Paleolithic and Mesolithic
Neolithic and Chalcolithic
The Maikop Singularity
Late Early and Middle Bronze Age
Late Bronze and Early Iron Age
Koban Late Bronze and Early Iron Culture
The Colchidean Culture
The Broader Picture
Situated between the Black and Caspian Seas and intersected by the Greater Caucasus Mountains, the Caucasus isthmus has been presented as either a land bridge or a barrier between the Eurasian steppes and Western Asia.
Today, this territory includes the Republic of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia as well as the Greater and Lesser Caucasus Mountains, the intra-Caucasus depression (including the Rioni and Kura River basins), and the Arax River valley. Natural resources such as plants, animals, obsidian, and copper ore are abundant.
The mountain chain of the Greater Caucasus presents an impassable barrier to the masses of cold Arctic air. This chain channels on its southern slopes depressions coming from the Black Sea, allowing the southern Caucasus to benefit from varied climatic conditions.
The coastal plain of western Georgia (Colchis) is characterized by a Mediterranean climate, approaching subtropical conditions along the Black Sea shore, where the annual precipitation reaches 2100 mm.
Further to the east in eastern Georgia and Azerbaijan, the climate becomes drier and colder, approaching steppe conditions. The highlands of the Lesser Caucasus are marked by sharp temperature contrasts between summer and winter months due to a more continental climate. The Kura and Arax River basins are rich in fertile soils, which would have provided ideal conditions for the development of early agriculture.
Climate reconstruction has been the objective of much palaeoenvironmental research in Georgia, but it is only beginning to develop in Armenia and Azerbaijan. Results of current pollen analyses indicate the development of mixed oak forests at about 6000 bc in the Caucasus, as in the neighboring mountainous regions (Zagros, eastern Taurus), about 3000 years later than the Mediterranean coast.
The Caucasus, or Caucasia, is an area situated between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. The Caucasus region is separated into northern and southern parts – the North Caucasus (Ciscaucasus) and Transcaucasus (South Caucasus), respectively.
It is home to the Caucasus Mountains, including the Greater Caucasus mountain range, which has historically been considered a natural barrier between Eastern Europe and Western Asia.
The watershed along the Greater Caucasus range is generally perceived to be the dividing line between Europe and Southwest Asia. The highest peak in the Caucasus is Mount Elbrus (5,642 meters or 18,510 ft) located in the western part of the Greater Caucasus mountain range, and is considered as the highest point in Europe.
The term Caucasus is not only used for the mountains themselves but also includes Ciscaucasia, which is the North Caucasus region and is a part of the Russian Federation, whereas the South Caucasus region is commonly known as the Transcaucasus. According to Alexander Mikaberidze, Transcaucasia is a “Russo-centric” term.
The Ciscaucasus contains most of the Greater Caucasus mountain range. It consists of Southern Russia, mainly the North Caucasian Federal District’s autonomous republics, and the northernmost parts of Georgia and Azerbaijan.
The Ciscaucasus lies between the Black Sea to its west, the Caspian Sea to its east, and borders the Southern Federal District to its north. The two Federal Districts are collectively referred to as “Southern Russia.” On the southern side, the Lesser Caucasus includes the Javakheti Plateau and grows into the Armenian highlands, part of which is located in Turkey.
The Transcaucasus borders the Greater Caucasus range and Southern Russia to its north, the Black Sea and Turkey to its west, the Caspian Sea to its east, and Iran to its south. It contains the Lesser Caucasus mountain range and surrounding lowlands. All of Armenia, Azerbaijan (excluding the northernmost parts) and Georgia (excluding the northernmost parts) are in the South Caucasus.
“The earliest etymon” of the name Caucasus comes from Kaz-kaz, the Hittite designation of the “inhabitants of the southern coast of the Black Sea”. It was also noted that in Nakh Ков гас (Kov gas) means “gateway to steppe”.
The Vainakhs, at least by name, are presented as the most “Caucasian” people of all the Caucasians in the Georgian historical tradition. According to Leonti Mroveli, the XI century Georgian chronicler, the term Caucasus is derived from Caucas the son of the Biblical Togarmah and legendary forefather of Nakh peoples. It is derived from the Vainakh ancestor Kavkas.
It is noteworthy, that according to the genealogical table drawn up by Leonti Mroveli, the legendary forefather of the Vainakhs was “Kavkas”, hence the name Kavkasians, one of the ethnicons met in the ancient Georgian written sources, signifying the ancestors of the Chechens and Ingush.
Pliny the Elder’s Natural History (77–79 AD) derives the name of the Caucasus from Scythian kroy-khasis (“ice-shining, white with snow”). German linguist Paul Kretschmer notes that the Latvian word Kruvesis also means “ice”.
In the Tale of Past Years (1113 AD), it is stated that Old East Slavic Kavkasijskyě gory came from Ancient Greek Kaukasos, which, according to M. A. Yuyukin, is a compound word that can be interpreted as the “Seagull’s Mountain” (“a kind of seagull” + the reconstructed “mountain” or “rock”) richly attested both in place and personal names.
According to German philologists Otto Schrader and Alfons A. Nehring, the Ancient Greek word Καύκασος (Kaukasos) is connected to Gothic Hauhs (“high”) as well as Lithuanian Kaũkas (“hillock”) and Kaukarà (“hill, top”). British linguist Adrian Room points out that Kau- also means “mountain” in Pelasgian.
In Greek mythology, the Caucasus, or Kaukasos, was one of the pillars supporting the world. After presenting man with the gift of fire, Prometheus (or Amirani in the Georgian version) was chained there by Zeus, to have his liver eaten daily by an eagle as punishment for defying Zeus’ wish to keep the “secret of fire” from humans.
The Roman poet Ovid placed the Caucasus in Scythia and depicted it as a cold and stony mountain which was the abode of personified hunger. The Greek hero Jason sailed to the west coast of the Caucasus in pursuit of the Golden Fleece, and there met Medea, a daughter of King Aeëtes of Colchis.
The mythological Mount Qaf, the world’s highest mountain that ancient Iranian lore shrouded in mystery, was said to be situated in this region. Mount Qaf which is believed to surround the known world. It is the battlefield of Saoshyant and the nest of the Simurgh.
The region is also one of the candidates for the location of Airyanem Vaejah, the apparent homeland of the Iranians of Zoroaster. In Middle Persian sources of the Sasanian era, the Caucasus range was referred to as Kaf Kof.
The term resurfaced in Iranian tradition later on in a variant form when Ferdowsi, in his Shahnameh, referred to the Caucasus mountains as Kōh-i Kāf. “Most of the modern names of the Caucasus originate from the Greek Kaukasos (Lat., Caucasus) and the Middle Persian Kaf Kof”.
The Greater Caucasus mountain range in the north is mostly shared by Russia and Georgia, as well as the northernmost parts of Azerbaijan. The Lesser Caucasus mountain range in the south is occupied by several independent states, namely, mostly by Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, but also extending to parts of northeastern Turkey, northern Iran and the partially recognised Artsakh Republic.
The region is known for its linguistic diversity. There are more than 50 ethnic groups living in the region. The Kartvelian, Northwest Caucasian, and Northeast Caucasian language families are indigenous to the area.
In addition, Indo-European languages, such as East Slavic, Armenian and Ossetian, as well as Turkic languages, such as Azerbaijani, Kumyk language and Karachay–Balkar, are spoken in the area.
The peoples of the northern and southern Caucasus tend to be either Sunni Muslims, Eastern Orthodox Christians and Armenian Christians. Twelver Shi’ism has many adherents in the southeastern part of the region, in Azerbaijan which extends into Iran.
The Caucasus is one of the most linguistically and culturally diverse regions on Earth. The nation states that comprise the Caucasus today are the post-Soviet states Georgia (including Adjara and Abkhazia), Azerbaijan (including Nakhchivan), Armenia, and the Russian Federation.
The Russian divisions include Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, North Ossetia–Alania, Kabardino–Balkaria, Karachay–Cherkessia, Adygea, Krasnodar Krai and Stavropol Krai, in clockwise order.
Three territories in the region claim independence but are recognized as such by only a handful of entities: Artsakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Abkhazia and South Ossetia are recognized by the world community as part of Georgia, and Artsakh as part of Azerbaijan.
Today the spine of the Great Caucasus Range forms the international border between the Russian Federation to the north and the newly established independent states of Georgia and Azerbaijan to the south; still farther south lies the land-locked Republic of Armenia with its borders north and east with Georgia and Azerbaijan and to the south with Turkey and Iran.
The political geography of the Caucasus has, of course, changed greatly over the millennia, but it has also always reﬂected the tremendous ethnic and linguistic diversity for which the area is renowned.
The Great Caucasus Range represents an imposing physical barrier that impedes movements across it, creating relatively well-deﬁned cultural differences, as well as commonalities, among the numerous peoples of the northern Caucasus and those of the southern Caucasus (or, in Russian, Transcaucasia).
In other words, the Great Caucasus Range, which extends roughly 1200 km north-west to southeast between the Black and Caspian Seas, forms a distinct geographic boundary between the western Eurasian steppes of southern Russia to the north and the highland pla-teaus of Anatolia and Iran to the south.
The entire Caucasus region, which encompasses an area of about 440,000 sq km, contains extremely diverse environments, particularly marked by altitudinal differences, ranging from the perennial glaciers to countless steep and well-protected mountain valleys, to open volcanic highland plateaus, to broader plains, and even to subtropical depressions such as the Colchidean Plain of western Georgia bordering the Black Sea.
Such environmental diversity partially explains the area’s long-established diversity manifest in its numerous peoples, speaking distinct, mutually incomprehensible languages. Nevertheless, this human cultural diversity is above all the product of a long history of movements of peoples into the Caucasus who then zealously defended the separate valleys and environmental zones that they had entered and occupied.
Physically, the Caucasus region can be subdivided into ﬁve basic zones. The plain bounded by the Kuma and Manych rivers north of the Great Caucasus Range. The Great Caucasus Mountains themselves, the highest peak of which is Mount Elbrus (5633 m).
The southern or Transcaucasian river basins, consisting principally of the Rioni River and its tributaries that ﬂow into the Black Sea, and the basin of the Kura River that originates in northeastern Anatolia and ﬂows through central Georgia and is joined in its lower course before debouching into the Caspian by the Araxes River that originates even farther west in Anatolia.
The Lesser Caucasus Mountains, which contain peaks exceeding 4000 m in height, consist of several distinct ranges. The volcanic, obsidian-rich Armenian highland or plateau that extends imperceptibly into eastern Anatolia to the south.
Relatively wide valleys and plains are found in central and eastern Georgia, and the broad Ararat Plain (ranging between c. 800 and 1200 masl) of southern Armenia and the Nakhichevan Province of Azerbaijan extends along the middle course of the Araxes River and represents a particularly productive sub-region that today is as intensively cultivated as it was in the late prehistoric past.
Forests, consisting of an oak and juniper canopy, may have largely covered southern Georgia, including the Tsalka Plateau, home to the ancient Trialeti culture, also known as the Trialeti-Vanadzor [Kirovakan] culture, named after the Trialeti region of Georgia and the city of Vanadzor, Armenia, with tumuli dating back to the late 3rd and early 2nd millennium BC, from Neolithic through Middle Bronze times, c. 1500 BCE. This thick forest cover may affect our interpretation of later prehistoric sites.
Thus, the Tsalka Plateau today consists of open grassy terrain, and the large kurgans dotting it, which are occasionally connected with one another via impressive stone causeways, are strikingly visible. Paradoxically, such might not have been the case when they were built. Some tumuli have stone-lined “procession ways” of more than 100 metres in length, sometimes linking them to each other.
Similarly, geomorphological factors, which are still imperfectly understood, must also be considered in evaluating the distribution of later prehistoric sites. Much of the central Caucasus has experienced considerable alluviation that has buried sites, particularly small one-period sites, sometimes beneath more than 2 m of alluvial sediments and small river pebbles. This phenomenon obviously also affects our understanding of earlier settlement patterns.
The only unimpeded route extending north to south from the Eurasian steppes circumvents the Great Caucasus Range on its eastern side by following the narrow littoral plain that extends along the western Caspian shoreline.
Herodotus said that it was by this route that the Cimmerians and Scythians moved into the Ancient Near East beginning in the ﬁrst half of the 1st millennium BCE and setting a pattern for numerous mounted nomadic incursions that continued into the ﬁrst half of the 2nd millennium CE.
In other words, this so-called Caspian corridor forms the only natural unbroken route linking the South Russian steppes to the north with Transcaucasia and the eastern Anatolian and northwestern Iranian plateaus to the south.
This corridor consists of a series of bays successively interrupted by small rivers ﬂowing down from the mountains and by the mountains themselves extending eastwards to “pinch” the plain at several critical points, the narrowest being at the town of Derbent.
There are, however, also several passes through the Great Caucasus, the most famous being the Darial (“door of the Alans”) or Cross Pass (2388 m high and, signiﬁcantly, open year-round) that connects the Upper Aragvi Valley with the Upper Terek River that originates to the north of Mount Kazbek along what is known today as the Georgian Military Highway running between Vladikavkaz and Tbilisi.
Most of these passes are only seasonally accessible from late spring to early autumn, and all are narrow and easily defended by mountain tribes, such as historically the Khevsurs and Svans of mountainous Georgia.
East-west routes across the Eurasian steppes north of the Great Caucasus are relatively open and unhindered, while those south of the Great Caucasus are conditioned by the ranges of the Lesser Caucasus and farther to the south and west by the Pontus and Taurus ranges of eastern Anatolia.
There are two main east-west routes of communication and exchange south of the Great Caucasus: (1) a northern route extending from the Lake Urmia region of northwestern Iran to northeastern Anatolia and the Black Sea coast, and extending west across the Ararat Plain of southern Armenia along the Middle and Upper Araxes River to Erzurum; and (2) a more southerly route from Lake Urmia across the northern shores of Lake Van to the Mus Plain and then following the Murat River until it reaches the upper Euphrates near Elazig.
Finally, it must be mentioned that both the Great and Lesser Caucasus ranges contain numerous mineral deposits. Chernykh refers to more than four hundred deposits and ore bodies of copper, arsenic, antimony and gold, although characteristically most of the copper deposits are composed of sulphidic minerals with weakly developed oxidised zones; many of these presumably would only have been exploited from the Late Bronze Period onwards when people were able to extract and smelt them.
Their modern exploitation has destroyed many of the traces of ancient mining activities, although ancient slag heaps and mines have been discovered, particularly in the Zangezur region of southeastern Armenia and in the western and central Great Caucasus. Much archaeometallurgical research still needs to be done, particularly in the metal-rich eastern Caucasus Mountains of northern Azerbaijan, Daghestan and Chechnya.
Initial reports on the ancient remains of the Caucasus were made by Russian travellers and artists accompanying the Russian settlement of the plains north of the Caucasus and the political expansion of the Russian Empire across the mountains into Transcaucasia at the end of the 18th century.
After the accidental discovery in 1869 of a cemetery located in an inaccessible ravine near the Upper Koban village (northern Ossetia, Russia), the ﬁrst systematic excavations and publications appeared.
The Koban culture (c. 1100 to 400 BC) is a late Bronze Age and Iron Age culture of the northern and central Caucasus. It is preceded by the Colchian culture of the western Caucasus and the Kharachoi culture further east. It is named after the village of Koban, where in 1869 battle-axes, daggers, decorative items and other objects were discovered in a kurgan. Later, further sites were uncovered in the central Caucasus.
The scientiﬁc sensation surrounding the Koban bronzes, and the desire of numerous private collectors to obtain them, unfortunately stimulated the greed of local villagers who, during a relatively short period of time, robbed and pillaged thousands of graves.
These objects formed large private collections that over time became the basis of collections of Koban bronzes not only in Russian imperial museums (the Hermitage in St. Petersburg; the Historical Museum in Moscow), but also in museums in Berlin, Vienna, Paris and London.
The numerous bronze objects from the graves attracted the notice of many western European archaeologists who were amazed not only at the artistic works of bronze, but also by their striking similarity to objects from Central Europe of the Early Iron Halstatt Period commonly associated with Proto-Celtic and Celtic populations in the Western Hallstatt zone and with (pre-)Illyrians in the eastern Hallstatt zone.
The Hallstatt culture was the predominant Western and Central European culture of Late Bronze Age (Hallstatt A, Hallstatt B) from the 12th to 8th centuries BC and Early Iron Age Europe (Hallstatt C, Hallstatt D) from the 8th to 6th centuries BC, developing out of the Urnfield culture of the 12th century BC (Late Bronze Age) and followed in much of its area by the La Tène culture.
The extension and widening of the Georgian Military Highway exposed archaeological remains in the Aragvi Valley, and in 1871 excavations commenced at the Samtavro cemetery in the old Georgian capital of Mtskheta, which were initially conducted by the Austrian scholar Fr. Bayern (1885), the Keeper of the Caucasian Museum in Tiﬂis.
A pivotal, transformative moment in the history of the archaeology of the Caucasus occurred when the Vth All-Russian Archaeological Congress was held in Tbilisi (then Tiﬂis) in 1881. Russian and foreign scholars, such as the German ethnographer R. Virchow, attended this congress and committed themselves to the systematic study of the material remains of the Caucasus.
Another milestone in the history of the study of Caucasian prehistory occurred in 1897 when N. I. Veselovskii excavated the very large, nearly 11 m-high Oshad kurgan or barrow in the town of Maikop in the Kuban region near the foothills of the northwestern Caucasus (today’s capital of the Adygei Republic).
The kurgan contained a spectacularly rich burial assemblage, including bronze weapons and cauldrons; scores of ﬁgured gold appliques, which had been sewn on the clothes of the principal male burial; six silver rods (some over 1 m long) with gold and silver terminals depicting bulls; silver, gold, stone and ceramic vessels; and numerous gold, turquoise and carnelian beads.
This discovery stimulated the excavation of other large kurgans located in the same general region of the northwestern Caucasus, some of which seemed royal-like in their dimensions and, when not robbed in antiquity, in their materials.
This research has continued to the present day and spectacular discoveries are still being unearthed, such as hoards from the Klady kurgan necropolis near the village of Novosvobodnaya that have been excavated from 1979 on, containing distinct but clearly Maikop-related bronze, gold, silver, polished stone, ceramic, turquoise, and carnelian artifacts.
The absolute dating of these large kurgans was debated for years, with some scholars relating them to the Scythians or immediately pre-Scythians and dating them as late as the early first millennium bce, while most dated them back to the middle to second half of the third millennium BC.
The dolmens of the western Caucasus ﬁrst became known in western Europe in the ﬁrst half of the 19th century due to the publications of amateur archaeological enthusiasts: Taitbout de Marigny, a French merchant in the service of the Russian Empire; and James Bell, a political ofﬁcer of the British Embassy in Istanbul who visited the Caucasus illegally.
In 1833, the Swiss scholar Dubois de Montpereux examined dolmens in the environs of today’s Novorossisk on his visit to the Caucasus, which had been organised by Tsar Nikolas I. De Montpereux was the ﬁrst person to recognise parallels between the dolmens of the Caucasus and the megalithic construc-tions of western Europe (e.g., in Brittany) and in fact initiated a comparative analysis of them.
Such comparative investigations in Russia were supported by Count A. S. Uvarov, one of the founders of Russian archaeology, and today this search for parallels remains a popular undertaking, albeit sometimes to the detriment of a deeper study of the dolmens in terms of their local cultural, chronological, social and ecological contexts.
Discussions about their chronology continued until the discoveries in 1898 by N. I. Veselovski of megalithic burials at the Tsar’s station (today Novosvobodnaya) led to the scholarly consensus that they dated to the Bronze Age.
Calibrated radiocarbon determinations today suggest these megalithic constructions initially may date back to the late 4th millennium BCE and continue with little change into the late 2nd millennium BCE.
Very recognisable black- and red-burnished, handmade ceramics now attributed to the “Kura-Araxes” or, in the Western literature, “Early Transcaucasian” (ETC) culture were ﬁrst dis-covered in the Gyandzha region of Azerbaijan in the 19th century.
The initial recognition of their signiﬁcance, and of the fact that such ceramics were often found in the lowest levels of many later Bronze Age sites, is due principally to the work of B. A. Kuftin in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
He coined the term “Kura-Araxes” to describe these materials because at that time nearly all the sites with these materials, particularly the very diagnostic ceramics, were found in the greater catchment areas of the Kura and Araxes basins.
Today we know that their distribution extended far beyond Transcaucasia itself, spread-ing at some point southeast along the eastern slopes of the Zagros at least as far as west-central Iran (e.g., at the Godin IV settlement) and into eastern Gilan Province of northern Iran and onto the central Iranian plateau and also southwest across northeastern Anatolia at least as far as the Amuq Plain and into northern Israel during the Early Bronze III Period, notably at the large Bronze Age site of Bet Yerah (Khirbet Kerak) along the southwestern edge of Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee).
B. A. Kuftin’s excavations during the 1930s of large kurgans in southeastern Georgia also initially deﬁned the Middle Bronze Trialeti culture, which he dated to the end of the 3rd and ﬁrst half of the 2nd millennium BCE or subsequent to settlements of the Kura-Araxes culture.
Later work in the 1970s and early 1980s revealed the presence of earlier groups of monumental kurgans distributed across most of eastern Georgia and neighbouring regions of Armenia and Azerbaijan, revealing features with similarity to Kura-Araxes remains, and such continuity was also suggested by excavations conducted during the 1980s at the small multiperiod site of Berekeldeebi in central Georgia that contained levels both pre- and postdating the Kura-Araxes cultural horizon.
Numerous archaeological investigations were conducted throughout the Caucasus after World War II in the autonomous areas of the northern Caucasus and, particularly, in the southern republics of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. This work was heavily subsidised by the Soviet state through the relevant historical institutes of the various Academies of Sciences.
Consequently, when the state collapsed in 1991 archaeological research was greatly curtailed initially. Collaborative projects with European and American archaeologists subsequently developed during the 1990s, particularly in the newly inde-pendent states of the southern Caucasus, and many of these, such as Project ArAGATS in northwestern Armenia, introduced new technologies and research methods with a focus on regional surveys and less concentration on the extensive excavations of individual sites.
Except for those areas directly affected by the so-called ethnic frozen conﬂicts associated with the breakup of the Soviet Union, archaeological research is ﬂourishing throughout the Caucasus, and our understanding of its prehistory is rapidly expanding and undergoing substantial transformation.
The history of the Caucasus region may be divided into the history of the Northern Caucasus (Ciscaucasia), historically in the sphere of influence of Scythia and of Southern Russia (Eastern Europe), and that of the Southern Caucasus (Transcaucasia; Caucasian Albania, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan) in the sphere of influence of Persia, Anatolia and for a very brief time Assyria.
Located on the peripheries of Turkey, Iran, and Russia, the region has throughout its history been an arena for political, military, religious, and cultural rivalries and expansionism for centuries.
After dissolution of Kingdom of Urartu and up to including the early 19th century, Persian Empire mostly controlled the Southern Caucasus and a part of the Northern Caucasus (Dagestan), the furthest points of Parthian and later Sasanian expansions, with areas to the north of the Greater Caucasus range practically impregnable.
In 1813 and 1828 by the Treaty of Gulistan and the Treaty of Turkmenchay respectively, Persians ceded the Southern Caucasus and Dagestan to Imperial Russia. Russia conquered and annexed the rest of the Northern Caucasus in the course of the 19th century in the Caucasian Wars (1817–1864).
Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia became independent nations. The Caucasus region has become the setting of territorial disputes in the post-Soviet era, leading to establishment of partially recognized states of Artsakh, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia.
Kura–Araxes culture from about 4000 BC until about 2000 BC enveloped a vast area approximately 1,000 km by 500 km, and mostly encompassed, on modern-day territories, the Southern Caucasus (except western Georgia), northwestern Iran, the northeastern Caucasus, eastern Turkey, and as far as Syria.
The Caucasus region gradually enters the historical record during the Late Bronze Age to Early Iron Age. Hayasa-Azzi was a Late Bronze Age confederation of two kingdoms of Armenian Highlands, Hayasa located South of Trabzon and Azzi, located north of the Euphrates and to the south of Hayasa.
Arme-Shupria was a Hurrian kingdom, known from Assyrian sources beginning in the 13th century BC, located in what is now known as the Armenian Highlands, to the southwest of Lake Van, bordering on Ararat proper. At the same time, during the 13th to 9th centuries BC, the Nairi appear in Assyrian and Hittite records. The Kingdom of Urartu rose to power in the mid-9th century BC.
The Northern Caucasus enters the historical record later, being in cultural contact with the Pontic steppe. The Koban culture (ca. 1100 to 400 BC) is a late Bronze Age and Iron Age culture of the northern and central Caucasus. Its end presumably correlates with the Scythian expansion in the region.
Under Ashurbanipal (669–627 BC), the boundaries of the Assyrian Empire reached as far as the Caucasus Mountains. Later ancient kingdoms of the region included Armenia, Albania, Colchis and Iberia, among others. These kingdoms were later incorporated into various Iranian empires, including Media, the Achaemenid Empire, Parthia, and the Sassanid Empire, who would altogether rule the Caucasus for many hundreds of years.
In 95–55 BC, under the reign of Armenian king Tigranes the Great, the Kingdom of Armenia included Kingdom of Armenia, vassals Iberia, Albania, Parthia, Atropatene, Mesopotamia, Cappadocia, Cilicia, Syria, Nabataean kingdom, and Judea.
By the time of the first century BC, Zoroastrianism had become the dominant religion of the region; however, the region would go through two other religious transformations. Owing to the strong rivalry between Persia and Rome, and later Byzantium, the latter would invade the region several times, although it was never able to hold the region.
The Caucasus has a rich folklore tradition. This tradition has been preserved orally—necessitated by the fact that for most of the languages involved there was no alphabet until the early twentieth century—and only began to be written down in the late nineteenth century.
One important tradition is that of the Nart sagas, which tell stories of a race of ancient heroes called the Narts. These sagas include such figures as Satanaya, the mother of the Narts, Sosruquo a shape changer and trickster, Tlepsh a blacksmith god, and Batradz, a mighty hero.
