from Assyrian King Tiglath-Pileser I’s third year (1118 BC). After centuries of battling for independence from the Assyrians, in the first half of the 8th century BC Urartu annexed a large part of Diauehi. Extremely weakened by these wars, in the mid 8th century BC Diauehi was finally destroyed by another proto-Georgian kingdom, Kulkha (Colchis in Greek sources). Colchis was formed in the 13th century BC on the eastern shore of the Black Sea. According to Greek mythology, it was a wealthy kingdom situated in the mysterious periphery of the heroic world. Here, in the sacred grove of the war god Ares, King Aeetes hung the Golden Fleece until Jason and the Argonauts seized it. Colchis was also the land where Zeus punished the mythological Prometheus for revealing the secret of fire to humanity by chaining him to a mountain. Colchis disintegrated after the invasion of Cimmerians and Scythians in the last quarter of the 8th century BC.
There are no written sources about the territory of eastern Georgia in the Late Bronze-Early Iron Age. However, several rich archaeological sites provide information about the cultural and political situation. One of the most interesting sites of the Late Bronze Age, the Saphar-Kharaba cemetery (discussed more extensively in the "Site Overviews" section), was excavated as a result of the pipeline construction.
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