The folklore of the Caucasus shows ancient Iranian Zoroastrian influence, involve battles with ancient Goths, Huns and Khazars, and contain many connections with ancient Indian, Norse Scandinavian, and Greek cultures.
Caucasian folklore contains many links with the myths of the ancient Greeks. There are resemblances between the mother goddess Satanaya and the Greek goddess of love Aphrodite. The story of how the trickster Nart Sosruquo, became invulnerable parallels that of the Greek hero Achilles. The ancient Greek Amazons are connected with a Caucasian “warrior Forest-Mother, Amaz-an”.
Caucasian legends include stories involving giants similar to Homer’s Polyphemus story. In these stories, the giant is almost always a shepherd, and he is variously described as a one-eyed rock-throwing cannibal, who lives in a cave (the exit of which is often blocked by a stone). He kills the hero’s companions, is blinded by a hot stake, and whose flock of animals is stolen by the hero and his men.
These motifs (along with still others) are also found in the Polyphemus story. In one example from Georgia, two brothers, who are being held prisoner by a giant one-eyed shepherd called “One-eye”, take a spit, heat it up, stab it into the giant’s eye, and escape.
Polyphemus is the one-eyed giant son of Poseidon and Thoosa in Greek mythology, one of the Cyclopes described in Homer’s Odyssey. His name means “abounding in songs and legends”. Polyphemus first appeared as a savage man-eating giant in the ninth book of the Odyssey. The consensus of current modern scholarship is that these “Polyphemus legends” preserve traditions predating Homer.
Folktales similar to that of Homer’s Polyphemus are a widespread phenomenon throughout the ancient world. In 1857, Wilhelm Grimm collected versions in Serbian, Romanian, Estonian, Finnish, Russian, German, and others; versions in Basque, Lappish, Lithuanian, Gascon, Syrian, and Celtic are also known.
More than two hundred different versions have been identified, from around twenty five nations, covering a geographic region extending from Iceland, Ireland, England, Portugal and Africa to Arabia, Turkey, Russia, and Korea.
An example of a such a story is one from Georgia, in the Caucasus, which describes several brothers held prisoner by a giant one-eyed shepherd called “One-eye”. After all but two of the brothers are roasted on a spit and eaten, the remaining two take the spit, heat it red hot, and stab it into the giant’s eye. As One-eye let his flock out of their pen, he felt each sheep as it passed between his legs, but the two brothers were able to escape by covering themselves with a sheepskin.
There are also links with the ancient Greek myth of Prometheus. Many legends, widespread in the Caucasus, contain motifs shared with the Prometheus story. These motifs include: a giant hero, his conflict with God or gods, the stealing of fire and giving it to men, being chained, and being tormented by a bird who pecks at his liver (or heart).
The Adyge/Circassian Nart Nasran, the Georgian Amirani, the Chechen Pkharmat, and the Abkhazian Abrskil, are examples of such Prometheus-like figures.
In Greek mythology, Prometheus (possibly meaning “forethought”) is a Titan, culture hero, and trickster figure who is credited with the creation of humanity from clay, and who defies the gods by stealing fire and giving it to humanity as civilization.
Prometheus is known for his intelligence and as a champion of mankind and also seen as the author of the human arts and sciences generally. He is sometimes presented as the father of Deucalion, the hero of the flood story. In another myth, Prometheus establishes the form of animal sacrifice practiced in ancient Greek religion.
The punishment of Prometheus as a consequence of the theft is a major theme of his, and is a popular subject of both ancient and modern culture. Zeus, king of the Olympian gods, sentenced the Titan to eternal torment for his transgression.
The immortal was bound to a rock, where each day an eagle, the emblem of Zeus, was sent to eat Prometheus’ liver, which would then grow back overnight to be eaten again the next day (in ancient Greece, the liver was often thought to be the seat of human emotions). Prometheus was eventually freed by the hero Heracles.
Evidence of a cult to Prometheus himself is not widespread. He was a focus of religious activity mainly at Athens, where he was linked to Athena and Hephaestus, other Greek deities of creative skills and technology.
In the Western classical tradition, Prometheus became a figure who represented human striving, particularly the quest for scientific knowledge, and the risk of overreaching or unintended consequences. In particular, he was regarded as embodying the lone genius whose efforts to improve human existence could also result in tragedy.
In Greek mythology, Ganymede or Ganymedes, is a divine hero whose homeland was Troy. Homer describes Ganymede as the most beautiful of mortals, and in one version of the myth Zeus falls in love with his beauty and abducts him in the form of an eagle to serve as cup-bearer in Olympus.
The abduction and imprisonment of the dawn goddess, and her liberation by a heroic god slaying the dragon who imprisons her, is a central myth of Indo-European religion, reflected in numerous traditions. Most notably, it is the central myth of the Rigveda, a collection of hymns surrounding the Soma rituals dedicated to Indra in the new year celebrations of the early Indo-Aryans.
Aspects of Indra as a deity are cognate to other Indo-European gods; they are either thunder gods such as Thor, Perun, and Zeus, or gods of intoxicating drinks such as Dionysus. The name of Indra (Indara) is also mentioned among the gods of the Mitanni, a Hurrian-speaking people who ruled northern Syria from ca.1500-1300 BC.
It is suggested that the Proto-Indo-European (or Graeco-Aryan) predecessor of Indra had the epithet *trigw-welumos “smasher of the enclosure” (of Vritra, Vala) and diye-snūtyos “impeller of streams” (the liberated rivers, corresponding to Vedic apam ajas “agitator of the waters”), which resulted in the Greek gods Triptolemus and Dionysus.
Vala (valá-), meaning “enclosure” in Vedic Sanskrit, is a demon of the Rigveda and the Atharvaveda, the brother of Vrtra. Historically, it has the same origin as the Vrtra myth, being derived from the same root, and from the same root also as Varuna, *val-/var- (PIE *wel-) “to cover, to enclose” (perhaps cognate to veil).
Parallel to Vrtra “the blocker”, a stone serpent slain by Indra to liberate the rivers, Vala is a stone cave, split by Indra (intoxicated and strengthened by Soma, identified with Brhaspati in 4.50 and 10.68 or Trita in 1.52, aided by the Angirasas in 2.11), to liberate the cows and Ushas, hidden there by the Panis.
Indra descends from an Indo-Iranian god known as *vrtra-g’han- (virtually PIE *wltro-gwhen-) “slayer of the blocker”. Triptolemos is analysed by Janda (1998) as a Greek continuation of a variant of the epithet, *trigw-t-welumos, a “terpsimbrotos” compound “cracker of the enclosure”, Greek (w)elumos referring to the casings of grain in Greek being descended from the same root *wel-.
On such grounds, a rock or mountain *welos or *welumos split by a heroic deity, liberating Dawn or the Sun is reconstructed for Proto-Indo-European mythology (the “Sun in the rock” myth, sometime also speculated to be connected with the making of fire from flintstone).
Paleolithic and Mesolithic
The 1100-kilometre long Caucasus mountain ranges extend between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea and are bounded by the rivers Kuban and Terek in the north and the Kura and Araxes rivers in the south. The rich archaeological record suggests extensive human occupation since the Upper Palaeolithic.
The territory of the Caucasus region was inhabited by Homo erectus since the Paleolithic Era. In 1991, early human (that is, hominin) fossils dating back 1.8 million years were found at the Dmanisi archaeological site in Georgia.
Scientists now classify the assemblage of fossil skeletons as the subspecies Homo erectus georgicus. The site yields the earliest unequivocal evidence for presence of early humans outside the African continent; and the Dmanisi skulls are the five oldest hominins ever found outside Africa.
In 1991 international excavations at the site of Dmanisi, located southwest of Tbilisi Georgia, uncovered a hominin mandible associated with a rich collection of Early Pleistocene faunal remains and crude Oldowan-like stone tools.
Work at Dmanisi has continued ever since and yielded both cranial and postcranial early hominin remains of at least ﬁve individuals that exhibit a unique range of primitive Homo habi-lis–like and derived Homo erectus–like features possibly deﬁning a new highly variable, sexually dimorphic species – Homo georgicus – dated to c. 1.77 million years ago, making Dmanisi the earliest well-documented hominin site yet discovered out-side Africa.
Primitive features include a small body size and a low encephalisation quotient, while the derived features include modern human-like body proportions and lower limb morphology, suggesting the ability to travel long distances bipedally.
Large mammal remains from Dmanisi exhibit little evidence for weathering and include a few examples with stone-tool cut-marks, indicating that the hominins were eating meat and probably living in proximity to the site.
While Dmanisi represents a uniquely informative early hominin site, other pre-handaxe, Oldowan-like assemblages have also now been documented in the northern Caucasus.
Thus, for example, crude choppers and irregular ﬂakes have been recovered from excavations at the site of Ainikab I, probably dating to more than a million years ago, in the mountains of central Daghestan; and the sites of Bogatyri and Rodniki in the Taman Peninsula have recently been discovered, containing very early lithic materials dating from 1.5 to 1.8 mya.
Human presence in the Caucasus extends back to the beginnings of the Pleistocene, predating the arrival of Lower Palaeolithic Acheulian-like remains with characteristic bifacially worked handaxes.
These latter are well documented in both the northern and southern Caucasus in stratiﬁed cave deposits (e.g., the Kudaro Cave in southern Ossetia) and open air sites, sometimes found eroding from stream beds, such as on the high Parsati Plateau (2400 masl) near Akhaltsikhe in southern Georgia, where scores of handaxes have been collected.
Middle Palaeolithic sites have been documented principally in three regions: the Kuban River Basin of the northwestern Caucasus; the south-central slope of the Great Caucasus Range (particularly Imeretia and southern Ossetia); and southern Georgia, Armenia and western Azerbaijan.
These regions deﬁne three separate culture areas, corresponding, respectively, to a local variant of the eastern Micoquian corre-lated with bison hunting; a composite area with similarities to the Levantine Mousterian; and assemblages related to the Zagros Mousterian with characteristic truncated-faceted tools.
Some scholars postulate a relatively long Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition, the former possibly surviving as late as 28,000 BP, while others see an intrusive Upper Palaeolithic expansion into the Caucasus occurring c. 36,000 to 35,000 BP, based on a series of radiometric dates from excava-tions at the Ortvale Klde rock shelter in north-central Georgia.
This latter site was occupied seasonally from late autumn to early spring, during which time Caucasian tur (goat antelope) were exploited both by Middle and Upper Palaeolithic hunters. That is, the same effective hunting strategy prevailed despite the change in lithic technologies and presumably physical type (Neanderthal to modern human).
Upper and Late Palaeolithic sites are best documented in the Kvirila and Rioni river basins of western Georgia and in Abkhazia and southern Russia bordering the Black Sea, while other more easterly areas of the Caucasus seem to have been much more sparsely inhabited, a pattern that continues into Terminal Pleistocene/Early Holocene times when sites with Mesolithic industries appear.
Subsistence strategies appear to have changed with a focus on the hunting of dangerous prey, such as wild boar (Sus scrofa) and particularly brown bear (Ursus arctos). These two species constitute c. 75% of the faunal assemblage from excavations at the Kotias Klde rock shelter south of the Kvirila River (dated 12,400 to 10,300 BP).
It has been postulated that this shift not only reﬂects an advance in lithic hunting technology, but also the beginnings of ceremonial bear hunting linking this Mesolithic society with the animal world surrounding it.
Trialeti Range is an east-west mountain range of the Lesser Caucasus Mountains in the central part of Georgia. The eastern edge of the Range runs along the western border of Tbilisi, while the western edge lies along River Mtkvari to the southwest of Borjomi.
The length of the Trialeti Range is 144 kilometers and the maximum width is 30 kilometers. The mountain range was built up by volcanic activity during the Paleogene Era. Young, andesite lava flows are common in the western part of the Range.
The highest point is Mount Shaviklde (meaning “Black Cliff” in Georgian) at an elevation of 2,850 meters above sea level (9,348 ft.). The slopes of the Range are mainly covered by deciduous forests made up of oak, beech, and hornbeam. The western parts of Trialeti are covered by coniferous and mixed forests made up of fir, spruce, pine, beech, and oak.
Trialetian is the name for an Upper Paleolithic-Epipaleolithic stone tool industry from the area south of the Caucasus Mountains and to the northern Zagros Mountains. It is tentatively dated to the period between 16,000 / 13,000 BP and 8,000 BP.
The name of the archaeological culture derives from sites in the district of Trialeti in south Georgian Khrami river basin. These sites include Barmaksyzkaya and Edzani-Zurtaketi. In Edzani, an Upper Paleolithic site, a significant percentage of the artifacts are made of obsidian.
The Caucasian-Anatolian area of Trialetian culture was adjacent to the Iraqi-Iranian Zarzian culture to the east and south as well as the Levantine Natufian to the southwest. Alan H. Simmons describes the culture as “very poorly documented”.
In contrast, recent excavations in the Valley of Qvirila River to the north of the Trialetian region display a Mesolithic culture. The subsistence of these groups were based on hunting Capra caucasica, wild boar and brown bear.
Distribution of the Trialetian according to Kozłowski and Kaczanowska (2004): Caucasus and Transcaucasia (Edzani and Kotias Klde (layer B) in Georgia, and Chokh (layers E-C200) in Azerbaijan), and in Eastern Anatolia (Hallan Çemi (from ca. 8500+7500 BC), Nevali Çori (some Trialetian admixture in a PPNB context), Cafer Höyük (Trialetian influences) and Boy Tepe (Trialetian influences).
in Southeast of the Caspian Sea (Hotu, Ali Tepe (from cal. 10.5k BC to 8.87 BC) and Belt Cave (layers 28-11 – the last remains date from ca. 6k BC) in Iran and Dam-Dam-Cheshme II (layers7-3) in Turkmenistan).
The belonging of these Caspian Mesolithic sites to the Trialetian has been questioned. These differences have been established through a detailed study of the site of Komishan and are driven by the underlying differences at the level of cultural ecology.
Differences have been found between the Trialetian and the Caspian Mesolithic of the southeastern part of the Caspian Sea (represented by sites like Komishan, Hotu, Kamarband and Ali Tepe), even though the Caspian Mesolithic had previously been attributed to Trialetian.
While Trialetian industry developed in steppe riparian and mountain ecozones, as for example in the Khrami river and the mountainous site of Chokh respectively, the Caspian Mesolithic took place in a transitional ecotone between the sea (Caspian Sea), plain and mountains (Alborz mountain range).
The Caspian Mesolithic hunter-gatherers were adapted to the exploitation of marine resources and had access to high quality raw material, whereas in the Trialetian sites as Chokh and Trialeti there is imported raw material from distances of 100 km.
Kmlo-2 is a rock shelter situated on the west slope of the Kasakh River valley, on the Aragats massif, in Armenia. This site seems to present three different phases of occupation (11-10k cal BC, 9-8k cal BC and 6-5k cal BC).
The lithic industry of the three phases shows similarities such as the predominance of microliths, small cores and obsidian as raw material. The backed a scalene bladelets are the dominant type of microlith; these tools show similarities with those of the Late Upper Paleolithic of Kalavan-1 and the Mesolithic layer B of the Kotias Klde. Cultural affinities of the Kmlo-2 lithic industry with the Epipaleolithic and Aceramic Neolithic sites in Taurus-Zagros mountains have also been noted.
Apnagyugh-8 industry is closer to the production complexes with traditions of Mesolithic and/or Upper Paleolithic periods. But it’s difficult to show any culture or archaeological source in Armenia today, which belongs to these periods, preceding Apnagyugh-8 and could have been its origin or prototype.
The only site that emerged before Apnagyugh-8 is Kalavan-1, an Upper Paleolithic site dating to 16 th -14 th millennia BC, where microliths of geometrical forms are fully absent. Though Apnagyugh-8 industry shows some similarities with Zarzian and Trialeti cultures, analytic studies for proving this comparison are still in the process.
Layer III of Kmlo-2 contained the so-called “Kmlo tools”. Kmlo tools are characterized by “continuous and parallel retouch by pressure flaking of one or both lateral edges”. Similar tools have been found, as the associated to the to Paluri-Nagutny culture in Georgia), the so-called “Çayönü tools” (Çayönü, Cafer Höyük, Shimshara), found in Neolithic sites from 8000 to 7000 BC in eastern Anatolia and northern Mesopotamia, and some found in the layer A2 of the Kotias Klde cave.
It has been suggested that the Kmlo tools are distinctive features of a culture established circa 9000-8000 BC on the highlands of western Armenia and continued at least until the 6000-5000 BC. A local development of the Kmlo tools has also been hypothesized.
Little is known about the end of the Trialetian. 6k BC has been proposed as the time on which the decline phase took place. From this date are the first evidences of the Jeitunian, an industry that has probably evolved from the Trialetian. Also from this date are the first evidences of Neolithic materials in the Belt cave.
In the southwest corner of the Trialetian region it has been proposed that this culture evolved towards a local version of the PPNB around 7000 BC, in sites as Cafer Höyük. Kozłowski suggests that the Trialetian does not seem to have continuation in the Neolithic of Georgia (as for example in Paluri and Kobuleti). Although certain microliths similar to those of the Trialetian reappears in Shulaveris Gora (Shulaveri-Shomu) and Irmis Gora 5000 BC.
The genome of a Mesolithic hunter-gatherer individual found at the layer A2 of the Kotias Klde rock shelter in Georgia (labeled KK1), dating from 9,700 BP, has been analysed. This individual forms a genetic cluster with another hunter-gatherer from the Satsurblia Cave, the so-called Caucasian Hunter-Gatherer (CHG) cluster. KK1 belongs to the Y-chromosome haplogruoup J2a (an independent analysis has assigned him J2a1b-Y12379*).
Although the belonging of the Caspian Mesolithic to the Trialetian has been questioned, it is worth noting that genetic similarities have been found between an Mesolithic hunther-gatherer from the Hotu cave (labeled Iran_HotuIIIb) dating from 9,100-8,600 BCE and the CHG from Kotias Klde.
The Iran_HotuIIIb individual belongs to the Y-chromosome haplogroup J (xJ2a1b3, J2b2a1a1) (an independent analysis yields J2a-CTS1085 (xCTS11251,PF5073) -probably J2a2-). Then, both KK1 and Iran_HotuIIIb individuals share a paternal ancestor that lived approximately 18.700 BP. At the autosomal level it falls in the cluster of the CHG’s and the Iranian Neolithic Farmers.
Surveys and excavations carried out by Soviet researchers up until the 1990s revealed the existence of archaeological sites from the beginning of the Holocene. They were distributed equally on the shores of the Black and Caspian Seas and in the Kura and Arax River basins.
However, this poorly disseminated research lacks reliable radiocarbon dating, stratigraphic contexts, and palaeoenvironmental data. For the past twenty years, international missions have been conducted to supplement the Soviet research with new methods of investigation.
In the Soviet era of the 1970s to the 1990s, the Neolithic was generally defined as a shift in subsistence patterns oriented toward the domestication of plants and animals.
However, some researchers did not consider this criterion of domestication to be necessary and believed that a hunting and gathering economy could be called Neolithic if it satisfied other conditions related to the tool kit.
These included the appearance of new techniques (e.g., polishing of stone, production of pottery), development of new tool types (e.g., polished axes, sickle blades, objects for grinding), or the disappearance of “typically” Mesolithic elements such as microliths.
Thus in western Georgian sites, the cultural change from the Mesolithic to Early Neolithic was exclusively observed in the lithic industry (e.g., the appearance of “bullet cores,” polished stone axes, grinding slabs, handstones, and pestles).
As for the transition between the Early and Late Neolithic, across the entire Caucasus region it was defined essentially by the appearance of pottery. However, current research in the southern Caucasus is shedding new light on the Neolithisation process in this region.
By studying the cultural processes from the late Pleistocene to the early Holocene, we can better understand Neolithisation in the southern Caucasus. However, the archaeological evidence for this period is not yet sufficient due to the lack of sites with undisturbed thick deposits and radiocarbon dates.
In past studies, the vast majority of archaeological research concerning the early Holocene comes from investigations in Georgia. The only sites studied outside of this area are rockshelters located near the Caspian Sea or in Dagestan (Chokh) and Kobystan.
In western Georgia, Mesolithic sites are generally divided into four distinct regional groups: Black Sea coastal area, Rioni valley, Trialeti, and Javakheti. Regardless of whether such groupings are valid, they are based on variability in the lithic industries.
For example, Mesolithic sites on the Black Sea coast have produced microscrapers and trapezoids, while sites in Trialeti are characterized by the abundance of scalene triangles. This variability could result from regional or chronological differences.
Two or three subperiods were defined, according to techno-morphological differences in the lithic industries. Again, the lack of radiocarbon dates prohibits confirmation of such a chronological division. There is little archaeological evidence concerning the subsistence economy during the Mesolithic, although cave bear was heavily hunted at Kvachara Cave on the Black Sea coast.
Sites attributed to the Early Neolithic are relatively abundant in western Georgia, especially on the Black Sea coast. Most of these are open-air sites. At Anaseuli-1, the lithic industry is blade-oriented, using both obsidian and flint.
According to analyses, obsidian (up to 50%) comes from Chikiani in southern Georgia, more than 150 km away. Some bullet-type cores and standardized blades recovered from the site indicate that a pressure-flaking technique was used to make blades.
Diagnostic tools are short symmetrical trapezoids and sickle blades. This latter tool type is important, as it indicates that crop cultivation could have been practiced at Anaseuli-1. In addition, ground stone artifacts such as polished axes (Figure 2:15) and grinders were found.
The other site often mentioned is Darkveti rockshelter, situated in the Kvirila valley in western Georgia. Darkveti is a multilayered site dating from the Mesolithic to Early Bronze Age. In the Mesolithic layer (V) and the Early Neolithic layer (IV), lithic industries are blade-oriented with pyramidal or bullet cores.
However, there is a remarkable difference between the two layers concerning the microliths: short trapezoids made on blades were found in the Early Neolithic layer, whereas asymmetrical triangles and backed bladelets were recovered from the Mesolithic layer. Ground stones such as polished axes were found only in the Early Neolithic layer .
According to the excavator, the presence of domesticated animals is attested in Layer IV. However, some researchers doubt the identification of domesticated animals at this site.
Some sites in northern Georgia, the so-called Paluri-Nagutni sites, were placed in the Proto-Neolithic or aceramic Neolithic without any radiocarbon dates. Their lithic industries differ from Anaseuli-1 in western Georgia by the scarcity of geometric microliths and regular blades and by the presence of a specific tool type, “tools with hooked projections”.
Characterized by continuously retouched lateral edges, tools with hooked projections are important, since similar retouched tools (so-called Çayönü tools) were recovered from aceramic Neolithic sites in Turkey and Iraq.
Moreover, specimens recently found in Armenia could be compared with these tools. The subsistence economy of the Paluri-Nagutni sites is unclear due to the scarcity of faunal and floral evidence. Unlike Anaseuli-1 in western Georgia, ground stone tools such as querns or grinders are not generally present in the Paluri-Nagutni sites.
Located on the northeastern slope of the Greater Caucasus Mountains, the site of Chokh has produced two Mesolithic layers (E-D) and one Neolithic layer (C), attributed to the 8th to 7th and the 6th millennia BC, respectively. However, no radiocarbon dates were available.
In the Mesolithic layers, the lithic material (flint) is characterized by scalene triangles, highly asymmetrical trapezoids, and points of the Chokh type (points with thinned butt and diagonallytruncated edge). In the Neolithic layer, the presence of pottery and fully domesticated cereals suggests that this occupation belongs to the Late Neolithic.
The sites of Kotias Klde in Georgia and Kmlo-2 in Armenia have yielded evidence of early Holocene occupations that are important for understanding this period. In addition, the resumption of excavations at Anaseuli-1 has enabled to establish a chronology for the Early Neolithic of western Georgia.
Current research on the beginning of the Holocene in the Caucasus has led to the following conclusions that the transition between the Mesolithic and Neolithic remains poorly understood. For instance, in Armenia, there is indeed a long gap (c.7500–6000 bc) between Kmlo-2 (early Holocene) and Aratashen/Aknashen (Aratashen-Shulaveri-Shomutepe culture).
Ongoing excavations are just beginning to fill this gap. It should be noted that, to date, no transitional stage from the local Mesolithic to agricultural Neolithic in the Caucasus has been discovered.
The cultures defined as Early Neolithic refer to different situations according to region – In the highlands of the central Caucasus, sites dated by 14C to the ninth to eighth millennia bc (Paluri-Nagutni sites in Georgia; Kmlo-2 Phase III in Armenia) are characterized by an economy based exclusively on hunting and gathering and the presence of so-called hooked tools or Kmlo tools.
The morphology of these tools suggests relations with pre-pottery Neolithic B cultures in southeastern Turkey (Çayönü, Cafer Hoyük) in the eighth millennium bc. However, in these regions, the pre-pottery Neolithic B is characterized by the “Big Arrowhead Industry” and the practices of agriculture and herding; none of these innovations appeared then in the southern Caucasus.
The Early Neolithic of western Georgia, traditionally represented by the site of Anaseuli-1 has been recently radiocarbon dated to the sixth millennium bc. Obsidian was imported into western Georgia from the eastern part of the country occupied by the Aratashen-Shulaveri-Shomutepe farmers.
The Neolithic level of Chokh in Dagestan probably belongs to the sixth millennium bc, based on its parallels in cultural material with the cultures of Aratashen-Shulaveri-Shomutepe and Sialk-1.
Moreover, the presence of fully domesticated cereals and the absence of wild varieties found in this layer suggest an import. There is no support for the hypothesis of a local development of agriculture.
The earliest unequivocal evidence for the introduction of agriculture and the Neolithic way of life in the Caucasus is dated to the very early sixth millennium bc in the Kura and Arax basins (Aratashen-Shulaveri-Shomutepe culture).
Based on several cultural elements (e.g., farming, herding, debitage by pressure-flaking with lever, imported Mesopotamian pottery), we can infer links between the Aratashen-Shulaveri-Shomutepe culture and Neolithic cultures in western Asia.
However, other elements of the Aratashen-Shulaveri-Shomutepe culture, such as the absence of pottery in the lowest levels, an abundance of naked wheat, and the genetic variety of sheep and cattle, indicate the remarkable uniqueness of the southern Caucasian cultures compared to those in western Asia at the beginning of the 6th millennium BC.
The hypothesis of uniqueness can be explained in that local hunter-gatherers adopted the Neolithic way of life through contact with farming groups from western Asia, probably in the southwestern belt near the Caspian Sea where hexaploid wheat originated.
Such close contacts may have begun at the end of the eighth or the beginning of the seventh millennium bc, a time when pottery was still unknown in most parts of western Asia. This would explain the absence of pottery in the earliest phase of the Aratashen-Shulaveri-Shomutepe culture.
In conclusion, future studies concerning the origin of the Neolithic way of life or Neolithization process in the southern Caucasus should address two key issues. The first issue involves researching the origin of the Aratashen-Shulaveri-Shomutepe culture.
Ongoing excavations in the Ararat valley and the Kura basin are revealing the basal layers at sites such as Aknashen, Masis Blur, and Göy Tepe. This research will likely provide some insights on the earliest stage of this culture.
The site of Aknashen-Khatunarkh is of majorinterest for the study of the cultures of the 6th-5th millennia BC, not only for Armenia, but for the whole of the southern Caucasus, because it is the first site to present clearly a continuous stratigraphic sequence covering the phases of the Late Neolithic and the Early Chalcolithic.
Indeed, the transition between these two phases was until now very poorly known for the central and eastern part of the southern Caucasus. In the plain of Ararat, at the nearby settlement of Aratashen, the upper layers of the tell, corresponding to this phase of transition, were destroyed.
In the basin of the Kura and the steppes of Azerbaijan, the end of the Shulaveri-Shomutepe culture (at the beginning of the 5th millennium BC) is marked by the abandonment of almost all the sites and the establishment of new villages belonging to the Sioni culture in more diversified environments, valleys but also high plateaus.
At Aknashen-Khatunarkh, the lower horizons(Horizons V-IV) with circular architecture built in pisé, a rich bone tool and lithic industry, and the very beginnings of a pottery production characterized by grit temper, belong to the ‘Aratashen-Shulaveri Shomutepe’ culture. Agriculture (mainly Triticum aestivum and Hordeum vulgare) and stockbreeding (sheep and goats represent about 90 per cent of the herd) are developed.
An evolution is probably taking shape in economic strategy, since Horizon V (even if reached only in a restricted area) is by far the richest from an archaeobotanical point of view, whereas in Horizon IV a strong pastoral character is evidenced by the geomorphological analysis.
In the later horizons of the Neolithic phase (III-II), pottery increasesrapidly with a clear predominance of Grit-tempered ware (70 per cent or more), whereas ground stone and bone artefacts decrease in quantity and variety (80 per cent of the bone tools are awls).
Herd exploitation is marked by an increase in cattle and evolution towards more milk and wool production (according to the slaughter ages). These elements suggest a gradual modification of the life towards more pastoral and mobile economy.
The Chalcolithic horizon (I) is characterized by a sharp change in the pottery production: Chaff-tempered pottery becomes predominant (68 per cent); this ware often preserves traces of combing and is decorated with perforations beneath the rim, knobs and notches on the rim; some features are characteristic of the Sioni culture.
Therefore, the settlement of Aknashen-Khatunarkh sheds new light on the transition between the Late Neolithic and the earliest stage of the Chalcolithic. Two factorsstand out: a) change is gradual and seamless,with no break between the two phases; b) despite
overall cultural continuity,there are important developments in the variety and quantity of objects, especially those associatedwith subsistence economy, indicating a profound evolution in the way of life.
Early discoveries in this area took place in October 2013 in Aknashen, Armenia, where a natural level of shallow water basin deposit 30 to 50 cm thick (Horizon VI) was unearthed under the Aknashen-Shulaveri-Shomutepe cultural layers (Horizons II–V).
This natural deposit was above a cultural layer (Horizon VII) at least 1 m thick. Separated by a hiatus (Horizon VI) from the upper Aknashen-Shulaveri-Shomutepe layers (Horizons II–V), the material culture of Horizon VII has a particular character. Its cultural affinity and chronology will be clarified by future studies.
The study of the Mesolithic in the southern Caucasus is not yet complete. Therefore, researching the transition from the Mesolithic to Neolithic in the southern Caucasus could directly resolve the question of when and how the Neolithization process started in this region.
Neolithic and Chalcolithic
A Neolithic lifestyle based on food production began in the Caucasus after 6000 BCE. As a region rich in natural resources such as ores, pastures and timber, the Caucasus gained increasing importance to the economies of the growing urban centres in northern Mesopotamia.
Early Neolithic rock shelter and open-air sites are also concentrated in western Georgia near the coast and farther inland in the river basins ﬂowing down to the Black Sea, and exhibit clear continuity with the earlier Mesolithic sites from the same area: wild boar and bear continued to be hunted, but introduced domesticated species, such as cattle and sheep, are also reported.
The chipped stone tools, including geometric microliths, continue to be used, but new forms, such as sickles and large picks and hoe-shaped objects, appear together with ground and polished stone axes and grinding stones to suggest new activities associated with a transformed subsistence economy.
The Darkveti rock shelter, which is located farther east, is particularly interesting since its deposit is multilayered, extending from the Late Mesolithic to the Early Bronze Age, and documents the emergence of the new food-producing economy. Presumably earlier sites lack ceramics, while others contain them, including fragments that are incised or decorated with applied herringbone and wavy line designs. Unfortunately, the west Georgian early Neolithic sites are not well dated.
A similar record of internal cultural development from a foraging to a food-producing economy has been documented far to the east at the Chokh settlement in mountainous Daghestan reexcavated in the 1980s by K. Amirkhanov (1987) who recorded a stratigraphic sequence from the late Mesolithic to the Neolithic, capped by a Middle Bronze occupation.
The author considered that most of the Neolithic features of the sitecould be explained bya local evolution based on the domesticationof local vegetal and faunal species, and he insisted on the differ-ences with the Shulaveri Shomu culture, though he did notice some similarities (roundstone architecture with a central pole, ceramics with a few cases of applied decoration, etc.).
The Neolithic level at Chokh was datedaround 6000 BC mainly on the basis of the lithic material, but unfortunately without any 14C dates. The new and secure dates for the Shulaveri Shomu culture make it at least contemporary with the Neolithic level of Chokh.
However, doubts can be raised forsuch an early date for Chokh because of the number of pot-shards that were found in this strata (~900 shards) compare to the very few mentioned at Haci Elamxani Tepe. Chokh might be slightly younger than supposed.
Typical Mesolithic chipped stone tools gave way to new forms, such as sickle blades, grinding stones and bone handles for composite reaping knives in the site’s Neolithic levels. The latter also contained two stone structures with a hearth, partially dug into a cliff face, suggesting permanent year-round occupa-tion of the site.
This record of apparently local internal development in mountainous Daghestan continues into the subsequent Chalcolithic Period, although it is best documented at the substantially later (early to middle 4th millennium BCE) permanently occupied settlement of Ginchi.
The site is located in a small valley at c. 1600 masl, surrounded on three sides by mountain ridges and protected on its open side by a stone fortiﬁcation wall. It contained distinctive large ﬂint blades (without microliths), grinding stones, bone awls and smooth-ers, pottery (including painted wares), and round and rect-angular stone structures and semi-subterranean pit-houses.
The site was originally thought to consist of two cultural levels, the later of which could be related to the Early Bronze Kura-Araxes culture on the basis of parallels in ceramics and bone and stone tools; the earlier horizon would then have represented a distinct local Chalcolithic culture native to mountainous Daghestan.
Subsequently, however, the excavator spoke of only one cultural level at Ginchi that he viewed as formative in the subsequent emergence of the Kura-Araxes culture-historical community.
While Late Chalcolithic sites in mountainous Daghestan undoubtedly continued the process manifest at Chokh of internal development and adaptation to mountainous terrain, their relations to developments on the Caspian coastal plain are unclear.
The materials from Ginchi clearly resemble those of the distinctive hybrid Early Bronze Kura-Araxes related culture at Velikent, Dagestan, that was established on the Caspian Plain by the middle of the 4th millennium BCE, but it is unclear to what extent the Ginchi materials predate or overlap chronologically with this initial massive settlement of the coastal corridor.
The most thoroughly documented Late Neolithic/Early Chalcolithic cultural horizon in the southern Caucasus is located principally in Kvemo Kartli (southeastern Georgia) and the adjacent region of western Azerbaijan, and is known as the Shulaveri-Shomu complex, dating principally to the second half of the 6th millennium BCE.
The Shomu-Shulaveri Culture has ﬁrst been identiﬁed about half a century ago by I. Narimanov during excavations done in Western Azerbaijan on the sites of Shomu Tepe, Tojre-Tepe and Babadervish, and later on other sites in the vicinity.
Further discoveries were made by A. I. Dzhavakhishvili and T. N. Chubinishvili a few years later in Eastern Georgia at Shulaveris Gora and other sites around where similar architecture and material culture were unveiled.
These and subsequent excavationshave shown that several clusters of settlements sharing the samecultural features spread on the northern foothills of the Lesser Caucasus along a series of small tributaries of the Kura River in the middle of its course, from the Khramis in the North to the Zeyem Chaj in the South, astride actual Georgia and Azerbaijan.
A typical circular architecture with a wealth of material (pottery, bone-, obsidian- and stone tools) was retrieved from these sites together with rare discoveries of metal items. Speciﬁc studies weremade on part of the tools which underlined their main use foragriculture or on animal skins.
Attempts were made to organize the material fromthe excavations in 5 successive phases risingin complexity. Most of the plant remains (wheat, barley, pips of grape) and animal bones (caprines, bovids, pigs, and dogs) pointed at an already advanced stage of domestication where caprines played a leading role.
This led to consider that this culturewas that of sedentary groups already well akin with farming and breeding, and, due to the presence of a few metal objects, it was dated to the Eneolithic/ Chalcolithic period.
Contradictory hypothesis were raised about the climate. On the one hand, some considered that it was similar to nowadays or possibly drier on the basis of pollen analysis from two sites, Imiris Gora and Arukhlo 1.
They also thought that the birth of agriculture was in itself evidence that climate was getting more arid since wild cereals were not sufﬁcient anymore. On the other hand, others proposed that it was more humid than today, as sites were generally positioned along old, and now dried, courses of the rivers.
Other sites dated to the same “Eneolithic” period were discovered at about the same time in south-east of Azerbaijan during surveys and soundings in the Mil’ and Karabakh steppes, and two sites were excavated (Alikemek in the Mugan steppes, and Kül Tepe in Nakhichevan). A complete Halaf pot, compared to those of Tilki Tepe near Van, had been found in the lowest levels of Kül Tepe, and probably comes from a grave, though this is not clearly mentioned.
While some authors considered these SE sites as belonging to a different cultural group, mainly on the basis of the presence of painted pottery, others proposed that they and the SSC ones were local variants of one unique culture because of similarities in the lithic and bone industries.
Many questions were raised as to the origins of this/ these cultures, since previous “Neolithic” remains in these territories from which they could have raised were unknown at that time, except for very few and doubtful cases. Only Western Georgia had caves and stations dating to an older period, but no links could be established with the central and eastern part of Transcaucasia.
General similarities in the architecture and in part of the material of the SSC and SE sites with that of cultures situated further south was mentioned. Some authors considered that the cultures of northern Mesopotamia, especially the Hassuna and Halaf communities, had probably played an important role in the formation of the SSC, while those of northern Iran and the Zagros had inﬂuenced the painted pottery of the SE group.
Altogether, many uncertainties prevented a clear understanding of both the SSC and the SE cultures, among which stood the problems of their absolute dates and a better deﬁnition of their features. New calibrated dates and further research have since then established with certainty that the SSC belongs to the Late Neolithic and that it developed along the 6th millennium.
Several new excavations are now going on and numerous analyses are being made that intend to understand the origins, development, economy and environmentof the SE cultures in the Mil Plain, and, even more research is going on the SSC, at Aruchlo, at Geoy Tepe, at Hacı Elamxanlı Tepe, and at Gadachrili Gora.
Sites outside of the Kura Valley, like Aratashen and Aknashen/ Khaturnakh in the Ararat Plain of Armenia, are also associated to the Shulaveri Shomu culture due to similarities in their architecture and material culture. Finally, recent discoveries made at Mentesh Tepe can now be added to this list.
The Shulaveri-Shomu culture has been divided into ﬁve successive phases exhibiting parallels particularly with northern Mesopotamia (Tell Sotto, Hassuna, Samarra and Halaf) and northwestern Iran (Dalma-tepe, Pisdeli-tepe).
Lithic tools are made principally from obsidian that came from the Chikiani source near Lake Paravani farther west in southern Georgia. The bone and antler industries are well developed and include awls, chisels, scrapers, knives, and perforated hammers and picks. The ceramics often have raised applied designs, and typically seated female ﬁgurines are relatively common. Domesticated animals (cattle, goats, sheep and pigs) are present from the earliest phase of this horizon.
The Shulaveri-Shomu sites group together in clusters of tells or tepes of the classic Near Eastern type, composed of successive building levels formed by the decomposition of their distinctive interconnected circular mud-brick architecture forming cultural deposits that sometimes exceed 7 m in depth.
They are located in a well-watered district of south-central Transcaucasia, but are somewhat isolated or set off from other known contemporary food-producing cultures, except possibly for some Late Neolithic/Early Chalcolithic settlements on the Ararat Plain of southern Armenia, such as at Aratashen.
Many mountainous regions, immediately adjacent to the Khramis Valley, such as the high Djavakheti Plateau to the west or the Shirak Plain of Armenia to the southwest, are apparently not occupied by food-producers until much later when Early Bronze Kura-Araxes settlements ﬁrst appear roughly in the middle of the 4th millennium BCE.
Thus, there is a clear chronological disjunction between the Shulaveri-Shomu remains and those of the Kura-Araxes culture; the later dwellings of the Kura-Araxes sites in these same mountainous areas are typically made of stone, not mud brick, and, correspondingly, do not form classic Near Eastern-like tells.
The Shulaveri-Shomu horizon possibly represents something intrusive from farther south on the Ararat Plain of southern Armenia, and ultimately perhaps from Anatolia and northern Mesopotamia, consisting of small colonies of early food producers who lived in this area for several centuries before returning perhaps to their southern homelands and/or possibly assimilating with the local highlanders and disappearing from the archaeological record.
The Neolithic/Chalcolithic site of Aratashen on the fertile Ararat Plain was occupied initially in the late 7th to the ﬁrst half of the 6th millennium BCE or immediately prior to the beginning of the Shulaveri-Shomu horizon. The circular mud-brick structures from its second level and its developed bone, horn and antler industry strikingly resemble these same features in the Shulaveri-Shomu complex, suggesting a genetic relationship.
Chalcolithic pottery from the eroded top level of the site is dominated by a chaff-tempered ware and contains a small number of painted Halaﬁan potsherds or northern Mesopotamian ware that has been found in small quantities on other southern Transcaucasian Chalcolithic sites, such as Kyul-tepe I Nakhichevan farther east.
Later Chalcolithic horizons in Transcaucasia, which now occupy different areas, such as the Ararat Plain (Tekhut, Aratashen), central Georgia (Sioni), Nakhicevan (Kyul Tepe I), the Mughan steppe (Alikemek tepesi) and the Karabakh steppe (Chalagan-depe, Leila-depe), also exhibit parallels with cultures documented farther south.
Most of these later Chalcolithic Transcaucasian sites reveal a basic discontinuity with the Kura-Araxes remains. Typically, there is a recognisable break in the stratigraphic sequence, as at Kyul Tepe I, between the Chalcolithic and Kura-Araxes levels, or there is a shift/abandonment of settlements from one period to the other, as on the sites in the Karabakh steppe.
Ceramic parallels with northern Mesopotamia have been observed for the remains from Tekhut and particularly from Leila-depe, where the excavator I. G. Narimanov believed that the site had been founded by ‘Ubaid “tribes” that had moved into the area from the south. His interpretation was based on very speciﬁc ceramic parallels with late ‘Ubaid ceramics from Yarim Tepe III.
Other scholars have also detected striking parallels with Early Uruk ceramics, making these sites contemporary with the earliest materials from Berikldeebi in Shida Kartli (central Georgia) and early Maikop remains from the northwestern Caucasus.
Leila-depe also revealed the ﬁrst substantial evidence for local metalworking in Transcaucasia in the form of slag fragments, metal drops, a possible ingot and a relatively high concentration of “copper” artifacts.
Possibly slightly later but clearly related materials have recently been found along the Middle Kura River in western-most Azerbaijan, leading Azeri scholars to refer to an intrusive “Leila-depe tradition” in the southern Caucasus extending from the Mughan and Karabakh steppes along the Kura River Basin into eastern and central Georgia, as far as Shida Kartli where the lowest level at Berikldeebi contains pre-Kura Araxes, “Leila-depe tradition” ceramics.
Settlements (Beyuk Kesik, Poylu) and a cluster of raised burial mounds or necropolis at Soyuq Bulaq in western Azerbaijan have yielded materials similar to those from Leila-depe; perhaps most signiﬁcantly excavations of the burial mounds show that kurgans were constructed in the southern Caucasus extending to the west at Kavtiskhevi in central Georgia and to the south at Sé Girdan in northwestern Iran already in the early 4th millennium BCE or well before their initial appearance on the Eurasian steppes to the north.
Excavations of kurgan 1 at Soyuq Bulaq yielded a wealth of remains, including gold, silver, carnelian, heated steatite, and lapis lazuli beads, an arsenical copper/bronze dagger, and a stone sceptre with an equid head, vaguely reminiscent of zoomorphic sceptres found farther north on the steppes (cf. also horse remains from Alikemek tepesi).
Thus, a considerable body of evidence suggests an intrusion of north Mesopotamian immigrants, if not colonists, into the southern Caucasus prior to the well-known “Uruk expansion” north along the upper Euphrates River.
Their arrival is seen as roughly contemporaneous with the seemingly sudden emergence of the Maikop culture of the northwestern Caucasus, with its wealth of metal vessels, tools, ornaments and weapons.
The Maikop Singularity
The Maikop “culture” or “cultural-historical community” has always presented difﬁculties of analysis, an enigma or “phenomenon” hard to conceptualise. The Maikop materials were initially brought to the attention of Western scholars through the writings of A. M. Tallgren, M. I. Rostovtseff and, later, V. G. Childe.
The “absolute” dating of the “ﬁrst early” or “large Kuban kurgans” was debated for years, with some scholars relating them to the Scythians or immediately pre-Scythians and dating them as early as the early 1st millennium BCE, while most dated them back to the middle or second half of the 3rd millennium BCE.
The demonstration of convincing parallels to still earlier northern Mesopotamian/Syrian remains, the new excavations of related Maikop settlements, and the application of a consistent sequence of more than ﬁfty calibrated radiocarbon determinations have all combined to place them on a much ﬁrmer chronological footing.
Their earliest appearance are now dated back towards the second quarter to the middle of the 4th millennium BCE, or practically to the transitional period between late ‘Ubaid and early Uruk times.
The Maikop parallels with northern Mesopotamia, and the seemingly consistent and growing number of calibrated radio-carbon determinations not only more securely date the Maikop phenomenon, but also suggest some connections with larger historical processes, such as the earlier North Mesopotamian, Leila-depe-related intrusion and later Uruk expansion north into eastern Anatolia.
More Maikop settlements have now been investigated, partially correcting for the prior emphasis on mortuary constructions and remains. Nevertheless, many more Maikop burial complexes have been uncovered, while only a handful of known Maikop settlements have been excavated on a substantial scale.
The mortuary assemblage to settlement ratio for Maikop remains is heavily weighted towards the former, and this situation is almost the opposite of what is known for the Early Bronze Kura-Araxes “cultural-historical community” of the southern Caucasus and Daghestan that ﬁrst emerges slightly later towards the middle or third quarter of the 4th millennium.
Hundreds of Kura-Araxes settlements have been found, scores of which have been excavated, while very few Kura-Araxes cemeteries have been located and investigated. It is primarily this discrepancy in the archaeological evidence that explains the apparent greater wealth of the Maikop metals relative to those of the Kura-Araxes culture.
Both areas were working – and probably producing – metals on a large scale, although more metal artifacts have been recovered from Maikop sites just because more rich “royal” or “chieﬂy” kurgans have been uncovered.
The Maikop culture has been divided into three successive phases – labelled Maikop, transitional and Novosvobodnaya – on the basis of changes in the features of the construction of the kurgans and their accompanying ceramic and metal artifacts.
Parallels between the early Maikop ceramic vessels and those found farther south in Syria and northern Mesopotamia (Amuq F and Gawra XII–IX) are quite close, as are parallels with Transcaucasian and eastern Anatolian sites, such as Leila-depe, Berikldeebi and Hacinebi (phases A and B1), and it has now been claimed that some of the spherical Maikop vessels may have been turned on a slow wheel, a technological development that may reﬂect direct borrowing from the south.
The depiction of a deer and a tree on a cylinder seal from a Maikop kurgan at Krasnogvardeiskoe can be paralleled with depictions on earlier stamp seals and on late 4th- to early 3rd-millennium seals from northern Mesopotamia (Tepe Gawra) and eastern Anatolia (Degirmentepe).
Intriguingly, microlithic chipped stone tools were found interred beneath the ﬂoor of pebbles in the great Maikop kurgan, a distinct cultural practice that corresponds with the Mesopotamian tradition of depositing such archaic artifacts beneath the ﬂoors of public buildings or temples (e.g., in the earlier Yarim Tepe 2 and at Uruk itself ).
In other words, the fact that such a symbolic Mesopotamian practice is attested in the richest known “royal” or chieﬂy Maikop burial must have signiﬁcance not only for the earlier dating of the Maikop culture, but also for determining aspects of its cultural afﬁliation and formation.
It is also possible to trace Maikop connections with the steppes to the north. The Maikop settlements with their relatively thin cultural deposits, light-framed, clay-plastered wattle-and-daub houses, some of which were supported with wooden posts, and many of which contain numerous deep storage pits, hardly recall characteristic northern Mesopotamian building traditions and techniques.
Some Maikop settlements, such as the Galyugai sites along the Middle Terek River, were open and easily accessible and may have been occupied seasonally. The Maikop settlements on the North Caucasian Plain have thin cultural deposits, and in some cases are totally buried. The subsistence economy of the Maikop culture, as under-stood from the excavations of a few of the settlements, seems to have focused more on animal husbandry, particularly cat-tle herding, than agriculture.
Currently direct evidence for agriculture in the form of palaeobotanical remains retrieved through ﬂotation or seed impressions on vessels is virtually nonexistent, although grinding stones and occasional ﬂint sickle blades seem to attest indirectly to the practice of some form of extensive ﬁeld preparation and cultivation and collection of plant remains. Relative to the Kura-Araxes settlements in the southern Caucasus, however, agriculture apparently played a far less signiﬁcant role in the subsistence economy of the Maikop culture.
The wealth of the metals found in the Maikop “royal” kurgans is extraordinary. Over time it is possible to trace a shift from north to south of precious metals that continues through the Middle Bronze Period: the early Chalcolithic ﬂorescence of gold consumption in the Balkans, particularly in the Varna cemetery; the abundance of gold and silver objects in the Maikop kurgans of the northwestern Caucasus during the Early Bronze Period; and the spectacular discoveries of gold and sil-ver objects in the monumental early kurgans of Transcaucasia and the famous hoards of Anatolia during the Late Early and Middle Bronze periods.
Although, undoubtedly, accidents of discovery play a part here, the trend is unmistakable and must reﬂect underlying historical processes. This shift not only reﬂects changes in the production and supplies of precious metals, but also most likely the movements of peoples with their leaders or chiefs south – across or around the Great Caucasus Range.
The Russian archaeologist E. N. Chernykh refers to the “North Caucasian Bridge”, which brought metals, presumably as ingots or in semi-worked form, across the Caucasus, and explains the wealth of the Maikop chiefs as associated with their unique role as intermediaries in this south–north metals trade, supplying vast areas of the steppes to the north and east with Caucasian-derived bronzes.
The Maikop culture, however, apparently never controlled the Caucasian highlands; their settlements appear to have been limited to a relatively narrow strip of the northern foothills stretching from Novorossisk in the west nearly to Makhachkala in the east.
The “Maikop phenomenon” stands out for its uniqueness or singularity, particularly in terms of the precious metals buried with its presumed leaders or chiefs. In terms of the concentration of wealth, the Maikop “royal” kurgans resemble the much later “royal” kurgans that appear on the steppes only with the advent of real nomadic societies interacting regularly with sedentary states to their south at the beginning of the Iron Age.
How does one account for Maikop’s singularity? If true Eurasian nomadism only ﬁnally emerged when relations with settled state societies were ﬁrmly established – as has been convincingly argued by A. M. Khazanov – then does Maikop’s singularity or precocity in terms of its accumulation of wealth indirectly suggest that it had somehow established relations by the middle of the 4th millennium BCE with a settled state(s) to the south?
These much later Iron Age nomadic societies and ultimately the ﬁrst steppe empires (and ﬁrst appearance of “royal” kurgans) came into being in part because they were caught up in larger systems of interregional interaction and exchange, including regular relations with sedentary states to their south.
The Maikop phenomenon must ﬁrst be associated with the intrusion of north Mesopotamian colonists into the southern Caucasus, and subsequently with the much better documented “Uruk expansion”, a complex, multifaceted, relatively long-lived phenomenon indicating some form of southern Mesopotamian presence and/or interest in the Anatolian high-lands, particularly along the upper Euphrates drainage.
The end of this southern presence roughly corresponds with the initial dispersal of Kura-Araxes or Early Transcaucasian peoples to the south and southwest at the end of the 4th and beginning of the 3rd millennia BCE. State societies do not reappear in the eastern Anatolian highlands or in the southern Caucasus until the advent of the Iron Age kingdom of Urartu at the end of the 9th century BCE.
The western Eurasian steppes developed largely on their own during the remainder of the Bronze Age, moving and exchanging materials and ideas over vast distances and constantly developing their mobile herding economies that gradually led to the development of mounted nomadism, social differentiation and states on the steppes during the 1st millennium BCE. The Maikop phenomenon remains remarkably singular.
Hundreds of settlements in the southern and northeastern Caucasus have been attributed to the Kura-Araxes or Early Transcaucasian culture-historical community principally on the basis of their diagnostic black and red burnished hand-made ceramics.
Calibrated radiocarbon determinations suggest that this culture initially emerged in different areas of the Caucasus roughly towards the middle of the 4th millennium BCE or slightly subsequent to the initial appearance of the Maikop culture to the northwest.
The Kura-Araxes culture is typically subdivided into three to four successive developmental phases, extending roughly from c. 3500 to 2300 BCE, although this sequence is not securely established, with chronological and regional variants sometimes confused, and the eventual disappearance/transformation of this Early Bronze culture is not certain, extending from the middle into the second half of the 3rd or beginning of the 2nd millennium BCE.
Kura-Araxes sites are found throughout all areas of Transcaucasia, except for the subtropical Colchidean Basin of western Georgia, and are located in markedly different environments at different altitudes, including burial sites even in the valleys of the high central Caucasus range, such as at Giorgitsminda and at Mutso, on the border between Georgia and Chechnya in Pirikita Khevsureti, at Argveti along the upper course of the Rioni River, and in graves at Kabardian Park in the northern Caucasus.
Settlements found high in the Great and Lesser Caucasus ranges or on highland plateaus typically contain stone architecture and have relatively thin cultural deposits (sometimes barely exceeding 1 m).
Sites farther south on the fertile Ararat Plain of southern Armenia and Nakhicevan or in the eastern piedmont between the Guru and Kandalan rivers in southeastern Azerbaijan or even farther south in northwestern Iran (e.g., Geoy Tepe, Yanik Tepe and Tappeh Gijlar) or in eastern Anatolia (e.g., Pulur [10 m] and Karaz [9 m]) are often multiperiod tells formed by the decomposition of mud-brick architecture with very thick cultural deposits, at times exceed-ing 10 m.
The Velikent or Caspian coastal plain variant of the Kura-Araxes culture often has subterranean pit-houses sunk deeply into natural marine terraces. It is difﬁcult to correlate precisely such differently formed settlements, and current evidence precludes the possibility of pinpointing precisely the original “homeland” or formative hearth from which the culture later expanded.
Most likely, regions immediately adjacent to the southern Caucasus (i.e., to the south and west of the Middle Araxes River or northeastern Anatolia, northwestern Iran, particularly the area surrounding Lake Urmia, and farther to the north and east into northeastern Azerbaijan and southeastern Daghestan) should also be seen as part of the formative area for this culture.
The Kura-Araxes culture seems to have emerged in different places, exhibiting different regional features at approximately the same time, towards the middle of the 4th millennium BCE. The charac-teristic red-and-black burnished wares, one of the hallmark features of Kura-Araxes material remains, may actually have originated at some sites beyond the catchment basins of the Kura and Araxes in today’s eastern Anatolia and subsequently spread east into the southern Caucasus as conventionally deﬁned.
There seems to have been fairly rapid intra- and intercultural communication among these different contiguous regions, leading relatively quickly to the emergence of a recognisable Kura-Araxes koine or broadly deﬁned “cultural-historical community”.
Some Kura-Araxes sites are located near steep ravines or in fairly inaccessible settings (e.g., Garni), and some (e.g., Shengavit and Mokhra-Blur in southern Armenia or Ravaz in northwestern Iran) appear to have been fortiﬁed or located on naturally protected promontories or terraces (e.g., Kvatskhelebi in central Georgia).
Many sites, however, such as Karnut in northwestern Armenia, were not fortiﬁed but represent simple open villages with separate or clustered one-room houses with central hearths, often set at the southern foot or along the lower slope of a local large hill.
Certainly most Kura-Araxes settlements and their accompanying materials in the southern Caucasus exhibit far less emphasis on militarism and defence, reﬂective of politically insecure and unstable times than is characteristic for the southern Caucasus in the later Late Early, Middle Bronze and, particularly, Late Bronze and Early Iron periods (from the second half of the 3rd through the beginnings of the 1st millennium BCE).
Most Kura-Araxes settlements in Transcaucasia are small (rarely exceeding 5 ha in size) and show very little evidence of internal social differentiation. The dwellings in the largest sites, such as Arich (12 ha) on the southern edge of the Shirak Plain in northwestern Armenia or Amiranis-Gora (c. 4 ha) near Akhaltsikhe in southern Georgia, a site which shows evidence of deliberate terracing, are quite dispersed, not densely packed together. At most, they can be considered large villages – not towns or cities – and do not constitute evidence for a sharply differentiated three-tiered settlement hierarchy.
Possibly the largest and most impressively fortiﬁed Kura-Araxes town (except for the related major Khirbet Kerak settlements of northern Israel) is the c. 15 ha site of Ravaz in northwestern Iran which is enclosed within a wall with rounded towers that separates a densely populated raised acropolis from a more sparsely occupied lower settlement – an impressive site showing some internal differentiation, a fortiﬁed town, but not a city.
All areas of the southern Caucasus and the coastal plain of Daghestan and northeastern Azerbaijan (besides western Georgia bordering the Black Sea) were occupied during the initial Early Bronze Period in the second half of the 4th millennium.
Kura-Araxes settlements are found at very high altitudes, suggesting possibly seasonal occupations and some form of transhumance, and their association with terraced agriculture in some mountainous areas seems likely.
They herded sheep and goats and, to a lesser extent, cattle and pigs, and some ﬂocks may have been driven to higher pastures during the summer by transhumant pastoralists, as occurs today on the passes into and on the plateaus of Djavakheti from the Adjari and Imereti regions of western Georgia.
They cultivated soft wheat and barley, including speciﬁc club or dwarf forms (such as Triticum vulgare antiquorum, Hordeum sphaerococcum), and collected grapes, possibly to make wine. Wild fruit trees are abundant in the Caucasus, and it is surmised that their fruits were collected during this period, although fruit pits are not well documented in the archaeological record.
The terraces that they probably constructed on steep hill slopes could have been built by related families or small corporate kin groups and have been extended over some period of time. They do not necessarily suggest any form of centralised authority involved in their construction and maintenance.
Similarly, no state hierarchies were needed for the probable construction of the small irrigation systems with dykes and canals in lower-lying, ﬂatter regions, such as the Ararat Plain where such dykes have been documented, for example, at Mokhra-Blur. In most areas, such modiﬁcations of the natural landscape were not required, and it is in these areas where it is difﬁcult to assess how intensive the agricultural practices were.
The incredible profusion of small Kura-Araxes settlements throughout Transcaucasia and northeastern Anatolia may reﬂect both population increases over time and the periodic settlement of new areas suggestive of a form of extensive shifting cultivation, an interpretation consistent with the apparent sudden abandonment of several Kura-Araxes settlements.
Metal sickles have been recovered from several Kura-Araxes settlements, although the sheer quantity of characteristic toothed-ﬂint sickle inserts suggest that basic agricultural activities continued to rely on chipped stone tools.
There is some direct evidence for the use of wooden and antler light plows (e.g., at Kvatskhelebi), and the use of traction animals is at least suggested by depictions on clay plaques and models. Models of solid-wheeled clay carts, presumably pulled by oxen, are attested at the site of Arich.
Although the mortuary evidence is fragmentary and unexpected discoveries, like the “royal” burial at Arslantepe near Malatya – with its evidence for human sacriﬁce and wealth of mixed Kura-Araxes and local eastern Anatolian ceramic and metal artifacts – may occur and alter our understanding, the currently available record does not suggest that the Kura-Araxes societies (at least in the formative southern Caucasus region) were torn apart by internal social divisions.
In this sense, the Kura-Araxes materials contrast strongly with those of the Maikop culture to the north and with what appears in the southern Caucasus during the immediately succeeding late Early Bronze Period or the time of the monumental “chieﬂy” kurgans.
None of the burials within the southern Caucasus has yielded evidence for an accumulation of wealth comparable with that seen in the “royal” burial at Arslantepe in eastern Turkey or in those of the northern Caucasus. The metal assemblages of the Maikop cultural community in the northern Caucasus and the Kura-Araxes cultural community in the southern Caucasus and eastern Anatolia also differ.
Whether it was the search for more arable land to support their burgeoning populations and/or their displacement with the occasional arrivals of small groups from the steppes to the north with their four-wheeled, oxen-driven wagons, the Kura-Araxes peoples appear to have moved over some extended period beginning towards the end of the 4th millennium far to the southwest across the Anatolian Plateau to the Amuq Plain and beyond to today’s northern Israel and to the southeast into northwestern Iran and along the Zagros mountains and onto the central Iranian Plateau.
This spread of Kura-Araxes or “Early Transcaucasian” settlements has long fascinated archaeologists, many of them speculating on the ethnic/linguistic identity of these migrants.
Sagona (1984) has published the most complete list of Kura-Araxes sites and sees the movement of these colonists ﬁrst out of central Georgia (Kvemo and Shida Kartli) to the south followed by the development of distinctive regional traditions (Armenian, Upper Euphrates, Syro-Palestinian or Khirbet Kerak), and ﬁnally to the northeast and southeast.
Others have placed the beginnings of the Kura-Araxes cultures along the Middle Araxes Valley on the Ararat Plain and in Nakhicevan with its subsequent spread ﬁrst to the north and then south.
There is no single well-demarcated Kura-Araxes “home-land”, but multiple interacting regions including northeastern Anatolia as far as the Erzurum area, the catchment area drained by the Upper Middle Kura and Araxes rivers in the southern Caucasus, and the Caspian corridor and adjacent mountainous regions of northeastern Azerbaijan and south-eastern Daghestan.
These regions constitute the original core area where the Kura-Araxes “cultural historical community” emerged. Kura-Araxes materials found in other areas are intrusive in the local sequences.
Indeed, many, but not all, sites in the Malatya area along the upper Euphrates drainage of eastern Anatolia (Norsuntepe, Arslantepe) and western Iran (Yanik Tepe, Godin Tepe) exhibit a relatively pronounced break in material remains, including new forms of architecture and domestic dwellings, and such changes support the interpretation of a subsequent spread or dispersal from this broadly deﬁned core area in the north to the south.
The overall pattern seems reasonably clear: an initial spread across eastern Anatolia to the upper Euphrates Basin at the very end of the 4th and beginning of the 3rd millennium followed by a relatively rapid diffusion (during the course of a century or so?) far-ther southwest ultimately to the Eastern Mediterranean coast.
Sites in the Urmia Basin of northwestern Iran seem to have been occupied already in the last centuries of the 4th millennium. One can only speculate that the lack of a southern Mesopotamian or Uruk presence in northwestern Iran may have facilitated this earlier movement to the east.
Movements across the Anatolian Plateau and into northern Mesopotamia and regions farther west were undoubtedly very complex and involved more than just these dispersals from the southern Caucasus. There also remained sparsely populated places that the Kura-Araxes peoples could easily settle.
They possibly destroyed or overran some settlements, while others (e.g., Tell Brak) they avoided or left alone, presumably because the polities that occupied them were more powerful. It also seems clear that not all contiguous zones were equally affected by these dispersals.
The spread was not continuous, and there are clear gaps in the distribution of sites containing these materials, such as the dense concentration of Kura-Araxes sites in the Malatya region of eastern Anatolia or the gap in known sites with Kura-Araxes/Khirbet Kerak ceramics in Syria and Lebanon between the Amuq Plain and northern Israel.
Despite the uneven coverage, these gaps must to some extent reﬂect the historical reality that the newcomers from the north only chose to occupy certain selected regions. Some areas (e.g., the Colchidean depression of western Georgia) were possibly not attractive for ecological reasons; others may have provided too much resistance or opposition to the newcomers. There were better and easier areas to settle.
The Kura-Araxes peoples seem to have spread initially and most readily into the areas formerly under the control or inﬂuence of the southern Mesopotamian–inspired Uruk expansion. When this phenomenon collapsed, the Kura-Araxes folks were there waiting in the wings to occupy these culturally transformed but physically attractive plains with their abundant pastures and arable lands.
These dispersals were not armed military invasions but involved considerable assimilation with preexisting local traditions. In these processes, social structures obviously must have changed. Nevertheless, the very frequency of distinctive, seemingly intrusive ceramics and other items of material culture, such as the highly speciﬁc ﬁgured andirons (hearth supports), suggest that this phenomenon, however short-lived, must have been reasonably substantial.
At Beth Shean, for example, the Khirbet Kerak pottery constitutes more than 60% of the total ceramic assemblage in levels 11 through 9 before dropping off to 38% in level 8 and essentially disappearing in level 7. At the type-site of Khirbet Kerak (Bet Yerah), these wares constituted 20–30% of the sherds found on the site.
The site itself is 20–25 ha in size or considerably larger than any known Kura-Araxes site in the southern Caucasus, although the spatial distribution of the Kura-Araxes-related Khirbet Kerak wares varies within the site, suggesting discrete neighbourhoods where the ware occurred relatively frequently (c. 30%), and other proximate areas where it was quite rare.
Overall, the data suggest that the Kura-Araxes peoples transformed themselves as they spread across large areas of the Ancient Near East, as shown, for example, by the occasional presence of foreign objects, such as cylinder seals, in Kura-Araxes settlements in eastern Anatolia and northwestern Iran.It is unclear what was driving these dispersals.
Kura-Araxes peoples were skilled metallurgists, and they may have been in search of new sources of metal in Jordan or in Cyprus, although sources of metal in the Caucasus were plentiful. Perhaps they were simply in search of more and better arable land with natural population increases, replicating on a much larger scale the movements from the highlands to the plains that may have characterised the initial spread of Kura-Araxes settlements within the Caucasus.
Another factor may also have been at work: people were not only moving south out of the Caucasus, but also may have been moving into the southern Caucasus from the steppes in the north beginning towards the middle of the 3rd millennium BCE.
Late Early and Middle Bronze Age
The beginning of the use of wheeled vehicles dates roughly to the middle of the 4th millennium BCE and is documented across a vast, clearly interconnected region from northern Europe to southern Mesopotamia and beyond.
The precise determination of which area or which archaeo-logical culture ﬁrst developed wheeled vehicles may prove impossible to document archaeologically simply because the technology diffused as rapidly as it did across this extensive contiguous area. The initial evidence for wheeled transport is varied and fragmentary (clay wheel models, drawings, pic-tographic signs, cart wheel impressions, etc.).
Although burials with late Maikop pottery and the remains of wagons (e.g., Starokorsunskaya 2/18) have been found in the Kuban foot-hills, and recently a pair of bronze loops (mistakenly identiﬁed as cheek-pieces) were found in situ next to two bull skulls in a Maikop grave; they appear to have been used as nostril rings for draught oxen, apparently attesting to the harnessing of oxen during Maikop times.
By the ﬁrst half of the 3rd millennium BCE, the evidence becomes much more substantial, particularly on the Kuban Plain of the northwest Caucasus and adjacent South Russian steppe, and is documented by the appearance of heavy, tri-partite wooden-wheeled wagons in burials of the so-called Novotitorovskaya/Pit Grave and Catacomb cultures.
More than 250 such wagon burials with otherwise very little evidence of the unequal accumulation of wealth or social differentiation (other than craft specialisation) have been excavated in kurgans northwest of the Caucasus, strongly suggesting that the use of wagons in these cultures was extensive and probably related to their adoption of a more mobile cattle-herding economy.
Shortly thereafter towards the third quarter of the 3rd millennium, oxen-drawn wagons appear in a small number of elaborately constructed monumental kurgans from the southern Caucasus, some of which contain silver and gold vessels and jewellery.
At roughly the same time, oxen-drawn wagons, such as those from the famous death pit at Ur, are found in royal graves in southern Mesopotamia, a practice that has now also been documented from the somewhat later, so-called royal burials excavated at Gonur-depe in southern Turkmenistan, although these Central Asian wagons may have been initially drawn by Bactrian camels.
This innovation, which apparently serves functional purposes in some relatively undifferentiated cultures on the Eurasian steppes, is accorded higher prestige value in other more complex polities of the Ancient Near East.
The coastal plain or Caspian corridor extending from southern Daghestan to northern Azerbaijan may have been largely abandoned at the end of the 3rd or beginning of the 2nd mil-lennium BCE, although it is unclear whether the local inhabitants of the plain retreated into the mountains to the west for ecological reasons and/or were displaced south due to the periodic movements of peoples off the steppes and down the coastal plain into the southern Caucasus, movements that may have begun roughly during the third quarter of the 3rd millen-nium BCE.
Connections between the later Ginchi and Kayakent-Khorochoi cultures of Daghestan can be traced to the north along the Kuma-Manych Depression of the eastern Caucasian steppe and to the south (e.g., Bedeni vessels – a highly ﬁred and highly burnished black ware – are found in collective burials at Velikent). Such parallels indicate contacts, if not movements of peoples, between the steppes and the southern Caucasus.
There was a sharp break in the distribution of settlements in Transcaucasia that occurred during the late Early Bronze Period. Speciﬁcally, the dense distribution of Kura-Araxes settlements was followed by a much more sparse distribution of known settlements and a sharp increase in burial sites, most notably large raised burial mounds, during the late Early and Middle Bronze I (Trialeti-Vanadzor) periods.
This change in settlement patterns must reﬂect a fundamental change in the subsistence economy, a transformation that is usually explained as the appearance of a more mobile, herding economy with a greater reliance on seasonal transhumant movements of peoples and animals.
These shifts in settlement patterns were accompanied by increased social differentiation during late Early and Middle Bronze times. Some of the monumental, so-called great early kurgans (e.g., no. 1 at Tsnori) are spread across nearly 3 ha or encompass a greater area than most known Kura-Araxes settlements. The total number of “man-days” of labour to build the largest kurgans at Bedeni, Tsnori and Uch-tepe (in Azerbaijan) is estimated in the tens of thousands.
Although such calculations may be inﬂated or, at best, provide only approximate estimates of the required work, they still give some idea of the organisation of labour and expenditure of energy needed to construct these monumental houses for the dead with their elaborate wooden structures covered by massive stone mounds that can exceed 100 m in diameter and 20 m in height; similarly large kurgans have been found in the northern Caucasus (e.g., the Serebryanii kurgan at Klady). Some kurgans on the Tsalka Plateau in Georgia have stone-lined “procession ways” stretching more than 100 m and linking one kurgan to another.
A plausible case can be made for the occasional practice of human sacriﬁce on the basis of the presence of secondary burials without grave-goods accompanying the principal, richly accoutred interment found in these tombs; cremation burials also appear.
Materials found in these tombs include precious silver and gold vessels, ﬁgurines, jewellery and decorated felts. Tin-bronze weapons and tools are regularly found alongside arsenical copper/bronzes, and four-wheeled wooden wagons with tripartite wheels of the type found earlier in the Kuban region of the northwestern Caucasus also occasionally appear in the larger kurgans from the Bedeni late Early Bronze Phase through Middle Bronze times.
Social differentiation and unstable political conditions are also evident in the iconographic representations on some of the vessels, such as the images of conﬂict alongside a Mesopotamian-inspired procession scene on the richly decorated silver goblet from the Karashamb kurgan found north of Yerevan.
The societies responsible for the construction of the large late Early and Middle Bronze I kurgans in Transcaucasia were not egalitarian but must have been ruled by a paramount leader or chief who was capable of waging war and amassing labour on a signiﬁcant scale.
The number of known settlements decreased dramatically from the earlier time of the Kura-Araxes cultural community, and the relatively few later Middle Bronze settlements, such as Uzerlik-tepe, that have been excavated were heavily fortiﬁed, safely encircled behind massive stone walls, again reﬂecting unsettled, perpetually bellicose conditions.
Besides the dramatic decrease in the number of known settlements, the Middle Bronze Period is characterised by the appearance of regional “archaeological cultures” deﬁned principally by their distinctively painted ceramic wares found in burials.
Thus, during the Middle Bronze III Phase (c. 1700–1550 BCE) four such cultures (Karmirberd, Karmir-Vank, Sevan-Uzerlik and Trialeti-Vanadzor) have been deﬁned for Armenia, southern Georgia and western Azerbaijan.
Over time, fewer valuable materials, such as metals, are found in the tombs, and the distinctive painted pottery traditions disappear, giving way to more uniform black, grey and buff wares that herald the appearance of the Late Bronze Age, beginning roughly in the mid-2nd millennium BCE.
Late Bronze and Early Iron Age
The earliest fortresses with cyclopean stone architecture, which are typically located in steep or relatively inaccessible locations such as the citadel of Schaori on top of a peak overlooking the western shore of Lake Paravani in Djavakheti, may ﬁrst appear at the end of the Middle Bronze Period (c. 1550–1450 BCE).
Subsequently during the Late Bronze (c. 1450–1150) and Early Iron I (c. 1150–800) peri-ods, such citadels become the characteristic feature of the political landscape of the southern Caucasus. Numerous steep hilltops, difﬁcult of access, are capped with such fortiﬁed settlements, the walls of which typically follow the natural contours of the hill or promontory on which they are situated.
Vast cemeteries marked by rings of stones (cromlechs) or stone-lined cist graves often extend beyond the walls of the cyclopean fortresses, but the graves themselves do not exhibit the striking differential accumulation of wealth and manifestation of power found in the late Early and initial Middle Bronze kurgans.
The southern Caucasus now appears even more densely settled than in Kura-Araxes times, but the location and character of most settlements suggest that the times were far less stable and paciﬁc, and excavations have revealed that some of these fortresses, such as Gegharot, were repeatedly destroyed during the Late Bronze Period.
Nevertheless, there is evidence for contact with neighbouring polities to the south. So-called “Mittanian Common Style” cylinder seals, for example, have been found at Gegharot and in tombs in the Saphar-Kharaba burial ground on the Tsalka Plateau of southern Georgia.
Although heavily fortiﬁed, the Late Bronze settlement of Metsamor is considerably larger than the hilltop fortresses and accessibly located on the western Ararat Plain of southern Armenia, perhaps suggesting that it played a central role in the violent political events at the end of the 2nd millennium BCE, and many tin artifacts were also recovered from the cemetery at Metsamor.
Very effective tin-bronze weapons and tools increasingly supplant arsenical copper/bronzes. The expansion of the Urartian state under Argishti I north onto the Ararat Plain in the early 8th century BCE marks the end of the Iron I Period and the dawn of history in the southern Caucasus.
From the end of the 4th and the beginning of the 3rd through the last quarter of the 2nd millennium BCE, the western slopes of the Caucasus Mountains were occupied by an archaeological culture named after its massive mortuary constructions and megalithic burials – dolmens.
Such megaliths are distributed on the southern slopes of the Great Caucasus range from Anapa to Ochamchira, and on the northern slopes from Anapa to the Laba River, a left bank tributary of the Kuban River. Currently about 3000 dolmens have been documented, usually clustered in groups of from two or three to several dozen burials. The largest cluster at Kizinka consists of ﬁve hundred dolmens.
The basic classiﬁcation of the dolmens was established by the local Kuban specialist E. D. Felitsyn and developed further in the ethnographic works of L. I. Lavrov and in the archaeo-logical studies of V. I. Markovin. Models of the evolutionary development and interpretations of the diverse forms of dolmen architecture have often been reexamined on the basis of hypotheses on their origin.
The insigniﬁcant number of dolmens investigated by archaeologists and their incomplete excavation methods led to the widely held view that the Caucasian dolmens were rela-tively primitive, free-standing constructions of worked stones, in the facade of which there was a relatively small (averaging c. 35–45 cm diameter) aperture that was closed by a stone plug.
Methods of investigation changed radically in the early 1990s, so that the whole complex of surrounding stone structures, not just the burial chambers, was studied. It was established that a massive stone embankment typically surrounded the burial chamber on three sides, and that a paved courtyard, open platform, or covered corridor was always set in front of the facade of the dolmen, ensuring access to the burial chamber for periodic interments.
The form, construction and dimensions of all the immovable functioning elements of the dolmens varied signiﬁcantly, and in numerous combinations formed previously unknown patterns for the dolmen architecture of the western Caucasus. The dolmens were constructed of slabs and blocks detached from monolithic rocky outcrops, or cut directly out of the rock face, as was done at the Tomb of Midas in today’s Turkey (Midas Şehri).
The burial chambers were trapezoidal, rectangular, circular, or semicircular in shape, their areas varying in size from ¼ to 25 sq m, and reaching up to 3 m in height. The ceiling of one of the large dolmens was supported by a circular-sectioned 3 m-high stone column. The paved courtyards and surrounding constructions were equally diverse in their forms and areas. The rectangular courtyard before the dolmen at Klady is one of the largest, its area extending over nearly 1000 sq m. In the Zhane Valley a semicircular 300 sq m courtyard surrounded a 2 m–high square wall that extended roughly 25 m.
Besides their dimensions, forms and constructions, dolmens are distinguished by their decorative ﬁnishes that include decorations on the facades and internal walls of the burial chambers with relief geometric drawings. In one case the walls of the burial chamber were decorated with red ochre.
Geometric signs, traditionally linked to solar and astral symbols, form a special group. Zoomorphic and anthropomorphous representations (e.g., at the Dzhubga dolmen) are exceptionally rare. Paired depictions of “female breasts” can also possibly be related to the anthropomorphous symbols.
Relief depictions on the mushroom-shaped top of the stone plug that always closed the entrance into the burial chamber appear most frequently. As a rule, these ﬁgures appear in the form of concentric circles and ﬁgured crosses and sometimes as phallic symbols. Other megalithic constructions are also associated with the dolmens including menhirs, ornamented stelae and concentric cromlechs.
The human remains found in the dolmens show their continued utilisation as collective vaults for successive burials. There were several different types of burials, but in all cases the bodies or deﬂeshed bones of the dead were placed in the dolmen through the aperture on its stone facade.
The number of burials varies from one or two to seventy. In some cases one can determine the type of burial: contracted on its side or extended on its back. When the number of burials exceeded roughly a dozen, the bones as a rule were disturbed and moved to the sides of the dolmen to make room for successive interments.
The composition of the remains, their degree of preservation, and the character of their placement in the dolmen suggest that the bodies of the dead were exposed to natural desiccation and frequently deﬂeshed before being placed in the dolmen.
In the 17th century CE, the Turkish traveller Evliya Chelebi and the Dominican friar Giovanni Luk described similar “exposed” burials among the Abkhaz, possibly a continuation of this much earlier practice.
Other speciﬁc features could be explained if the dolmen burial rite actually consisted of separate stages extending over a year or longer. For example, why is the opening in the facade of the dolmen never less than 20 cm in diameter, or why are there generally so few burial goods found in the dolmens?
The personal belongings of the dead, the ritual inventory, the farewell meal, and other traces of the ﬁnal banquet may have accompanied the ﬁrst, not last, phase of the ritual; that is, not in the dolmen, but possibly in a sacred grove, on the trees of which the corpses hung for some time, set on a branch and wrapped in a leather hide.
The desiccated, partially decomposed body was taken from the trees; the skull, the most irregularly shaped part of the exposed skeleton, was then brought to the dolmen cemetery and placed in the burial chamber through the aperture in the stone facade of the dolmen, the dimensions of which were never less than 20 cm in diameter or, in other words, a little larger than the average length of a human skull.
C14 analysis of the human remains from the “Kolikho” dolmen near Tuapse shows that nearly ﬁve hundred years separated the ﬁrst from the last of the seventy-two burials found in the tomb. Physical anthropological analyses of the skeletal remains from this dolmen have shown that there was no selec-tion by sex or age for burial in the dolmen.
The settlements of the dolmen culture are known to a signiﬁcantly less extent than the dolmens themselves. There are no indications that they were fortiﬁed, and the houses were constructed of wattle-and-daub, sometimes with stone foundations. Traces of the production of bronzes have been found in the settlements. One of the basic activities consisted of the raising of large and small horned livestock and pigs.
The stratigraphy of the settlements and ceramic typologies make it possible to distinguish several periods of development, but their precise correlation with different types of dolmens is very difﬁcult due to the insufﬁcient quantity of ceramics and other artifacts found in the dolmens.
The planning and infrastructure of the settlements at this time are unknown, but the signiﬁcant differences among the dolmens in their dimensions, quality of construction, and their decoration probably reﬂect the privileged social position of certain patriarchal families and clans, as also do the spatial groupings of dolmens of a speciﬁc type within a large group of dolmens.
Stratigraphic data and radiocarbon analyses show that at the end of the 4th and beginning of the 3rd millennium, the dol-men culture replaced the Maikop and closely related Darkveti-Meshoko cultures. The dolmen culture came to an end in the ﬁnal quarter of the 2nd millennium BCE when remains of the Terminal Bronze Age and Early Iron Age (so-called Proto-Meotic) form replaced it.
The physical geographical conditions of the western Caucasus facilitated to a great extent the prolonged existence and noticeably conservative character of the dolmen culture. These conditions are to be distinguished from those of the central and eastern Caucasus that lie on the basic Transcaucasian routes along which cultural inﬂuences from Asia and Europe were transmitted.
In the western Caucasus, the most notice-able cultural inﬂuences of the dolmen culture appeared on the pre-Kuban Steppe. Besides the occurrence of dolmen-like ceramics in the pre-Kuban steppes, another possible inﬂuence was the emergence in this area of new mortuary practices; namely, catacomb burials and the formation of local variants of the Catacomb culture.
The problem of the origin of the dolmen culture currently remains unresolved. Convincing indications of the autochthonous formation of the construction of megalithic burials in the western Caucasus have not yet been found and, for this reason, numerous hypotheses have been advanced to account for the origins of the dolmens in terms of external migrations.
The basic similarity of the Caucasian dolmens with the megaliths of Europe and Asia led to the elaboration of several hypotheses that replaced the older, unsubstantiated “Indian” or South Asian theory; speciﬁcally, “North European” and “Mediterranean” hypotheses were now advanced.
At the beginning of the 20th century the Russian archaeologist A. A. Spitsyn proposed that the ceramics found in 1898 in the megalithic burial at the Tsar’s station (today’s Novosvobodnaya) were linked in their origin to the globular amphora culture of western Europe.
Tallgren developed an original interpretation of this theory, and in Germany it was further advanced by K. Struve who proposed a link between the globular amphora cultures and funnel-shaped beaker cultures with the origin of the burials at Novosvobodnaya. In Russia, the hypothesis of a North European origin for the Caucasian dolmens still ﬁnds support.
Lavrov ﬁrst proposed a possible borrowing of the “megalithic” idea from somewhere in the Mediterranean as a result of “marine expeditions of Caucasian peoples”, and V. I. Markovin explicitly suggested the Pyrenees in the Iberian Peninsula as the area of this borrowing.
Finally, A. D. Rezepkin proposed a compromise variant between the “North European” and “Mediterranean” hypotheses. In his opinion, the appearance in the Caucasus of Novosvobodnaya burials (early megaliths) is linked with migrations of the funnel beaker cultures, and the appearance of dolmens (late megaliths) is the result of migrations from the Iberian Peninsula.
It must be said that the probability of any of these hypotheses being correct is not very great, given that not one of them – in either the Caucasus, Europe or the Mediterranean – today has a well-deﬁned culture-historical context. There are no reliable data from the end of the 4th and the beginning of the 3rd millennium BCE to support such long-distance migrations from Europe to the Caucasus.
The migration hypothesis still remains unconvincing even for explaining the similarity among geographically proximate dolmens in the Circumpontic area (Abkhazia, Bulgaria and Turkey). It is obvious that the way to solve the problem of the origin of the megaliths of the western Caucasus lies not only through the comparative analysis of the Caucasian dolmens with those of Europe and Asia, but also through the analysis of the formation of the entire material complex of the dolmen culture in its regional culture-historical context.
The simultaneous appearance of two basic components of the dolmen material culture complex (megalithic burials with entrances and the hand-made, ﬂat-based, black-burnished vessels with handles) in the Novosvobodnaya context could be a basic sign of the south-eastern origin of the entire dolmen culture.
From this perspective the Novosvobodnaya burials are only found in those areas where the Maikop and dolmen cultures overlap (the north-western Caucasus), and this relationship could be explained as a result of mutual cultural inﬂuences.
Although there is no deﬁnitive answer to the question of the origin of the dolmen culture of the western Caucasus, the results of recent ﬁeld investigations show that over a large territory around the Black and Mediterranean seas – essentially the general area of the emergence in the 3rd millennium BCE of the urban civilisations of the Old World – the dolmens of the western Caucasus constituted one of the earliest traditions of ritual stone constructions that are characterised by regular, multitiered layers of ashlar masonry, false arches, the use of developed forms of columns for supporting roofs, relief decorations on the surfaces of the facades, and decorated walls with anthropomorphous depictions and monumental zoomorphic circular sculptures.
Koban Late Bronze and Early Iron Culture
The “Koban culture” ﬁrst brought worldwide archaeological attention to the Caucasus. By the mid-20th century there were sufﬁcient materials at the disposal of archaeologists to allow them to describe the basic features of the culture and its local regional variants, to distinguish phases in its development, and to determine its chronological parameters.
In the 1970s–1990s, V. I. Kozenkova conducted the most essential elaboration of the works of E. I. Krupnov on the concept of the Koban culture. Today it is established that the Koban culture relates to the Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages, and occupies territories on both sides of the Great Caucasus Range (Kabardino-Balkar, Karachai-Cherkess, North and South Ossetia, the high north-western regions of Georgia – Racha and Svaneti, and the Northeast Caucasus – Ingusheti and the western regions of Chechnya).
The northern extent of the distribution of the culture in the east proceeds along the course of the Terek River, and in its central and western parts reaches the latitude of Stavropol. There are data that show that in the west the Koban culture extends to the basin of the Laba River in the Krasnodar area.
Regional differences, which were preserved and developed by local mountainous conditions, served as the basis for deﬁning several local variants – western, eastern, central and southern. Sometimes they are considered as separate Koban cultures within the limits of a single culture-historical community.
The Koban culture existed from the 12th to 4th centuries BCE. The chronology of its early period (12th to 10th centuries) was established by A. A. Iessen who relied on the results of a comparative typological analysis of hoards containing original Koban materials (axes, daggers, etc.) and objects characteristic of the ﬁnal phase of the Late Bronze Age of the East European steppe.
In terms of general cultural connections, this period corresponds to the Central European Bronze D Period. The chronology of the later phases of the Koban culture relies on evidence for contacts successively with the Cimmerians, Scythians and Sarmatians. Recent calibrated radiocarbon dates for the early phase of the Koban culture have great signiﬁcance; they suggest an earlier date for the beginnings of this culture in its western region, possibly extending back into the 13th century BCE.
The Koban culture is best known from the materials found in earthen graves. The burials most frequently consist of stone boxes or simple pits surrounded by stones. The dead were interred in contracted positions on their sides, dressed and accompanied with materials according to their sex, age and social position. Horse burials are well known.
Burials in slightly raised barrows, collective burials and cremation burials are rarely encountered, cremations occurring only in the earliest phase of the culture. The Tli cemetery, which is situated in today’s scarcely accessible Tlidon ravine near the South Ossetian village of Tli, illustrates the mortuary practices of the Koban culture.
A few intermittent excavations at this cemetery were conducted at the end of the 19th century, but regular systematic investigations began only in 1955 and were continued over roughly the next thirty years. The Tli cemetery emerged in pre-Koban times (16th to 14th centuries BCE) and was subsequently used without interruption for almost the entire period of existence of the Koban culture.
Tekhov excavated more than ﬁve hundred burials, some of which have still not been published. Generally, a typical male burial included one to two bronze axes, a dagger, more rarely a spear, a mace head, a bronze belt buckle or a complete bronze belt, ﬁbulae, beads and clasps (or buttons), and small bronze mugs.
Female burials are distin-guished from the male burials by the absence of weapons and the great quantity of bronze ornaments in the form of pins, pendants and bracelets. Although some types of objects (for example, bronze mugs) are met both in male and in female burials, anklets are found only in female burials. All burials are accompanied by vessels containing food, particularly barley.
If the Tli cemetery was a place for the burial of all social groups, then the organisation of the local society could be considered an association (or community) of free members in which all males held the inalienable right to bear arms.
The militarisation of the mountain society is associated with the transformation of war into a means of redistributing the limited resources ensuring security. In order to successfully defend one’s own resources and take the others, there inevitably develops in a military democracy the position of a military leader whose burial is always distinguished by its splendid weaponry, armour and ceremonial vessels.
War and feasts – this was the destiny of these people! By analogy with traditional societies of this type, like Homer’s Achaeans and Trojans, one can propose that there were also groups in the community lacking such rights, although evidence of them is still not directly documented.
The investigation of settlements is most important for reconstructing the way of life of the Koban peoples. The topography, design and architecture of settlements vary depending upon the region and its landscape.
Settlements in the eastern area of the distribution of the Koban culture are most frequently situated on low plateaus in river valleys or at the entrances into mountainous ravines. They have a regular plan with substan-tial stone streets dividing living and activity areas. Rectangular earthen houses with stone foundations and wattle-and-daub walls are most common. There are no stone fortiﬁcations, but sometimes earthen ramparts and moats strengthen the natural border surrounding the settlement.
A whole network of early Koban settlements with original plans has been discovered on the high plateau near the Kabardin Ridge (south of Kislovodsk) as a result of archaeological surveys utilising aerial photos and remote sensing techniques.
A series of identical houses or settlements with symmetrical layouts built on massive stone foundations and probably with wooden walls were placed along the perimeter of an oval or rectangular open area; the entrances into the houses were on the external walls of the houses, not on the walls adjacent to the open area.
The perimeter of the open area varied from 130 × 60 m to 50 × 25 m, and the number of houses ranged from roughly a dozen to three dozen. There were no traces of fortiﬁcations. The investigators propose that these settlements on the high plateau were associated with the seasonal pasturing of livestock.
The Koban culture has a mixed agro-pastoral economy, the combination of which varied depending on the landscape, climate and local tradition. On eastern settlements there were more pigs raised than cattle or sheep, while sheep and goats were the dominant animals kept in the western settlements.
The artistic casting and engraving of bronze artifacts constitute immediately recognisable and exceptionally original features of the Koban culture. Most characteristic are the bronze axes with hammer or wedge-shaped heads and straight or twisted bodies, daggers (sometimes bime-tallic), spears, maces, cylindrical hammers, arched ﬁbulae, butterﬂy-shaped belt buckles, pendants with thickened ends, bracelets, pins, and badges of different types, spiral bones and tiny bell-shaped objects, bits and cheek-pieces, different types of vessels and zoomorphic and, more rarely, anthropo-morphous ﬁgurines. Pole-axes, sceptres, chest pectoral ornaments, decorated belts and so-called standards (the ends of cult staffs) are also well known.
Characteristic geometric and zoomorphic designs were engraved on the bronzes, probably utilising steel-like hardened tools. Armed mounted riders and scenes of battles and hunts are depicted on the bronze belts.
The Koban bronzes are widely distributed among related cul-tures in Abkhazia and western and central Georgia. The problem of the origin of the Koban culture is still unresolved. The majority of specialists believe that local 2nd- millennium cultures of the central and northeastern Caucasus formed the basic foundation of the Koban culture, but there are different theories concerning the cultural surroundings, sources and directions of inﬂuences that deﬁned the basic features of the Koban culture.
Kozenkova remains true to the 19th-century tradition that considered contacts with the Carpathian-Danubian urn and Hallstat cultures as most inﬂuential or determinant, but the probability of this theory of cultural contacts at least for the early 13th–10th centuries BCE is not great, principally due to the absence in the eastern European steppes of any traces of the large-scale transit of cultural standards or types from Central Europe to the Caucasus.
Later, during Cimmerian times (9th–7th centuries BCE), the evidence for such contacts becomes much more tangible as shown, for example, by the distribution of horse bridles of the Cimmerian type.
The opponents of V. I. Kozenkova assert with some reason that inﬂuences from the south – from western and central Georgia – were most important for the development of the Koban culture. They point to the similarities in the early forms of burial practices (cremation), ceramics, and bronze daggers and ornaments.
The earliest prototypes of the Koban axes also come from western Georgia. In general, one can say that the western and southern Caucasus, as opposed to the eastern European steppes, formed the ancestral basis of the Koban culture and shared with it a common fate from the beginning to the end of its existence.
The Colchidean Culture
In the 3rd, 2nd and beginning of the 1st millennia BCE a group of related cultures, which Georgian scholars collectively refer to by the names Proto-Colchidean and Colchidean, was distributed to the southeast of the Dolmen culture where the Caucasian foothills descend to the Black Sea and throughout the extensive Colchidean coastal plain from the basin of the Chorokhi River southwest to the border separating Georgia from Turkey.
As established in the Georgian archaeological tradition, these names have not only a geographic, but also an ethnic meaning, emphasising the continuity between these ancient cultures and the classical “Colchideans”, the legendary ancestors of the Georgian people.
The discovery of these cultures is linked with the initial excavations of L. N. Solov’ev and M. M. Ivashchenko in 1935 at a settlement in the seaside city of Ochamchira in Abkhazia. The settlement was situated about 200 m from the shoreline, and consisted of an oval multilevel earthen mound c. 7 m high (75 × 45 m in diameter) surrounded by a ditch. The Bronze Age levels lay beneath the current level of the sea and preserved the remains of wattle-and-daub houses.
Further discoveries of settlements (Gumista 1, Guandra, Machara IV–III) with similar ceramics in the north-western part of the Colchidean Plain made it possible to deﬁne an “Ochamchira culture”, which, on the basis of ceramic simi-larities with those found in Abkhazian dolmens, was closely connected to the dolmen culture.
With the discoveries and investigations of settlements in central (Megrelia) and southeastern (Guria, Adzaria) Colchis, it became clear that, despite local peculiarities, all these areas were united into a single cultural tradition that T. Mikeladze called “Proto-Colchidean” and G. Pkhakadze named the “Early Bronze Age Colchidean culture”.
Ten years (1980–91) of investigations at the multilevel settlement of Pichori (Baramidze 1998), which is situated on the Black Sea coast not far from where the Inguri River ﬂows into the sea, deﬁnitively established the long-lived existence of the “Colchidean” cultural tradition.
At this site it was possible to trace several successive phases of development of the Colchidean cultural tradition from the ﬁrst half of the 3rd mil-lennium BCE to Hellenistic times. Pichori appears as a typical Bronze Age settlement in the lower part of the Colchidean Plain. Approximately forty such settlements are known, but Pichori remains the type-site on the basis of the scale and quality of its investigations.
Pichori is an artiﬁcial mound, approximately 6 m high and 60 m in diameter, that was formed by successive layers of cultural and architectural remains left by people living con-tinuously in this place. The settlement on a low part of the coastline began with the construction of a platform, the earth for which was obtained by digging around the perimeter of the platform, thus creating a ditch that functioned simultaneously as a means of defence and as a drainage canal.
The drainage system at Pichori was connected with those of neighbouring settlements as well as with the river and sea. Many kilometres of artiﬁcial canals, the width of which reached 20–25 m, formed an elaborate water transport system.
The platform at Pichori was made of stamped earth, but the platforms at other sites situated in wetter areas were made of wooden beams and earthen constructions with ﬂoors of planks and branches. Subsequently, as the upper surface of the platform was smoothed by the pressed layers of clay and earth, log and wattle-and-daub square, rectangular and circu-lar structures were built.
Sometimes the ﬂoors of the houses were paved with pebbles. It is possible to distinguish living and activity areas, including those associated with bronze working. Together with two primitive wooden ploughs and stone and bronze objects, sixty two-part ceramic moulds for casting shaft-hole axes and hoes and two quadripartite ceramic moulds for casting daggers and spears were found in one of the rooms of a lower level (VIII) at Pichori.
The artiﬁcial platforms were only constructed in swampy areas; in other areas, the settlements were located on small natural raised areas, and the area they encompassed could reach several hectares (e.g., the Tamysh settlement).
During the ﬁnal phase of the Colchis culture (8th–6th centuries), settlements with the remains of a single type of production complex were located on sand dunes throughout nearly the entire Colchidean littoral plain. Some scholars believe that these settlements were associated with the production of salt from seawater, while others link them with the working of iron from the magnetite-rich sands.
Agriculture and animal herding formed the basic activities of these peoples who lived along the coast. They used primitive wooden ploughs and draught animals to work their ﬁelds, and cultivated millet, barley, wheat and ﬂax. They raised prin-cipally herds of cattle, steers and pigs. Sheep and goats formed a noticeable part of the herds on settlements located farther from the coast.
The mortuary practices for the early phases of the culture are essentially unknown since Colchidean cemeteries in the low coastal zone that date earlier than the beginning of the 1st millennium BCE have not yet been discovered.
Dozens of cemeteries for the later phase (9th–6th centuries BCE) of the culture have been investigated. Even within a single cemetery, the burial practices differ, and investigators have noted local peculiarities in northwestern and central Colchis.
Secondary burials in overturned urns are distributed principally in Abkhazia east of Sukhumi, while the remains of cremations in collective pits are found in central Colchis. There are also cemeteries dug into the ground, with some extended burials on their backs and contracted burials on their sides.
Depending on the sex and age of the burial, the funeral inventory includes weapons and decorated clothing.The basic periodisation and chronology of the Colchis culture was established by B. A. Kuftin, who conducted stratigraphic excavations on multilayered habitation mounds in central Colchis.
The comparative stratigraphic method still remains today the basic means for establishing the periodisation of archaeological materials from Colchidean settlements. As a result of the excavations of the Dikhagudzba I and II and Pichori settlements, the Colchis culture was divided into two basic periods – Proto-Colchis and Colchis, the terms emphasising cultural continuity between these periods.
Separate subphases within these periods were established in correspondence with generally accepted archaeological terms equating Early Bronze with Proto-Colchis I; Middle Bronze with Proto-Colchis II; Late Bronze with Colchis I; and Late Bronze/Early Iron with Colchis II. A more detailed periodisation of Colchidean settlements was worked out principally on the basis of stratigraphy and changes in the ceramics, resulting in seven to ten subphases.
The absolute chronology of Proto-Colchidean settlements is based principally on radiocarbon dates produced by the laboratory in Tbilisi. The earliest dates for the Proto-Colchidean I Period relate to the end of the 4th/beginning of the 3rd through the ﬁrst third of the 3rd millennium BCE (cal.): the lower level of the Ispani settlement and the lowest level (VIII) at Pichori. The subsequent level VII at Pichori is dated to the last third of the 3rd millennium (cal.). Calibrated radiocarbon dates for the Proto-Colchidean II Period, in general, fall within the ﬁrst half of the 2nd millennium BCE.
The early phase of the Colchis culture is dated approximately to the second half of the 2nd millennium BCE (15th to 9th centuries), and the late phase to the 9th to 7th centuries. The ﬁnal phase of the Colchis culture is typically associated with the appearance in Colchis of the ﬁrst Greek colonies in the 6th century BCE.
The comparative typological analysis of the original and numerous products of Colchidean bronze-casting specialists greatly facilitates the more precise dating of the developmental phases of the Colchis culture.
The Colchidean bronzes are unmistakably recognisable and distinguish this culture from other Caucasian cultures of the Late Bronze Age. The massive scale of the bronze production that was based on local copper ore sources is reﬂected in the unprecedented number of hoards of bronze objects distributed over a relatively small area.
Roughly two hundred “casting” hoards containing most frequently bronze shaft-hole axes, hoes, and ingots have been discovered on the Colchis Plain. The majority of these hoards date to the end of the 2nd and beginning of the 1st millennium BCE.
The occurrence of earlier hoards dated to the middle of the 2nd millennium that contain prototypical forms of the classic Colchidean axes with wedge-shaped heads (the Ureki hoard, 1941) suggests that Colchis and its mountainous metalrich provinces to the north (Racha, Svaneti, Abkhazia) and south (Adjaria) formed the original territory of distribution of these axes and possibly of other types of axes found in neighbour-ing regions of the Caucasus, including southern and northern Ossetia where the Koban culture developed in the 14th century.
Continuous contacts for more than ﬁve hundred years between the Colchis and Koban cultures led to the formation in the 9th to 7th centuries of the aesthetically striking Colchidean-Koban style of bronze casting and engraving and inlay in metal.
The Koban culture was far from being the only culture that maintained intensive contacts with the Colchis culture. In the early phases of its development (3rd to ﬁrst half of the 2nd millennium) the Colchidean (or Proto-Colchidean, accord-ing to some) culture showed an appreciable inﬂuence on the formation of the ceramic assemblages of the Dolmen culture that is particularly observable in the materials of this culture in Abkhazia.
Some scholars propose that another witness of these close contacts is the well-established tradition of secondary burials in Colchidean graves of the 9th to 7th cen-turies in Abkhazia. The appearance in early levels of Colchidean settlements of high-quality imported Bedeni ceramics also reveals contacts with the central Caucasus.
At the end of the 2nd and beginning of the 1st millennium BCE Colchis and central Transcaucasia are united in a broadly shared distribution of formerly local types of ornaments and weapons (Samtavro cemetery). Elements of the Cimmerian and Scythian cultures are distributed in Colchis in the 8th to 7th centuries BCE.
The nature of the cultural contacts of Colchis with neighbouring and distant lands depends on the speciﬁc regional culture-historical context. In some cases one can refer to the expansion of the Colchis culture; in other cases contacts were established due to economic activities that demanded the acquisition of non-local materials, such as tin.
In yet other cases contacts were the result of social developments resulting in the consumption of prestigious weapons, ornaments and high-quality vessels. Finally, Colchis itself became the object of economic interests of neighbours who were attracted to its natural wealth. Some scholars believe that it was Colchis’s natural wealth (in copper, gold, etc.) that was the reason for the familiarity of the Greeks with Colchis long before the establishment of their ﬁrst colonies there in the 6th century BCE. The myth of the Golden Fleece is not the only evidence for documenting early Greek knowl-edge of Colchis.
The Broader Picture
Throughout the millennia, the peoples of the Caucasus created a distinctive culture area that was a product of both internal developments and external interactions with neighbouring regions. The territories located between the Great Caucasus range and the Araxes river (here after South Caucasus) are, in a geographical perspective, literally linking two major cultural and natural entities: the Eurasian steppes and the Near East.
Situated on the northern frontier of the Ancient Near East and the southern border of the western Eurasian steppes, the Caucasus functioned both as a barrier or border region in which different peoples confronted one another and as a corridor connecting different cultures with diverse ways of life.
Not only does the South Caucasus act as a bridge over which peoples moved, ultimately generating the incredible linguistic and ethnic diversity for which the Caucasus today is justly famous, it also has a remarkable diversity of geographic, environmental and climatic conditions. The floral and faunal richness of this area, represented by a significant percentage of endemic species, is a strong argument to consider the Caucasus as one of the four hotspots of biodiversity in Europe and Central Asia.
Strong vertical zonation and environmental diversity has promoted cultural regionalism in this area. South Caucasus populations went through considerable socioeconomic evolutions, sometimes provoked by external (i.e. from nearby regions), or locally developed influences. Substantial transformations of lifestyle and subsistence strategies occurred during the Neolithic and Chalcolithic (also called Eneolithic) periods.
The Neolithic is characterised by a production system based on agriculture and stock-breeding (with occasional concomitant appearance of sedentarity, ceramics, and new technical systems), whereas the Chalcolithic corresponds to the emergence of extractive metallurgy and a different pattern of land use with the development of short-term settlements.
Zooarchaeology, the discipline dedicated to the understanding of relations between human populations and animal world in the past, contribute with quantitative and qualitative data to the socio-economic characterisation of Neolithic and Chalcolithic cultures of South Caucasus.
South Caucasus can be roughly divided into four geographic provinces. In the West, the Colchian plain, drained by the Rioni and Enguri rivers, is surrounded by forested and humid mountains. Toward the East, in the valley situated in the middle part of the Kura River and in the northern highlands, hot dry summers and mild dry winters support temperate grasslands.
Further to the East, low-lying open steppes, crossed by the Kura and Araxes rivers, experience a rather dry climate. South-West of the Lesser Caucasus, the climate of the middle Araxes River and nearby highlands is characterized by hot and dry summers while the winters are long and severe.
This mosaic of very distinct geographical and environmental conditions led to a complex variety of socio-economic adaptations. Therefore, one can expect regional differences in the patterns of animal resources exploitation. This question can however only be investigated if a comparable amount of information is available from each area.
The faunal assemblages included in this review are not evenly distributed throughout South Caucasus. Eight studies (two recent and six dating prior to the 2000’s) concern seven sites located in the middle Kura river valley. One site is situated north of the Kura River in the highlands on the southern flanks of the Greater Caucasus.
Seven assemblages (all recently studied) come from four sites situated in the middle Araxes river area. Western South Caucasus is characterised by badly preserved bones in archaeological sites due to humid climate and soil acidity that led to a limited number of faunal assemblages available for study. However, five assemblages from four cave sites located in Imereti have been analysed before the 1980’s. Finally, the Eastern steppes are represented by only two sites.
The dating of both Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods in South Caucasus has been much debated and the position of each single site in the sequence is still being discussed today. The Neolithic period is traditionally associated with the emergence of agro-pastoral subsistence systems, increasing sedentarity and strong identity in a completely renewed material culture (ceramics, lithic and bone tools, ornament, etc.).
Although the production of copper artefacts has been a traditional criterion for defining the Chalcolithic period, a few copper artefacts and ores have also been found in Neolithic layers dated to the 6th millennium B.C.
Therefore metal finds only cannot be used as a clue to sort the Neolithic layers from the Chalcolithic ones. It should be emphasised that the transition between the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods is much clearer in the apparition of new technological and economic systems than the transition between the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods.
Hence, the definition of these two later periods and their chronological limits is still subject to much fluctuation and debates. It has been decided here to assign the different assemblages either to the Neolithic or to the Chalcolithic periods according to cultural similarities and recent 14C dates.
It appears that occupation layers currently considered to be Neolithic date to the 6th millennium B.C., while occupation layers currently considered to be Chalcolithic are dated between the mid-5th and mid-4th millennia B.C. The situation is less clear for the first half of the 5th millennium B.C. In the Kura river area, pottery dated to this phase is considered to be related to the Chalcolithic material.
The earliest assemblage considered in this paper comes from the aceramic Neolithic layer (layer IV) at Darkveti rockshelter. Although no absolute dating is available, the study of the stratigraphy indicates that this layer is later than the Mesolithic and earlier than the Chalcolithic.
The Neolithic assemblages of the middle Kura river area belonging to the Shulaveri-Shomu culture (Shulaveri, Aruhklo I, Shomu Tepe, Toyre Tepe, Baba-Dervish, Gargalar Tepesi and Mentesh Tepe) date from the beginning up to the third quarter of the 6th millennium BC.
Neolithic assemblages from the middle Araxes river area and Mil steppe such as Kamiltepe, Aratashen and Aknashen-Khatunarkh also belong to the same chronological period. Alikemek Tepesi stands at the transition between the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods, although it might date to the late 6th– early-5th millennia B. C., some architectural and ceramic evidence link the settlement to the 5th millennium Chalcolithic cultures.
Chalcolithic assemblages from West Georgia (Darkveti layers II-III, Dzudzuana, Samele-Klde layers I-III, and Sagvardzhile) are not finely dated within the Chalcolithic period. It is however likely that Dzudzuana cave was inhabited in the third quarter of the 5th millennium BC, whereas the site of Damtsvari Gora is slightly later and probably dates to the very late-5th of first half of the 4th millennium BC. Radiocarbon dates from the Chalcolithic occupations at Ovçular Tepesi and Areni1 are in the same ca. 4350-3800 cal. BC range.
To understand when and how the genetic patterns observed today were formed, and to understand the role of the Caucasus as a conduit for gene-flow in the past and in shaping the cultural and genetic makeup of the wider region, is important as this has important implications for understanding the means by which Europe, the Eurasian steppe zone, and the earliest urban centres in the Near East were connected.
In the 4th millennium BCE the archaeological record attests to the presence of two major cultural complexes of the Bronze Age (BA) in the region. The Maykop culture, well known for its large and rich burial mounds, which reflect the rise of a new system of social organization, and the Kura-Araxes culture, which is found on both flanks of the Caucasus mountain range, demonstrating a connection between north and south.
To genetically characterise individuals from cultural complexes such as the Maykop and Kura-Araxes and assessing the amount of gene flow in the Caucasus during times when the exploitation of resources of the steppe environment intensified, is essential since this was potentially triggered by the cultural and technological innovations of the Late Chalcolithic and EBA around 4000–3000 BCE.
Contact between the near East, the Caucasus, the Steppe and central Europe is documented, both archaeologically and genetically, as early as the 5th millennium BC. This increased in the 4th millennium BCE along with the development of new technologies such as the wheel and wagon, copper alloys, new weaponry, and new breeds of domestic sheep.
Such contact was critical in the cultural and genetic formation of the Yamnaya complex on the Eurasian Steppe – with about half of BA Steppe ancestry thought to derive from the Caucasus. The people of the Yamnaya culture were likely the result of a genetic admixture between the descendants of Eastern European Hunter-Gatherers[a] and people related to hunter-gatherers from the Caucasus.
In the 3rd millennium BC, increased mobility associated with wheeled transport and the intensification of pastoralist practices led to dramatic expansions of populations closely related to the Yamnaya, accompanied by the domestication of horses allowing more efficient keeping of larger herds.
These expansions ultimately contributed a substantial fraction to the ancestry of present-day Europe and South Asia. Thus, the Caucasus region played a crucial role in the prehistory and formation of Eurasian genetic diversity.
Recent ancient DNA studies have resolved several longstanding questions regarding cultural and population transformations in prehistory. One important feature is a cline of European hunter-gatherer (HG) ancestry that runs roughly from West to East (hence WHG and EHG.
This ancestry differs from that of Early European farmers, who are more closely related to farmers of northwest Anatolia and also to pre-farming Levantine individuals. The near East and Anatolia have long-been seen as the regions from which European farming and animal husbandry emerged.
In the Mesolithic and Early Neolithic, these regions harboured three divergent populations, with Anatolian and Levantine ancestry in the west, and a group with a distinct ancestry in the east.
The latter was first described in Upper Pleistocene individuals from Georgia (Caucasus hunter-gatherers; CHG) and then in Mesolithic and Neolithic individuals from Iran. The following millennia, spanning the Neolithic to BA, saw admixture between these ancestral groups, leading to a pattern of genetic homogenization of the source populations.
North of the Caucasus, Eneolithic and BA individuals from the Samara region (5200–4000 BCE) carry an equal mixture of EHG- and CHG/Iranian ancestry, so-called ‘steppe ancestry’ that eventually spread further west, where it contributed substantially to present-day Europeans, and east to the Altai region as well as to South Asia.
To understand and characterize the genetic variation of Caucasian populations, present-day groups from various geographic, cultural/ethnic and linguistic backgrounds have been analyzed previously.
Yunusbayev and colleagues described the Caucasus region as an asymmetric semipermeable barrier based on a higher genetic affinity of southern Caucasus groups to Anatolian and near Eastern populations and a genetic discontinuity between these and populations of the North Caucasus and the adjacent Eurasian steppes.
While autosomal and mitochondrial DNA data appear relatively homogeneous across the entire Caucasus, the Y-DNA diversity reveals a deeper genetic structure attesting to several male founder effects, with striking correspondence to geography, ethnic and linguistic groups, and historical events.
Since the spread of steppe ancestry into central Europe and the eastern steppes during the early 3rd millennium BCE was a striking migratory event in human prehistory it is important to retract the formation of the steppe ancestry profile and test thids population for influences from neighbouring farming groups to the west or early urbanization centres further south.
Individuals from the Caucasian time transect form two distinct genetic clusters that were stable over 3000 years and correspond with eco-geographic zones of the steppe and mountain regions. This finding is different from the situation today, where the Caucasus mountains separate northern from southern Caucasus populations.
However, during the early BA there was subtle gene flow from the Caucasus as well as the eastern European farming groups into the steppe region, which predates the massive expansion of the steppe pastoralists that followed in the 3rd millennium BCE.
By the Late Bronze Age, the Caucasus was producing and utilising metals on an incredible scale. Special “sanctuary” sites of ritually deposited hoards containing literally thousands of functional and miniature-sized metal weapons, jewellery and ﬁgurines also appear and are particularly well-documented in eastern Georgia.
Tin-bronzes increasingly replace arsenical copper/bronzes, although this process of replacement apparently happened in different areas at different times, occurring earlier, for example, in the Alazan-Iori Plain than in Shida Kartli.
Nevertheless, over time throughout the Caucasus, tin-bronzes became dominant and were readily available, despite the fact that there were no local sources of tin that were exploited at this time.
During the Late Bronze and Early Iron periods, the Caucasus is one of the richest metalworking areas of the Old World, with tens of thousands of tin-bronze artifacts having been unearthed in clandestine and controlled excavations dating back to the 19th century.
The metals, particularly bronzes, found in the Caucasus from the Late Bronze and Early Iron periods are both abundant and highly distinctive or recognisably Caucasian and distin-guishable from metals produced in other areas across Eurasia at the end of the 2nd and beginning of the 1st millennium BCE.
At this time, the Caucasus, one of the most proliﬁc metal-working areas of the Old World, was predominantly utilising tin-bronzes, the tin of which must have been imported from sources lying far to the east in Central Asia and Kazakhstan and/or possibly to the west in central and northwestern Europe.
Seemingly isolated or turned in on itself, the Caucasus actually had to have been structurally integrated and linked through its metals to an extensive system of production and exchange stretching across much of Eurasia by the latter half of the 2nd millennium BCE.
Ancient Metallurgy in the Caucasus
In the North-West Caucasus, the Meshoko culture (including sites like Meshoko, Svobodnoe and Zamok) is dated between the middle of the ﬁfth and the beginning of the fourth millennium BCE. The end of the Meshoko culture seems to have overlapped with the Majkop culture, which started during the ﬁrst half of the fourth millennium BCE.
The type-site of the Meshoko culture, Svobodnoe, also contained some sherds considered to be related to the Skelya culture that developed in the steppes north of the Black Sea. A few other objects from this group of cultures suggest relations between the northern Caucasus, the Steppes and the Carpatho-Balkan area during the Karanovo VI–Tripol’e B1 period (ca. second half of the ﬁfth millennium BCE).
The ﬁrst metal objects discovered in the northern Caucasus come from settlements attached to this culture. They include an undetermined object from the upper level 1 of Svobodnoe, a small ring and a knife blade from Skala and 11 fragments of tools andornaments (awl, bracelet, pendant) from Meshoko.
At Veselogo, the presence of a crucible may suggest the local production of metal objects. According to I. R. Formozov, several traces of extractive and smelting activities have been identiﬁed upstream of the many rivers of this region, especially close to the Belorechensk Pass.
Nevertheless, the date of these activities is not well established. Analysis of the metalartefact from Svobodnoe revealed that it was made of “pure” copper. Chernykh considered this evidence for the use of copper ores free of impurities, argued to be typical of the copper deposits in the Carpatho-Balkan area. Thus, he suggested that this object came from across the Black Sea.
Although we now know that copper deposits with few impurities also exist in the Caucasus, Chernykh’s hypothesis implied a west–east circulation that was later reinforced by the discovery of similar prestige objects over a vast area (including bone pearls, tusk pendants, very long ﬂint blades, triangular stone arrowheads, bracelets and adzes in serpentine and zoomorphic sceptres).
In this exchange trade, the Skelya culture of the Pontic Steppe (north of the Black Sea) could have played an intermediary role. This culture does seem to have been a link between the entities of the Lower Danube (Suvorovo and Cernavoda I cultures), the Kuban region (including Svobodnoe, Meshoko, Myskhako and Zamok) and the wooded steppes of the Volga River (Khvalynsk).
This vast territory coincides with the area of the Carpatho-Balkan metallurgical province (CBMP) as laid out by Chernykh et al. Furthermore, a certain chronological overlap exists between the period of these exchanges (ca. 4550–4100/4000 BCE) and the apogee of this CBMP, dated to ca. 4400–4100 BCE.
However, the idea of local metallurgical production cannot be excluded from the northern Caucasus. The majority of the metalartefacts found at Meshoko were different from those of Svobodnoe and made of arsenical copper(1–1.2 % As). Only the blade seems to be of “pure” copper.
Numerous copper deposits in the northern Caucasus contain natural impurities of arsenic. The evidence identiﬁed by Formozov and the crucible at Veselogo could conﬁrm the hypothesis of extractive metallurgy in this region during the ﬁfth millennium BCE.
The transhumant lifestyle thought to be typical of this region at this time could have encouraged an early identiﬁcation of copper deposits by the local population, and the circulation of metallurgical techniques and/or metal artefacts between the cultures living on both sides of the Greater Caucasus.
In the North-East Caucasus, in Dagestan, the ﬁrst phase of the Ginchi culture issaid to be contemporaneous with the end of the Meshoko and the Sioni cultures. The transition between this ﬁrst phase of Ginchi culture and the second is synchronous with the beginnings of the Majkop culture. At present, no metal objects have been discovered in these settlements.
In the southern Caucasus (Transcaucasia), the Neolithic is characterized by the Shomu–Shulaveri culture, which developed in the middle Kura River Valley during the sixth millennium BCE in ﬁve distinctive phases.
Metal artefacts are rare and occur only in some settlements datedto the end of this period (ca. end of sixth millennium BCE.). They mainly consist of ornaments like beads – e.g. at Gargalar-Tepesi and Khramis Didi-Gora – and small tools like awls and bradawls -e.g. at Khramis Didi-Gora.
The discovery of unstratiﬁed stone-grooved and cupula hammers at Arukhlo, which is close to copper deposits, may suggest extractive metallurgical activities in this region. Recent survey and cleaning work at Göy Tepe seems to conﬁrm this suggestion, as a vitreous slag with several small copper prills was found by chance in levels dated to the middle of the sixth millennium BCE.
This slag “cake”, composed of oregangue and some metal prills, appears to be an intermediate product of the smelting process. Analyses performed on this slag cake have shown that it has an alumino-silicate matrix with zinc impurities.
According to other analyses made on another part of the sample, the matrix also containedcopper (2.36 wt %) and nickel (0.79 wt %). Nickel and zinc could originate from the copper ore, since these elements are often associated with copper in the deposits of the Caucasus.
In contrast, the analysis performed on the artefacts coming from Gargalar-Tepesi (bead) and Khramis Didi-Gora (bradawl and beads) has shown that they were both made from “pure” copper. If we follow Chernykh’s hypothesis, then these objects should be seen as imports fromthe Balkans. It is, however, more probable that they are local products.
Further south, in the Ararat plain (Armenia), the Aratashen culture began in the early sixth millennium BCE (Aratashen levels II and I) and continued into the Chalcolithic period (Aratashen level 0).
The material coming from the Neolithic levels presents similarities with those of the Shomu–Shulaveri culture, although local traditions are also noted. Moreover, a few Halaf sherds from northern Mesopotamia have been found, but their stratigraphic context is still unclear.
These imported wares are similar to those known at Kul’tepe (Nakhchevan) and at Tilkitepe and Tüllintepe (eastern Turkey). Provenience studies carried out on obsidian also suggest contacts with eastern Anatolia and north-western Iran at that time.
The Chalcolithic levels contain materialconsidered local, although also presenting similarities with sites in northern Syriaand northern Mesopotamia. In the Neolithic level II d ofAratashen, dated to the beginnings of the sixth millennium BCE, several fragments of copper ores (malachite and azurite) and 57 arsenical copper beads were discovered.
Close to Aratashen, at Khatunark, one fragment of copper ore (mala-chite) has been discovered in a level dated to the ﬁrst half of the sixth millennium BCE. This artefact, together with those found at Aratashen, suggest the nascent emergence of metallurgy in the Ararat region already during the Late Neolithic.
Following the Shomu–Shulaveri culture and Aratashen (levels I and II), the Alikemek–Kül’tepe culture of the south-eastern Caucasus covers the transition between the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods.
Situated respectively at the border of the Mugan Steppe and in Nakhichevan (Azerbaijan), the settlements of Alikemek and Kul’tepe I were excavated in the 1950s–1970s and are not dated withcertainty. They probably represent a relatively long period and occupation seemsto have started early (probably during the sixth millennium BCE).
The Alikemek–Kul’tepe culture covered the Ararat Plain, Nakhichevan,the Mil’skoj and Mugan Steppes and the region around Lake Urmia in north-westernIran. In a tomb of the upper level (Early Chalcolithic) at Alikemek Tepesi, three beads and an awl were discovered.
At Kul’Tepe I, seven metal artefacts were found in the upper part of level I andin tomb 33. The date of these objects is unclear because level I contains material dating both to the Neolithic (including pottery of the Halaf culture of northern Mesopotamia) and to the beginning of the Chalcolithic (related to the Dalma culture of north-western Iran).
A grooved hammer was also found in a tomb of level I at Kul’Tepe I that is close to examples known at Gjaurkala (near Shakhtakhy in Azerbaijan) and at Killikdag (near Khanlar in Azerbaijan).
This type of tool is generally associated with extractive metallurgical activities so we could propose that oremining was being done at Kul’tepe. However, recent research at the salt mines of Duzda˘gi,close to Kul’Tepe, proves that similar grooved hammers were also used to extractsalt.
In addition to their mixed archaeological context, the analyses of the artefacts from Kul’tepe were done decades ago and thus must be considered with caution. However, they appear to be made of both “pure” and arsenical copper.
Arsenic is naturally present in numerous copper ore deposits in the Greater and Lesser Caucasus. The smelting of these ore types could have led to the presence of arsenic in the resulting objects.
During the ﬁfth millennium BCE, the Sioni culture developed in the southern Caucasus, but this phenomenon is still not well characterized and consists of several different settlements over a relatively long period of time.
The Sioni culture covered a vast territory including eastern Georgia, north-western Iran, Armenia and eastern Turkey (down to Oylum Höyük, at the fringes of northern Mesopotamia).
Moreover, some features of the Sioni culture have been discovered in Majkopsettlements of the northern Caucasus, in the upper levels of Meshoko and in some later sites linked to Mesopotamia—e.g. Berikldeebi, Leilatepe and Boyuk-Kesik.
In some sites, the coexistence of characteristic elements attributed tothe Meshoko, Majkop, Ginchi and Sioni cultures presumes a certain chronological overlap between them.
Recent research at Mentesh Tepe, a site also associated with the Sioni culture and dated to the second half of the ﬁfth millennium BCE, adds support to the idea of local metallurgy at this time.
Indeed, a complete manufacturing process is illustrated at this site, from slags to fragmentary objects (recycling?), from a mould to the ﬁnished object (awl). Several metal objectswere discovered at other Sioni culture sites such as Alazani III, Tsiteli Gorebi and Chalagan Tepe.
According to analysis, these objects were made of copper with traces of zinc. Upstream of the Alazani River, several copper deposits contain zinc-bearing minerals were found. Unfortunately, no research has ever beendone on possible extractive activities at these deposits. Archaeometallurgical studies have been performed at the Deutsches Bergbau Museum (Bochum) on artefacts from Mentesh Tepe.
Most of the objects from this site are completely corroded. Only two – an undetermined object and an awl – still contain metal in their centres. Metallographic analysis of the undetermined object reveals a dentritic and eutectoidal structure (Cu+CuO), which is characteristic of a cast object.
Etching permitted the identiﬁcation of a few hexagonal grains with annealing twins in the alpha dendrites. They prove that a soft hammering and an annealing step were executed. A rapid energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDS) analysis conﬁrms that this object is made of relatively“pure”copper (90.0–96.4wt % Cu) with minor amounts of arsenic (0.8 3.8wt % As).
Metallographic analysis done on the awl showed some distorted dendrites, suggesting cold-working. Etching the section conﬁrmed this hypothesis due to the presence of several hexagonal grains with annealing twins and thinstrain lines within the grains.
In sum, this object was cast,cold-hammered, then annealed and ﬁnally cold-worked again. EDS analysis of this awl revealed that it was also made of relatively “pure” copper (91.5–97.9 wt % Cu),with traces of arsenic (0.7–1.4 wt % As) and sulphur (0.5–0.9 wt % S).
EDS mappingshows a homogeneous repartition of sulphur, which may correspond with small inclusions seen within the grains. Arsenic is concentrated at the edge of the object, aconsequence of the natural segregation of this element. The metal artefacts found at Mentesh Tepe demonstrate the capacity for casting and manufacturing objects in the Sioni culture.
In the north-western Caucasus and along the Black Sea in Georgia, several settlements (Darkveti, Tetramitsa, Samele-Klde and others) were excavatedthat are linked to a different archaeological group named the “Darkveti culture”.
There are no 14C dates yet, but it seems that at some settlements occupation began in the Neolithic (perhaps even before) and continued till the end of the Chalcolithic (although not always continuously).
The Darkveti cultureis found principally in caves but open air settlements are also attested (Tetramitsa, Chikhori) with semi-buried oval or circular huts made of light structures (wattle and daub).
A few stone bracelets characteristic of the Meshoko culture have beenfound in some of the Darkveti settlements, especially in caves along the basin of the Kvirila River and at Tetramitsa. These bracelets suggest relations between the two regions, may be associated with transhumance between the two slopes of the Caucasus.
Early metallurgy is also attested on some settlements of this culture. Evidence mainly consists of artefacts that have been cold-worked and annealed. Some of these objects differ typologically from those discovered in other contemporary cultures.
These unique types include rods at Samele-Klde and Chikhori, wire at Natsar Gora, a hookat Sagvardzhile, ingots at Guad ikhu and hoops at Kistrik. More common are metal artefacts such as awls at Sagvardzhile and Chikhori, knife blades at Tetri-Mgvime, arrowheads at Belaja-Peschera, pendants at Chikhori and undetermined objects at Ortvala.
The analyses done on these metal objects suggest that the majority were made of “pure” copper, although we must be careful using older analyses which may not have detected important elements such as arsenic and sulphur.
Only three objects (a knife blade, arrowhead and awl coming from Chikhori) contain traces of arsenic (0.7–0.8 % As. The ingots and the hoops may have been made of lead, according to the analysis, but this has not been conﬁrmed.
The Early Metallurgical stage
To sum up, the beginnings of metallurgy in the Caucasus seem to be characterized by small objects, simple manufacturing techniques, non-alloyed copper or copper with minor amounts of arsenic (probably due to the types of ores being used), and possibly also lead metallurgy (based on the unconﬁrmed analyses from the Darkveti culture).
The lack of research on the exploitation of local deposits does not allow many conclusions about extractive metallurgy in the Caucasus during this period. Nevertheless, recent research on metal-related data suggests the possibility of local metallurgical activities.
In fact, several local metallurgical traditions seem to develop in the different regions of the Caucasus, all of which are probably in close contact with transhumant or fully nomadic cultural groups (e.g. the Sioni).
These connections could have encouraged the development of metallurgy through the wider circulation of techniques, metal-bearing ores and artefacts. The cultures of the Caucasus had probably also established long-distance relations with other regions such as the Carpatho-Balkan area, the Steppes, eastern Anatolia, northern Mesopotamia and northernIran.
Though we often cannot demonstrate these relations clearly, such cultural connections probably played a great role in the development of local metallurgies in the Caucasus, and may have even stimulated its growth from the very start.
The Rise of Metallurgy
The Majkop (or “Maikop”) culture, which spread over a vast territory from the Black Sea to the Terek River, from the spur of the Greater Caucasus to the Steppe, began in the second quarter of the fourth millennium BCE.
Research by B. Lyonnet has helped to distinguish two “components” of the Majkop culture: Majkop and Novosvobodnaja. The end of the Meshoko and Sioni cultures in the late ﬁfth/early fourth millennium BCE coincides with the beginnings of the “Majkop component” and a chronological overlap seems to have existed between these three cultural groups (Meshoko, Majkop and Sioni).
The “Majkop component” was grafted onto the Meshoko cultural background but blended with foreign inﬂuences. Indeed, the Majkop component presents close similarities with material found in northern Mesopotamian settlements that are dated to the Late Chalcolithic (LC2-LC4) (ca. 3800–3500 cal. BCE).
This period also corresponds to the ﬁnal phase of the Early Uruk Period in Mesopotamia and the beginning of the Middle Uruk Period. Parallels have also been established between the Majkop ceramic material and that known from the contemporary Leilatepe–Berikleedebi culture of the southern Caucasus.
As for the “Novosvobodnaja component”, dated to ca. 3300–2600 BCE, part of its ceramic material presents afﬁliations with the preceding Majkop component. The rest of the pottery shows a number of similarities with the ceramic material of the Kura–Araxes culture of the southern Caucasus.
By this time, the northern Mesopotamian features had begun to disappear. It is thought that in the early fourth millennium BCE, the CBMP lost its importance in favour of the circumpontic metallurgical province (CMP), which covered, at its maximum geographical extent, a zone including the Caucasus, the Steppe area, the northern Balkans, the Carpathians, the Aegean, Anatolia and Mesopotamia.
As with the preceding province, the CMP corresponds to an arborescent scheme (“province”, “zone”, “focus”, “nucleus”) in which the different regions within it are seen as dependent upon one another.
According to E. N. Chernykh, the beginning of the CMP coincides with the beginning of the Kura–Araxes culture—thought at that time to be more or less contemporary with the beginning of the Majkop culture, around the second half of the fourth millennium BCE (ca. 3500/3300 BCE).
Chernykh based his argument upon the chronological framework that was then used by Soviet archaeologists. This framework has now been revised and conﬁrmed by recent C14 dates.
The beginning of the Majkop component (and thus the origins of his Circumpontic Metallurgic Province) should be dated back to the ﬁrst half of the fourth millennium BCE (LC2), earlier than the beginning of the Kura–Araxes culture.
Chernykh considered the metallurgy of the Majkop culture to be entirely dependent upon the southern Caucasus—principally the Kura–Araxes culture – due to a belief in migration theories, the hierarchical concept of the metallurgical province, the hypothesized lack of cupriferous hydrocarbonate (malachite, azurite, etc.) and cupronickelousores in the northern Caucasus, as well as the apparent absence of furnaces in this region.
Under this scheme, the Majkop culture is believed to have been a mere intermediary between the regions rich in ores (Anatolia, Iran, Transcaucasia) and those deprived of raw material for metallurgy (e.g. the Steppes).
This theory was widely accepted by Soviet researchers. Recent research in this region, including the new chronological scheme proposed by B. Lyonnet, has led us to reconsider Chernykh’s theory on the northern Caucasus’s dependence on the southern Caucasus.
It is clear that metallurgy expanded signiﬁcantly in both regions during the ﬁrst half of the fourth millennium BCE. Two major categories of metallurgy can be distinguished: copper objects and precious metals (gold and silver).
The former is characterized by a spread of technologies and a rise in the quantity and diversity of the objects made. The latter is not able for some of the most elegant and complex workings of gold and silver alloys anywhere in the Old World at this time.
Metallurgy of Copper Objects
Throughout the Majkop and Novosvobodnaja phases, there was continuity in certain types of metal objects – notably awls and bracelet even from the previous period (Meshoko culture). Some new tool types appeared in the Majkop phase and most continued into the Novosvobodnaja phase.
These consist of hollow chisels, ﬂat axes, adzes, axe-adzes and plain chisels (both types only known in the Majkop kurgan). These tools seem linked to woodworking rather than to agricultural production or military activities. Similar adzes are known at Ordzhoshani (Georgia), which is linked to the Kura–Araxes culture and at Susa in south-western Iran.
Axe-adzes were presentin the Carpatho-Balkan area since the ﬁrst half of the ﬁfth millennium BCE and moulds of this tool type have been discovered at Tepe Ghabristan (Period II) and Tepe Sialk (Period III, 4–5) in Iran, both dating to the fourth mil-lennium BCE.
Since the axe-adzes haveonly been discovered in the Majkop kurgan, their presence could conﬁrm existing contacts between the northern Caucasus and the Carpatho-Balkan area, while alsoshowing new relations with Iran.
Interestingly, Deshayes also suggested an Iranian inﬂuence for the ﬂat axes and the hollow chisels. However, Mesopotamian contacts have also been attested during the Majkop phase and we cannot rule out the idea that Mesopotamia may have inﬂuenced a local production of metal artefacts in the northern Caucasus.
During the Majkop phase, the pick axe appears for the ﬁrst time at sites such as Ust’-Labinskaja and El’brus. Similar stone and bone pick axes were known in the previous Meshoko culture (e.g.at Jasenova Poljana, Veselogo and Svobodnoe), which was in contact with the Carpatho-Balkan area.
The two metal pick axes discovered in the northern Caucasus are indeed typologically close to models known in the Carpatho-Balkan area (Jászladány Devnja and Siria types. Because of its composition in “pure copper”, the undated pick axe from Ust’-Labinskaja was considered by Chernykh to be an import from the Carpatho-Balkan area.
Since there is noreal proof for that, and since pure copper objects are also known in the Caucasus, the label of “import” requires further evidence. During the Novosvobodnaja phase, the pick axes are still present alongside a new variant, the axe-hammer. It differs from the pickaxe by its convex and circular shoulder.
These two types are known in several settlements (Klady, Vozdvizhenskaja, Lenchinskaj and Vladikavkaz) and are close to stone models in the same or contemporary settlements (Gatyn-Kale, Novosvobodnaja and Mikhajlovskaja).
The diffusion of this tool (and its variant) in the northern Caucasus during the Novosvobodnaja component is concomitant with the appearance of pick-axes (in metal or stone) in many Kura–Araxes settlements.
It should be underlined that Lyonnet has already noted strong parallels between Novosvobodnaja and Kura–Araxes ceramics. Parallels made with pickaxes from Se-Girdan and Susa also suggest continuedcontact with Iran.
New tools appeared during the Novosvobodnaja phase such as needles, hooks, forks and rolled rods. Contrary to the tools of the Majkop phase, the tools of the later Novosvobodnaja phase have no real parallels with other contemporaneous cultures in the Caucasus or beyond, except with the Kura–Araxes (e.g. a fork foundat Dag-Ogni in Dagestan).
It seems likely that the metal artefacts of the Novosvobodnaja phase are mainly local productions. The socketed axe appeared during the Majkop phase at a number of sites. During the Novosvobodnaja phase, numerous socketed axes are char-acterized by different shapes of the blade.
The exact function of the socketed axes isnot clear—they could be either tools or weapons—but they are important for the ﬁrst use of the socket. Socketing was probably mastered ﬁrst in the Carpatho-Balkan area during the ﬁfth millennium BCE (Gumelnitsa/ Karanovo VI cultures) and suggests the use of bivalve moulds.
This technique could have come from the Carpatho-Balkan area, although it is surprising that no evidence of bivalve mould use is known from the previous culture (Meshoko), which was incontact with the Carpatho-Balkan area during the ﬁfth millennium BC.
During the Majkop phase, new types of weapons appear: daggers with ﬂat blades and tripartite spearheads (e.g. at Psekups). The dagger coming fromthe Majkop kurgan shows that the technique of riveting was known even in the early phase; during the next period (Novosvobodnaja) a similar technique was widely used.
Similar but narrower daggers are known in the Leilatepe–Berikldeebi culture (Boyuk-Kesik and Soyuq-Bulaq), which is contemporaneous with the Majkop component. During the Novosvobodnaja phase, daggers with ﬂat blades continue to exist while new types with ribbed blades appear.
This new type of dagger is characteristic of this period and seems to be a local production. Similar models are known later in the Near East during the Early Bronze Age III period (ca. 2600 BCE) at Tell Melebiya (phase 2), Tell Brak, Uruk and Mari.
The Novosvobodnaja phase is also characterized by the apparition and wide diffusion of the tripartite spearheads. Spearheads similar to these are also known in Kura–Araxes settlements.
A large diffusion of this weapon type seems to have occurred throughout the northern and southern Caucasus at the end of the fourth millennium BCE, spreading into eastern Anatolia, northern Syria and as far as Turkmenistan by the ﬁrst half of the third millennium BCE.
A second type of spearhead appeared during the Novosvobodnaja phase – i.e. a pike with a square section. This type is also close to examples known in the Kura–Araxes culture. This again underlines the strong parallels between these two cultures. Similar pikes are also known during the Early Bronze Age II/III (ca. 2800–2600 BCE) at Tell Kara Hassan, Jerablus-Tahtani and Carchemish.
The Majkop phase is also characterized by the appearance of copper vessels. Discoveries made in the Majkop kurgan and at Kislovodosk illustrate these metal types. They show that the techniques of cold-hammering, annealing and embossing were already fully mastered.
During the next period (Novosvobodnaja), the copper vessels become more widespread. Some particular metal objects conﬁrm the diversity of metal production during the Majkop phase, including a square-section rod at Kelermes, a helix-shaped object at Majkop and hoops at Majkop.
This diversity is still attested during the Novosvobodnaja phase with the presence of discs at Klady and ChegemI, a wheel with four spokes at Klady, metal sheet at Chegem I and metalplates at Chegem I.
Copper ornaments, already known in the Meshoko culture, are present in settlements linked to the Novosvobodnaja phase and represented by beads, pendants, earrings, rings, wristbands and cones at Chegem I, Chegem II and Kyzburun III.
Metallurgy of Precious Metals
Precious metals had appeared in the northern Caucasus already by the Majkop phasein the ﬁrst half of the fourth millennium BCE. Such ﬁnds are mainly illustrated bythe treasures of the Majkop and Staromyshastovskaja kurgans.
The number of precious metal artefacts found in the Majkop kurganis extraordinary: 68 gold strips with stamped gold lions and bull ﬁgurines; 2 goldvases; 14 silver vases (2 of which were ornamented); many gold rivets and nails; astone macehead with its upper part in gold; 10 gold rosettes; many silver and goldbeads (often decorated in relief); numerous gold rings; and 6 long rods of silver on which gold and silver bull ﬁgurines were attached.
Similarly, the Staromyshastovskaja Treasure included: 1 silvervase; 2 silverﬁgurines of a bull and an antelope; 1 gold lion head ﬁgurine; 3 gold rosettes; 40 small rings; and over 2,500 gold and silver beads.
In both collections, all of this precious metal ornamentation was accompanied by numerous semi-precious stones including turquoise, carnelian and even lapis-lazuli. In other kurgans linked to the Majkop phase, other precious metal artefacts were also discovered, like the silver vessel from Staryj Urukh and the silver rings found in two kurgans in the north of the Stravropol hills (Kuma-Manychdepression).
These discoveries present some parallels with the 23 gold beads, 33 electrum beads, 2 electrum rings and numerous semi-precious stone beads coming from the kurgans of Soyuq-Bulaq in Azerbaijan, which are considered to be related to the Leilatepe–Berikldeebi culture and therefore contemporaneous with the Majkop phase.
Other parallels can be drawn with the material of kurgans III and IV at Se-Girdan innorth-western Iran, at Tepe Gawra in north-eastern Iraq dating to levels XI, XA, X and IX, ca. 4000–3600 BCE and at Hacinebi in eastern Turkey, from an infant’s tomb dated to the Late Chalcolithic A, ca. 4100–3800 BCE.
These parallels between the northern Caucasus (Majkop component), Transcaucasia (Leilatepe–Berikldeebi culture) and northern Mesopotamia present evidence for the pre-Uruk expansion which affected both slopes of the Caucasus at the same time (LC 2–4).
During the next phase (Novosvobodnaja), starting around 3500/3400 BCE, the use of precious metals continued. In many kurgans (e.g. Novosvobodnaja, Klady, Kubina Aul, Kishpek, Chegem I, Nal’chik and Bamut), prestigious objects in gold and silver were discovered including beads, rings, needles, awls, sheet fragments and wristbands associated with carnelian, rock crystal and lapis-lazuli beads.
Some parallels seem also to exist with Tell Brak, level TW 16 (LC2) and Arslantepe (level VIB “Royal Tomb”, ca. 3000–2900 BCE). Besides these examples, relations with the surrounding areas seem them to have been much reduced during the Novosvobodnaja phase. The chemical composition of Majkop and Novosvobodnaja phase artefacts constitutes the basis of Chernykh’s theories about Majkop metallurgy.
His analysis of 85 objects related to the Majkop culture (4 coming from Meshoko, 15 from the Kuban area, 24 from kurgans related to Phase I and 42 to Phase II), led him to identify two groups of metal objects characterized either by a low percentage of nickel (<0.1% Ni) or by a high percentage of nickel (0.1 to 4.4% Ni).
In these two groups, the percentage of arsenic is very similar: 0.5–9.08% and 0.70–10% As, respectively. Chernykh also considered that these twogroups corresponded respectively with the two phases of the Majkop culture, and underlined the importance of high nickel concentrations for assigning artefacts tothe later phase.
On the basis of Selimkhanov’s work, Chernykh further detailed the areas and settlements with metalobjects containing nickel (i.e. Transcaucasia, Iran, Anatolia and Mesopotamia) and the copper deposits characterized by nickel ores in Transcaucasia and eastern Ana-tolia. In his discussion, he mentions that the copper deposits situated in the northern Caucasus contain many impurities but no nickel and are almost entirely sulphidicores.
As a proponent of the linear “historical–technical” scheme, he thus concluded that Majkop metallurgy was wholly dependent uponthe metal products manufactured by the Kura–Araxes population in the South who could take advantage of more favourable metallogenical conditions.
In order to characterize Majkop metallurgy, these results need to be reconsidered.As we have seen, the analyses made in the 1960s do not allow us to characterize with certainty the metal composition of the objects related to the Majkop component.
However, two alloys seem to have been used: Cu–As and Cu–As–Ni. The origin of the nickel depends on the ores but also on the possible recycling of objects. The question of whether the ores used to make these alloys came from the south or thenorth must await further studies.
Metallographic studies by N. V. Ryndina and I. G. Ravich of dagger blades from kurgans of the Novosvobodnaja phase have demonstrated the presence of two styles of metalworking. The ﬁrst style involves casting the object and then carrying out an alternating series of cold-working and annealing steps in order to obtain a more homogenous microstructure.
The second style consists of casting and cold-working the object, then annealing it once before cold-working it again. The blades made via the ﬁrst method present fewer impurities, while blades made via the second method contain higher amounts of nickel. Both metalworking styles are probably local to the Caucasus.
However, according to the authors of these studies, the existence of two metalworking styles may suggest the specialisation of a particular group of metalworkers. Therefore, these metallurgical “traditions” illustrate the manner in which metal production was locally organized and specialized at different sites.
These conclusions are akin to Tedesco’s research on metallurgy in Armenia during the Early Bronze Age. She identiﬁed close parallels between the microstructures of the Novosvobodnaja daggers and the metallography she performed on two blades found at Yerevan (Armenia) dated to the beginnings of the third millenniumBCE (ca.2800–2700 BCE).
In spite of typological differences between her daggers and those studied by Ryndina and Ravich, the manufacturing sequences show close similarities, such as ghost dendritic structures with heavily strained and compressed grains along the cutting edges.
However, the Yerevan daggers did not present the same degreesof segregation as in the Novosvobodnaja daggers. Her studies led Tedesco to propose the absence of large-scale production in the Majkop phase.
On the contrary, she argued for the existence of household-level production but following a standardized technical tradition, which could explain the widespread uniformity of metallurgy in Transcaucasia and the northern Caucasus.
Her hypothesis is in accordance with our own research, which demonstrates strong similarities between the Novosvobodnaja and the Kura–Araxes metallurgical styles.
Among the 204 ore deposits known in the northern Caucasus, 57 contain copper, and17 deposits, irrespective of the copper deposits, contain arsenic as the main element. Some of these deposits present natural associations of copper and arsenic. Inaddition, nickel is present in numerous ore deposits in the northern Caucasus. An important metalliferous potential thus exists in this area.
These deposits would have been more than adequate for supplying the ores used in the production of metal objects of the Majkop component (Cu–As and Cu–As–Nialloys). Furthermore, many gold and silver deposits are known from the northern Caucasus.
Silver ores correspond to native formations or are linked with Pb–Zn ores. Gold is present in native form, often associated with copper or silver. No research concerning ancient extractive metallurgy has been done in the northern Caucasus for the Majkop component.
Chernykh theory about the reliance of the Majkop culture upon Kura–Araxes metalworkers of the South has remained unchallenged until now, thus discouraging scholars from even exploring the possibility of local ore extraction in the northern Caucasus.
However, thanks to local geological research carried out between 1920 and 1933 by A. A Iessen and B. E. Degen-Kovalevskij, we know of several settlements in the northern Caucasus which could be directly or indirectly connected with extractive metallurgy.
Although the deposits remain undated, their descriptions constitute invaluable information. When combined with our recent survey data of the ore deposits of the region, it is clear that the deposits with noticeably ancient exploitation all contain either argentiferous ores associated with lead orcupriferous ores associated with some arsenic and even nickel. It is also important to note that recent research on stone tools from Majkop sites has provided further evidence of extractive metalworking in this region.
There are a variety of theories on the origins of metallurgy in the Majkop culture. First, many authors have suggested that the metalobjects discovered in the Majkop culture were imported fromMesopotamia based on typological and iconographic similarities.
Chernykh, as we have already seen, has suggested that Majkop metallurgy was derived from highland cultures of the Middle East (Iran, Anatolia) via Transcaucasia (Kura–Araxes). Such theories of “migrationwaves” from the Middle East also helped to explain Mesopotamian inﬂuence on the Majkop culture.
Far rarer are arguments in favour of a local basis for Majkop metallurgy. Such indigenous origins theories are based on the existence of deposits in the northern Caucasus with different metal liferous minerals that parallel the composition of metal objects of the Majkop culture.
Other scholars underline the unique character of certain types of metal production which are only known in the northern Caucasus as well as local styles of metalworking. Our own research supports the idea of a local metalindustry in the Majkop culture. The metallurgical processes, most likely originating in the Carpatho-Balkan area and already known during the preceding Meshoko culture, were probably further developed by the Majkop population.
It seems that this western inﬂuence continued into the beginning of the Majkop phase, assuggested by the introduction of the socket and the metal pickaxe. We cannot exclude, however, that metallurgical technologies in the Majkop culture were also inﬂuenced byexchanges with the southern Caucasus, especially with the Sioni culture.
The Majkop culture had relations with several areas (Transcaucasia, north-western Iran and eastern Anatolia) where metallurgy had already started, and its metallurgy shows close similarities with that of the Leilatepe–Berikldeebi culture.
Nevertheless, several types of objects (ﬂataxes, tripartitespearhead, adzes, coppervessels, gold and silver vessels and gold and silver zoomorphic ﬁgurines) seem tobe typical only of the Majkop culture, both during the Majkop phase and during the Novosvobodnaja phase.
During this later phase, we see an intensiﬁcation of local metal production and, except for the ornaments and some types of weapons (like tripartite spearheads), the parallels with the neighboring regions seem to disappear. Interestingly, contact is still apparent with the Kura–Araxes culture ofTranscaucasia.
During the Late Chalcolithic 2–4, the “Pre-Uruk” expansion can be traced in Transcaucasia within several settlements. We group these sites together under the name of the Leilatepe–Berikldeebi culture, which is contemporaneous with the early phase of the Majkop culture.
Compared to the previous cultures known in this area (Shomu–Shulaveri and Aratashen), metallurgy shows a more similar development to that observed for the Majkop phase. At Tekhut in Armenia, three metal objects (a small knife, an awl and an arrowhead) were discovered that were shown to have been made of arsenical copper.
Metallographic studies on these pieces suggest cold-hammering, although their results are difﬁcult to utilize. In level V1 of Berikldeebi in Georgia, the discovery of a copper wristband and of a copper ﬂat axe conﬁrms the appearance of metallurgy during this period.
This is even more noticeable at Leilatepe in Azerbaijan, where several metal artefacts have been discovered: awls, wire, fragment of a curved plate andextremity of a knife/dagger.
Moreover, in Building 4 at Leilatepe, prills and rest of melting mixed with ashes and slags suggest the manufacturing of metals. According to T. Akhundov, one of the 11 ovens discovered on site was probably associated with metallurgy given its proximity to where the metal artefacts were discovered.
We cannot discuss here in detail the results of the analysis done on the metal artefacts, but we can nevertheless underline this paradox that copper prills come mainly from the slags. The authors do not explain this fact which, for us, suggests an uncontrolled smelting process.
Recently, six awls, a plate, two daggers with rivets, metal slag and a stone axemould were discovered at Boyuk-Kesik in Azerbaijan. The daggers are typologically close to those found at Majkop, which is more or less contemporaneous.
Nearby, in kurgan 6 of Soyuq-Bulaq, another similar dagger (although without rivets) has also been found, and various other metal objects (bead, awl and fragment of blade) come from the same cemetery of kurgans.
The excavations carried out on other kurgans of this cemetery by a French–Azerbaijani team, co-directed by B. Lyonnet and T. Akhundov, has con-ﬁrmed the diversity of the Leilatepe – Berikldeebi metallurgy: 33 beadsinsilver–goldalloy (probably electrum), 23 gold beads, a copper knife/dagger, two copper rings and a copper awl have been unearthed.
A stone sceptre with an equid head and numerous semi-precious stonebeads (e.g. cornaline, steatite, lapis-lazuli) were also found there. Recent analyses and metallographic studies performed on this material have demonstrated ahigh manufacturing level for the silver–gold beads.
Preliminary proveniencing on these beads has suggested that the ores used could come from four close districts: Madneuli, Sakdrisi–Bolnissi (Georgia), Dagkesaman (Azerbaijan) or Alaverdi (Armenia). Only future research, in particular on the gold beads, could allow for a more precise origin to be proposed.
The metal objects from Soyuq-Bulaq present similarities with the Majkop component (Majkop and Staromyshastovskaja Kurgans) as well as with Se-Girdan, Tepe Gawra and Hacinebi as mentioned above. All of these examples demonstrate the rather widespread use of precious metals in combination with copper-base alloys at the very earliest stages of silver and gold use in the ancient Near East.
The Kura–Araxes culture (also called the Early Transcaucasian or Karaz culture) appeared in the second half of the fourth millennium BCE (ca.3400/3300BCE, at the end of LC4) and lasted until the end of the third millennium BCE. Its very long duration led to several divisions which are still a matter of debate.
The earliest sites of this culture are found between the Kura and Araxe Rivers in Transcaucasia, but are unknown in the western part of Georgia. P. L. Kohl also includes south-eastern Dagestan in the early Kura–Araxes culture, although he speciﬁes that Velikent is not a “Kura–Araxe variant” but rather a distinct culture of its own.
Around 3000 BCE, the Kura–Araxes culture began to spread into eastern and central Anatolia and eventually into the northern Levant. This phenomenon is documented through the diffusion of red-black-brown burnished ceramics characteristic of this culture.
Close relations between the Upper Euphrates, north-eastern Anatolia and Transcaucasia had begun in the preceding LC4 period and continued into the LC5/early Kura–Araxes period. The Kura–Araxes phenomenon is, however, strongly regionalized, leading to distinct cultures such as Novosvobodnaja in the North-West Caucasus, Velikent in the North-East Caucasus and Kura–Araxes in the southern Caucasus and eastern Anatolia,
An additional regional variant is known from north-western Iran, north-central Iran and in the central Zagros. The internal divisions of the Kura–Araxes chronology as well as its ﬁnale are still the subject of much debate.
One aspect of the Kura-Araxes Kura–Araxes culture that remains undisputed is the strong evidence for local metallurgical production and metalworking. At Amiranis Gora in Armenia, in a level probably dated to the early phase, a furnace, charcoaland a tuyère were found.
Another “metallurgical workshop” was discovered at Baba-Dervish II in Azerbaijan, comprised of three furnaces (two of which were equipped with a ventilation system), tuyères, claymoulds and slags. At Mokhra-Blur on the Ararat plain, some vestiges of casting/melting processes suggest local metalworking.
In Mound II of Velikent in Dagestan, dated to ca. 3000 BCE, fragmentary blades, a chisel or gouge, metal prills, hammer-stones and half of a two-part clay mould for casting a shaft-hole axe indicate local metallurgy also in the north-eastern Caucasus.
At nearby Kabaz-Kutan, a crucible and a mould were found in a level probably contemporaneous with Velikent, which conﬁrms the presence of metalworking in Dagestan at this time.
The discovery of furnaces, crucibles, ingots or slags from other Kura–Araxes settlements in Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia – all probably dated to ca. 3000BCE – as well as in later third millennium BCE sites such as Shortepe, Shengavit, Igdir and Pichori, ﬁrmly establish the importance of metallurgy in the Kura–Araxes culture.
The practice of transhumance and other pastoralist activities in the Kura–Araxes culture certainly played a role in the spreading of metallurgy across the wide realm of Kura–Araxes inﬂuence. In contrast to the Majkop culture, most of the metal artefacts found atKura–Araxes sites come from domestic contexts.
Amiranis-Gora, Kvatskhelebi and Dzaginain Georgia; Khachbulag in Azerbaijan; and Elar in Armenia are the only sites where metal artefacts have been unearthed in funerary contexts.
Most ornaments of the Kura–Araxes culture are copper-based. A few wristbands, spiralled rods and earrings were discovered at Dzagina, Amiranis-Gora and Akhalt-sikh in Georgia. Tombs 2 and 5 at Kvatskhelebi contained the well-known diadem and others ornaments like wrist-bands, a double spiral-headed pin and various copper beads.
Some earrings and rings are also known at Serkertepe, which is dated probably to the end of the fourth millennium BCE. Copper-base awls are found in most Kura–Araxes settlements, and their shape (i.e.generally quadrangular, straight or slightly curved) resembles those rare specimens known from earlier periods.
In this later period, the ﬁrst true needles were being made of metal (thin pins with a rounded, loop-like head). Needles from even later sites, like Serkertepe, have more elaborate shapes, such as the twisted bilateral wire involutions known at Kul’tepe II.
Several tool types are close to those known from the Novosvobodnaja phase of the Majkop culture, likeﬂat axes and some socketed axes. The majority of the Kura–Araxes shaft-hole axes is characterized by a short shaft-hole and a rectangular or trapezoidal inclined blade.
According to the recent typology elaborated by Gernez, these axes are principally localised in the southern part of the Caucasus and in north-eastern Anatolia (e.g. at Norsuntepe level VIII).
This geographical distribution demonstrates clearly the cultural connection between these two regions during the Kura–Araxes culture. Pickaxes also illustrate existing connections between the northern Caucasus (Novosvobodnaja), Transcaucasia (Kura–Araxes) and the Near East (inparticularIran).
Indeed, the Kura–Araxes metal and stone examples from Leninakan, Dmanisi, Alaverdi, Dzhrashen, Rugudzha and Velikent Mound II, are close to pickaxes known in Novosvobodnaja sites and at Se-Girdan and Suse in western Iran.
On the contrary, metal sickles known from some settlements and tombs at Garni, Amiranis-Gora, Khizanaant-Gora and Kul’tepeII seem to be unique to the Kura–Araxes culture. The Kura–Araxes daggers present some similarities with those known in the Novosvobodnaja phase of the Majkop culture. This is especially true of the ribbed daggers found at Amiranis-Gora and Ajgevan.
These weapons are rather typical of Novosvobodnaja, since over 100 examples are known there. On the other hand, the ﬂat blade with oblique shoulders from Elar, Kul’tepe II, Stepanakert and Yerevan presents some parallels with north-eastern Ana-tolia (Arslantepe “Royal Tomb”, Ikiztepe and Düdartepe) and with Tepe Sialk innorth-central Iran (level IV) according to recent typological research.
The daggers with biconvex blades fromAjgechat (Kushnareva 1994b,p. 94) are also known in later settlements of the Novosvobodnaja phase like Klady and in Velikent Mound III, tomb 11, as well as in the cultures following the Kura–Araxes culture likeMartkopki and Bedeni.
The tripartite spearheads found in a tomb from Amiranis-Goraaswellas at various Kura–Araxes sites are similar to spearheads from the Novosvobodnaja phase and from the NearEast. This weapon type illustrates clearly the expansion of the Kura–Araxes culture throughoutthe eastern part ofAnatolia, North Mesopotamia and perhaps as far asTurkmenistan.
The picks discovered at Kura–Araxes settlements such as Amiranis-Gora, Khachbulag, Kul’tepe II, Kvatskhelebi and Tsatsis-Gora also conﬁrm relationships between Transcaucasia and the northern Caucasus, where similar picksare known during the Novosvobodnaja phase.
Furthermore, these picks can also be compared to weapons from Tell Kara Hassan, Jerablus-Tahtani and Carchemish dating to Early Bronze Age II/III transition (ca.2800–2600BCE).
Precious Metals of the Kura–Araxes Culture
Few objects in precious metals are known from the Kura–Araxes sites. A gold and silver earring comes from a tomb in Kachbulag, while three silver rings have been found in the cemetery of Amiranis-Gora. Tombs 2 and 5 of Kvatskhelebi contained some silver spiralled rods, while a gold bead has been discovered in a house at the settlement of Mingechaur.
More recently at Velikent, silver rings and a gold leaf were found in tomb 11 on MoundIII, while a gold ringlet was discovered in tomb 1 on Mound IV, both dated to the ﬁrst half of the third millennium BCE.
These ornaments (in particular those which come from Kvatskhelebi) offer parallels with the jewellery found in the “Royal Tomb” at Arslantepe (end of level VI A/ beginning of VI B 2, dated to ca. 3000 BCE.
Beyond thetypological parallels, this tomb illustrates trade associated with pastoralist activitiesbetweenTranscaucasia and the Malatya region at this time. These exchanges probably included not only metal objects but also the ores, particularly in the period between 3350 and 3000 BCE corresponding to level IV A.
Most metal artefacts from the Kura–Araxes culture that have been analyzed derive from the latest phase of this culture and are made of arsenical copper. Some objects coming from the sites of Ozni, Kul Tepe II and Karaköpek have low percentages of arsenic, while others have higher contents.
In general, most arsenic-bearing copper artefacts contain between 2 and 4 wt % As. A small minority of artefacts from Kvatskhelebi and Kul’tepe II have contents higher than 6 wt % As, some even as high as 22.7 % As.
Such alarge percentage of arsenic improves the cast-ability of the copper while giving it a silvery aspect, but it also makes the object more brittle. For this reason, the use of high-arsenic copper alloys seems to have been reserved for jewellery.
In addition to the presence of arsenic, objects from the Kura–Araxes culture often have minor amounts of zinc, ranging from 1 to 5 wt % Zn. Lead content rarely exceeds0.1 wt %, although for some artefacts it can be as high as 14.7 wt % Pb.
The earliest phase of the Kura–Araxesculture is characterized by very little antimony (0.005–1.15 wt% Sb) and most of the artefacts are low in nickel (≤0.03 wt% Ni) – only slightly higher levels of nickel (0.04–1 wt% Ni) are found in a few rare objects. Low nickel content has been determined for most artefacts from Georgia and Armenia, suggesting local ore deposits with similarly low nickel content.
Recent archaeometallurgical studies carriedout by L. A. Tedesco have allowed a better characterization of the manu-facturing techniques in Transcaucasia during the Early Bronze Age. The artefacts in arsenical-copper present several cycles (two or four) of cold-working/annealingsteps, and for some daggers, strong work-hardening.
She also identiﬁed a standardization of Kura–Araxes metalworking which seems similar to that argued previously for the Novosvobodnaja component. Tedesco proposes metal production on a small-scale in individual households in Transcaucasia (and perhaps also in the northern Caucasus), while acknowledging a widespread uniformity in the way various classes of artefacts were made throughout the Early and early Middle BronzeAges.
In another study, D. L. Peterson analyzed 11 objects (rings and bracelets) coming from the tomb 1 on Mound III at Velikent. Previously, three metal groups had been identiﬁed at this site based on earlier spectral analyses: unalloyed copper, arsenical copper and tin bronze.
However, Peterson noted three exceptional types: one bracelet with 90 wt% Ag and two other bracelets cast in a copper–silver alloy with 70 wt% Cu and 30 wt% Ag. For the arsenical copper objects, the amount of arsenic rangedfrom 0.1 to 20.0 wt%, with the majority lying between 0.1 and 5 wt%.
The arsenical copper artefacts were further separated into two groups: arsenical bronze (1.5–20 wt% As) and arsenical copper (0.1–0.9wt% As), corresponding to intentional alloys and unalloyed metal. The intentionally alloyed pieces seem to be mostly ornamentsand were excluded from tools and weapons.
From the same tomb 1 on Mound III at Velikent, 8% of the total number of metal artefacts proved to be tin–bronze alloys. These tin bronzes are the earliest recorded for the Caucasus. According to lead isotopic analyses, these artefacts may have come from the same source as the early tin bronzes from Oman.
However, Peterson has underlined that this conclusion is based on a small number of analyses and that more analyses are needed in order to point out with more certainty the probable source. He adds that the extension of the Kura–Araxes culture may have provided numerous opportunities to acquire tin from a variety of sources.
Peterson concludes by noting that metal working at Velikent was “implicated in a social process of hierarchization involving both the production and use of metal objects, in which shifts in production and consumption were linked to changes in joint constructions of value and related technological and social practices”.
In contrast to the impression given by Chernykh,there is little evidence of exploitation of metalliferous deposits during the Kura–Araxes culture. Currently, research into early mining practices of the Kura–Araxes culture is barely more important than for the Majkop culture.
The early research carried out by Iessen and Degen-Kovalevskij identiﬁed several sites where ancient extractive metallurgy was practiced in Transcaucasia. Unfortunately, in most cases, such mines were not dated; at best, a few mines were datable to the second or ﬁrst millennium BCE.
Others studies, mainly done in Georgia (Ratcha and Svanetia districts), have not securely provenextractive metallurgy during the Kura–Araxes culture, since most sites were dated tothe second millennium BCE.
Nevertheless, some authors have argued that the deposits investigated (all situated in Transcaucasia) were probably exploited earlier and have conjectured exploitation during the Kura–Araxes period.
The composition of the Kura–Araxes artefacts has also led scholars to the suggestion that polymetallic ores and arsenic-rich ores (e.g. orpiment and realgar—arsenious sulphides) had been used. Paradoxically, G. L. Kavtaradze rejects the idea that sulphur-based ores were used, pointing to the absence of sulphur in most objects to support his view.
He argues that towards the later phase of the Kura–Araxes culture (ca. the middle of the third millennium BCE), the extraction of copper–sulphur such as chalcopyrite became necessary due to the extinction of sources of copper oxides and hydrocarbonates.
Thereafter, he argues, the principle of co-smelting was utilized consistently in Transcaucasia. It should be noted that besides the recurring problem of trusting these early analyses, the issue of metal recycling has never been raised.
It is highly probable that the practice of re-melting was carried out both by the Kura–Araxes and the Majkop cultures. It is well known that each stage of the recyclingprocess involves achange in the composition of particular impurities (As, Ni, Sb, Pb, Zn, Bi, etc.).
The presenceof these elements is therefore not exclusively related to the type of ores used but alsoto the various phases of the metallurgical transformation. In addition, melting (orre-melting) of copper-base metal under even slightly oxidizing conditions can lead to the loss of sulphur (and other important elements, such as arsenic).
Thus, the conclusions of Kavtaradze about the “shift” to copper sulphides in the third millennium BCE must be re-examined. There centre search carried out by the Deutsches Bergbau-Museum on the Bolnisi–Madneuli copper–gold district in Georgia has shown that the Sakdrissi gold deposit was already exploited during the second half of the third millennium BCE, and it is proposed that extraction there began even before 3000 BCE.
In our opinion, the Sakdrissi deposit was not the only one exploited by the Kura–Araxes population. Recent archaeometallurgical research in the Kedabeck district in Azerbaijan has identiﬁed a probable Kura–Araxes exploitation at Perizamenly, where Kura–Araxes ceramic sherds were discovered. We also identiﬁed many other sites with evidence for ancient extractive activities, but we found no way to date them.
From the beginnings of the fourth millennium BCE, metallurgy in the Caucasus underwent an important transformation characterized by technological developments in extractive metallurgy as well as in manufacturing techniques. This modiﬁcationis not as clear for extractive metallurgy as for manufacturing techniques because of the lack of research in this ﬁeld.
However, based upon the admittedly limited data at hand, it would seem that local deposits were exploited often containing complexores (e.g. copper sulphides interlaced with arsenic- and nickel-bearing minerals).
An important rise in copper metallurgy is also noticeable, including the generalized production and use of copper alloys (e.g. Cu–As, Cu–As–Ni); diversiﬁcation of tool and weapon types; and the rise in the sheer number of metal objects known fromthis period.
The high technical level of metalworkers in this period is testiﬁed by the masterful production of objects in precious metals (silver, gold and electrum), although mostly this is true for the Majkop, Novosvobodnaja and the Leilatepe–Berikleedebi cultures.
Although relations between the Caucasus and the Near East never ceased from the Neolithic until the Middle Bronze Age, they appear to have been especially important during the fourth millennium BCE. The role of metals and metallurgy was undoubtedly signiﬁcant in these exchanges.
Between 5000 and 2000 BCE, metallurgy in the Caucasus underwent a tremendous development. The ﬁrst appearance of metal in the northern Caucasus dates to the Meshoko culture, around the second half of the ﬁfth millennium BCE, although it may have emerged earlier, given metal’s early appearance in Transcaucasia by the end of the sixth millennium BCE in the Shomu–Shulaveri, Aratashen and Kul’tepe–Alikemek cultures.
However, the lack of known Neolithic sites in the northern Caucasus limits our ability to say more about this hypothesis. Both the Carpatho-Balkans region, characterized at this time by an apogee of metallurgy, and the Sioni culture may have stimulated the development of metallurgy in the northern Caucasus, as Chernykh has suggested.
However, local deposits of copper ores could also have been exploited by the Meshoko and Sioni culturesfrom earlier periods. The way of life of these populations, probably nomadic and practising transhumance, could have allowed the diffusion of metallurgical activities, of technical principles, of raw material (ores, ingots), as well as of metal object between the northern and southern Caucasus.
It has to be underlined that southernTranscaucasian cultures (Shomu–Shulaveri and others) were also closely connected with Anatolia, northern Iran and northern Mesopotamia, which had been using native metals since at least the seventh millennium BCE. The beginnings of metallurgy in the Caucasus are characterized by smelting, melt-ing, casting, cold-hammering, annealing and probably recycling of mainly “pure”copper and copper with minor (probably natural) impurities.
The ﬁnished products were mainly implements (awls, bradawls, pins, knives, hooks, rods, wires, hoops, in-gots), ornaments (rings, beads, pendants) and small weapons (daggers, arrowheads). Paradoxically, relatively little metallurgical waste (slags, fragments of crucibles ormoulds) has been reported and no furnaces have been discovered.
From the beginning of the fourth millennium BCE, metallurgy is connected to the rise of the Majkop and Leilatepe–Berikldeebi cultures, followed later by the Novosvobodnaja, Kura–Araxes and Velikent cultures.
This cultural sequence is characterized by an intensiﬁcation of extractive metallurgy (still poorly documented), a diversiﬁcation of the types of metals being used (i.e. precious metals and copper alloys), the development of new technologies (e.g. smelting of complex ores, alloying, cladding, casting in bivalve moulds, copperware), the invention of new types of metal objects (e.g. forks, adzes, ﬂat axes, gouges, pickaxes, socketed axes, spearheads, sick-les, harness pieces, long daggers, swords) and the increase of the number of metalobjects produced.
Surprisingly, the only furnaces known come from Kura–Araxes settlements. The increase in metallurgical activity by ca. 3000 BCE is concomitant with an intensiﬁcation of relations north to south between theCaucasusand theNear East.Thediffusion of some speciﬁc objects (like the tripartite spearheads) from the Caucasus (Novosvobodnaja and the Kura–Araxesc) to Anatolia, northern Mesopotamia and as far away as Turkmenistan, conﬁrms the importance of metallurgy in the Caucasus during this period.
Nevertheless, several features concerning metallurgy in the Caucasus remain unclear -inparticular, the rise of extractive metallurgy and the processes used in manufacturing metals. We hope that future excavations, the use of modern analyses and new methods (e.g. the use of GIS), as well as an increased attention on the Caucasus will help to better understand these crucial points.
Our data from the Caucasus region cover a 3000-year interval of prehistory, during which we observe a genetic separation between the groups in the northern foothills and those groups of the bordering steppe regions in the north (i.e. the ‘real’ steppe).
We have summarised these broadly as Caucasus and Steppe groups in correspondence with eco-geographic vegetation zones that characterise the socio-economic basis of the associated archaeological cultures.
When compared to present-day human populations from the Caucasus, which show a clear separation into North and South Caucasus groups along the Great Caucasus mountain range, our new data highlight a different situation during the BA.
The fact that individuals buried in kurgans in the North Caucasian piedmont zone are more closely related to ancient individuals from regions further south in today’s Armenia, Georgia and Iran results in two main observations.
First, sometime after the BA present-day North Caucasian populations must have received additional gene-flow from steppe populations that now separates them from southern Caucasians, who largely retained the BA ancestry profile.
The archaeological and historic records suggest numerous incursions during the
subsequent Iron Age and Medieval times33, but ancient DNA from these time periods will be needed to test this directly.
Second, our results reveal that the Caucasus was no barrier to human movement in prehistory. Instead the interface of the steppe and northern mountain ecozones could be seen as a transfer zone of cultural innovations from the south and the adjacent Eurasian steppes to the north.
The latter is best exemplified by the two Steppe Maykop outlier individuals, which carry additional AF ancestry, for which the contemporaneous piedmont Maykop individuals present likely candidates for the source of this ancestry.
This might also explain the regular presence of ‘Maykop-style artefacts’ in burials that share Steppe Eneolithic traditions and are genetically assigned to the Steppe group. Hence the diverse ‘Steppe Maykop’ group indeed represents the mutual entanglement of Steppe and Caucasus groups and their cultural affiliations in this interaction sphere.
Concerning the influences from the south, our oldest dates from the immediate Maykop predecessors Darkveti-Meshoko (Eneolithic Caucasus) indicate that the Caucasus genetic profile was present north of the range ~6500 BP, 4500 calBCE.
This is in accordance with the Neolithization of the Caucasus, which had started in the flood plains of South Caucasian rivers in the 6th millennium BCE, from where it spread across to the West/ Northwest during the following millennium.
It remains unclear whether the local CHG ancestry profile (Kotias Klde and Satsurblia in today’s Georgia) was also present in the North Caucasus region before the Neolithic. However, if we take the CHG ancestry as a local baseline and the oldest Eneolithic Caucasus individuals from our transect as a proxy for the local Late Neolithic ancestry, we notice a substantial increase in AF ancestry.
This in all likelihood reflects the process of Neolithization, which also brought this type of ancestry to Europe. As a consequence, it is possible that Neolithic groups could have reached the northern foothills earlier. Hence, additional sampling from older individuals would be desirable to fill this temporal and spatial gap.
We show that the North Caucasus piedmont region was genetically connected to the south at the time of the eponymous grave mound of Maykop. Even without direct ancient DNA data from northern Mesopotamia, our results suggest an increased assimilation of Chalcolithic individuals from Iran, Anatolia, and Armenia and those of the Eneolithic Caucasus during 6000–4000 calBCE, and thus likely also intensified cultural connections.
It is possible that the cultural and genetic basis of Maykop were formed within this sphere of interaction. In fact, the Maykop phenomenon was long understood as the terminus of expanding Mesopotamian civilisations.
It has been further suggested that along with these influences the key technological innovations in western Asia that had revolutionised the late 4th millennium BCE had ultimately also spread to Europe.
An earlier connection in the late 5th millennium BCE, however, allows speculations about an alternative archaeological scenario: was the cultural exchange mutual and did e.g. metal rich areas such as the Caucasus contribute substantially to the development and transfer of these innovations?
Within the 3000-year interval covered in this study, we observe a degree of genetic continuity within each cluster, albeit occasionally interspersed by subtle gene-flow between the two clusters as well as from outside sources.
Moreover, our data show that the northern flanks were consistently linked to the Near East and had received multiple streams of gene flow from the south during the Maykop, Kura-Araxes, and late phase of the North Caucasus culture.
Interestingly, this renewed appearance of the southern genetic make-up in the foothills corresponds to a period of climatic deterioration (known as 4.2 ky event) in the steppe zone, that put a halt to the exploitation of the steppe zone for several hundred years.
Further insight arises from individuals that were buried in the same kurgan but in different time periods, as highlighted in the two kurgans Marinskaya 5 and Sharakhalsun 6.
Here, we recognize that the distinction between Steppe and Caucasus is not strict but rather reflects a shifting border of genetic ancestry through time, possibly due to climatic/vegetation shifts and/or cultural factors linked to subsistence strategies or social exchange.
Thus, the occurrence of Steppe ancestry in the northern foothills likely coincides with the range expansion of Yamnaya pastoralists. However, more time-stamped data from this region will be needed to provide details on the dynamics of this contact zone.
An important observation is that Eneolithic Samara and Eneolithic steppe individuals directly north of the Caucasus had initially not received AF gene flow. Instead, the Eneolithic steppe ancestry profile shows an even mixture of EHG- and CHG ancestry, suggesting an effective cultural and genetic border between the contemporaneous Eneolithic populations, notably Steppe and Caucasus.
Due to the temporal limitations of our dataset, we currently cannot determine whether this ancestry is stemming from an existing natural genetic gradient running from EHG far to the north to CHG/Iran in the south or whether this is the result of Iranian/CHG-related ancestry reaching the steppe zone independently and prior to a stream of AF ancestry, where they mixed with local hunter-gatherers that carried only EHG
All later steppe groups, starting with Yamnaya, deviate from the EHG-CHG admixture cline towards European populations in the West. We show that these individuals had received AF ancestry, in line with published evidence from Yamnaya individuals from Ukraine (Ozera) and Bulgaria10. In the North Caucasus, this genetic contribution could have occurred through immediate contact with Caucasus groups or further south.
An alternative source, explaining the increase in WHG-related ancestry, would be contact with contemporaneous Chalcolithic/ EBA farming groups at the western periphery of the Yamnaya distribution area, such as Globular Amphora and
Cucuteni–Trypillia from Ukraine, which have been shown to carry AF ancestry.
Archaeological arguments are consonant with both scenarios. Contact between early Yamnaya and late Maykop groups is suggested by Maykop impulses seen in early Yamnaya complexes.
A western sphere of interaction is evident from striking resemblances of imagery inside burial chambers of Central Europe and the Caucasus, and similarities in geometric decoration patterns in stone cist graves in the Northern Pontic steppe, on stone stelae in the Caucasus, and on pottery of the Eastern Globular Amphora Culture, which links the eastern fringe of the Carpathians and the Baltic Sea.
This overlap of symbols implies a late 4th millennium BCE communication and
interaction network that operated across the Black Sea area involving the Caucasus and later also early Globular Amphora groups in the Carpathians and east/central Europe.
The role of early Yamnaya groups within this network is still unclear. However, this interaction zone predates any direct influence of Yamnaya groups in Europe or the succeeding formation of the Corded Ware and its persistence opens the possibility of subtle gene-flow from farmers at the eastern border of arable lands into the steppe, several centuries before the massive range expansions of pastoralist groups that reached
Central Europe in the mid-3rd millennium BCE.
A surprising discovery was that Steppe Maykop individuals from the eastern desert steppes harboured a distinctive ancestry component that relates them to Upper Palaeolithic Siberians (AG3, MA1) and Native Americans.
This is exemplified by the more commonly East Asian features such as the derived EDAR
allele, which has also been observed in HG from Karelia and Scandinavia. The additional affinity to East Asians suggests that this ancestry is not derived directly from ANE but from a yet-to-be-identified ancestral population in north-central Eurasia with a wide distribution between the Caucasus, the Ural Mountains and the Pacific coast, of which we
have discovered the so far southwestern-most and also youngest genetic representatives.
The insight that the Caucasus mountains served as a corridor for the spread of CHG ancestry north but also for subtle later gene-flow from the south allows speculations on the postulated homelands of Proto-Indo-European (PIE) languages and documented gene-flows that could have carried a consecutive spread of both across West Eurasia.
This also opens up the possibility of a homeland of PIE south of the Caucasus, and could offer a parsimonious explanation for an early branching off of Anatolian languages, as shown on many PIE tree topologies.
Geographically conceivable are also Armenian and Greek, for which genetic data support an eastern influence from Anatolia or the southern Caucasus, and an Indo-Iranian offshoot to the east.
However, latest ancient DNA results from South Asia suggest an LMBA spread via the steppe belt. Irrespective of the early branching pattern, the spread of some or all of the PIE branches would have been possible via the North Pontic/Caucasus region and from there, along with pastoralist expansions, to the heart of Europe.
This scenario finds support from the well attested and widely documented ‘steppe ancestry’ in European populations and the postulate of increasingly patrilinear societies
in the wake of these expansions.
The Cirum-Pontic Region
The 4000 – 3000 BC period in northwestern Eurasia corresponds to the critical ‘’transition’’ period between the collapse of ‘’Old Europe’’ and arrival of steppe migrants.
The push by Uruk colonists from south Mesopotamia toward its northern frontier occurred during the middle Uruk phase, c. 3700 BC. By this time, Majkop already existed, some 1000 km to the north.
Rather, the origin of the Majkop phenomenon probably emerges from the Late Chalcolithic koine in East Anatolia & southern Caucasus – the ‘’Chaff-Face Ware horizon’’, which would also subsume regional variants and special cases, such as the Leila Tepe culture in Azerbaijan (which also featured kurgans). The lack of Levant-type admixture is further evidence against an Uruk origin for Majkop.
Meshoko with Majkop are actually rather distinctive (the former feature austere funerary gifts, and are associated with fortified settlements; whilst they were disused during Majkop period, and funerary wealth reached a peak).
The appearance of Meshoko group seem to me as rustic mountain farmers from Darkveti culture moving north over the mountains; and therefore Majkop might represent a second, later movement (although the genetic data can also be explained by a constant trickling of people, instead of clearly defined migration horizon).
The G25 simulations suggest that the Meshoko genesis is more complicated than a simple “move across the mountains” from Colchis. The “Darkveti” concept itself is ill-defined. Technically, “Darkveti” also covers the late Mesolithic, including Kotias just a few km across the river from the Darkveti site.
The ”Steppe Majkop” is characterised by tumuli burials, a pastoralist economy and presence of Majkop-styled ceramics as burial gifts. This group spread out along the Piedmont steppe, apparently displacing, and absorbing, some of the preceding ‘’Eneolithic Steppe’’ populace.
These are new migrants to the Fore-Caucasus, being part of an intricate network of exchange ushered in by the appearance of Majkop- a ‘’pull effect’’. The exotica of Central Asian origins (e.g. lapis lazuli) might have been brought by these groups, and they might also have introduced certain forms of pastoralism into the western steppe.
As can be visualized, Steppe Majkop lie on a cline between so-called West Siberian Neolithic and Majkop-proper. We observe the close relationship between West Anatolian, Greek and early European farmers.
However, these must represent a local subset/ founder effect, because we know that even within Anatolia there are individuals which lie somewhat further toward the Iran/CHG pole (Tepecik, from central Anatolia, Krepost- Neolithic Bulgaria; and according to some friendly ‘word -of -mouth’, Early Italian Farmers).
As the Neolithic progressed, individuals from Greece and Western Anatolia shift somewhat eastward, perhaps as part of ongoing admixture and contacts across an north Mediterranean Neolithic koine.
More striking, however, are the series of population shifts within Anatolia between 5000 and 3000 BC. As we know, the south central Anatolian plain (Cappadocia, etc) served as a vital demographic and cultural hub for the Neolithic progression further west (even if pockets of pre-Neolithic communities in west Anatolia were genetically similar).
It is therefore quite remarkable that this regions sinks into obscurity after 5000 BC. Although some of this is research related, there must be other reasons, such as land and population exhaustion. Indeed, it is perhaps no coincidence that from c. 5000 BC, north central Anatolia and the Sinope peninsula now become dotted with settlements, having been something of a terra incognita during the Neolithic.
It therefore seems that the link between the East and the West Pontic region ran predominantly via northern Anatolia, perhaps via a interconnecting web of seaborne contacts. As noted previously, the sample ‘’Anatolia Chalcolithic’’ (Barcin Hoyuk, c. 3800 cal BC) represents a significant shift compared to pre-4000 West Anatolian Neolithics.
That it can be modelled as descending from, or sharing ancestry with the Majkop phenomenon dovetails with the appearance of novel cultural groups in western Anatolia (still to be fully understood), bringing with them new technologies, e.g. arseniccal bronzes.
At the same time, ideas and individuals might also have moved from Europe back to Anatolia, since at least 4500 BC, during the Varna-Karanovo VI period, and this continued as late as 3300 BC (Cernavoda, Usatavo).
Marija Gimbutas had astutely observed a series of phenomena manifesting as ‘’waves’’ through Europe, and the ”general gist” of her views have held up. However, we can now refine these with our more developed theoretical backgrounds, a clearer understanding of chronology, new finds, and of course, aDNA.
We now understand that various ‘’Kurganized’’ groups like Majkop, Remedello, Baden-Boleraz and GAC do not show any steppe ancestry. Even in the heart of the Hungarian steppe, we see Late Chalcolithic, in-kurganed individuals without steppe ancestry, belonging to Y-hg G2a.
These phenomena therefore represent a series of societal changes which occurred as part of an interaction and competition between disparate but inter-connected post-Neolithic groups spanning from central Europe to central Asia; associated with the Secondary Products evolution, wheel-traction complex, metallurgy, etc.
Whilst we lack Cernavoda & Usatavo samples, we do have some Early Bronze Age samples from Bulgaria – c. 3200-2500 BC, which date to after the collapse. Later in the MLBA, steppe ancestry rises significantly in the northern Balkans (e.g. the Croatian MLBA sample set), but that is for a future analysis.
Leaving aside the still debated question about the ultimate source of the ”CHG” admixture in Eneolithic Steppe, an expansion from the Don-Kuban steppe seems to have been the main driver, rather than Khvalynsk.
Whatver the case, we can see that Yamnaya is a more ”farmer shifted” fusion of progress and Khvalynsk; and the source of the ANF shift must be, both, Majkop and Cucuteni groups. It is curious that ”outlier” individuals can be found both north and south of the Black Sea, suggesting bilateral admixture and mobility.