Archaeological Investigations in Abkhazia

Soon after the year 2000 Abkhazian and Russian archaeologists resumed their wide-scale study of Abkhazian antiquities. This work involved the Institute of Archaeology in conjunction with the Abkhazian Institute for Research in the Humanities and the State Museum of Abkhazia.
The Tsoukhua Burial-ground dating from the 4th–6th centuries AD and situated at the village of Achandara in the Bzyb Region of Abkhazia was one of the first sites which the joint expedition excavated. It had been left behind by a group of the rural population, which, to judge from the absence of weapons and rather simple grave goods, had not included representatives of the military élite of the given society. The grave goods in the burials, belonging to members of the Abazg tribe well-known from the written sources, revealed certain parallels with materials from the famous sites of Tsebelda. The inhabitants of the village of Achandara presented the team with a revealing assemblage of artefacts dating from the late-4th to the end of the 5th century AD including a rare bronze “egretka” — a richly ornamented open-work head-dress ornament.
A settlement dating from the Late Bronze Age in the village of Abgarkhuk is the first in this region which has been investigated using methods involving natural sciences. A.A. Golieva, from the Geography Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, took part in the investigation of the habitation levels of the settlement and a number of its features: the storage pits, the furnaces used for metal-working and the floors of the dwellings. The results of radio-carbon dating and the pottery assemblage made it possible to date the settlement to the third quarter or the end of the II millennium BC. Materials from the site provide grounds for assuming that the population had been associated with the Ochamchir Culture but had also been subject to influences from Central Colchis and the Central Caucasus and had played an important part in the emergence of Colchian cultures. A rare achievement for settlements of Colchis was the complete excavation of a dwelling, revealing — however surprising this might sound — very close parallels with ethnographic materials from Abkhazia.
The expedition also excavated a warrior’s burial not far from the settlement dating from the end of the 8th century BC. It contained a richly decorated bronze axe, a spear, a pendant, pincers and also a bronze pectoral — a warrior’s ornament worn on the chest rarely found in the Caucasus, marking the route of the Cimmerians through the passes of the Great Caucasus.
Since 2006 the expedition team has been working in the vicinity of the town of Tkuarchal in the South-east of Abkhazia. On Mount Dzhantukh in this territory there had been an enormous necropolis in antiquity, to which the deceased had been brought from the whole of the surrounding area. The site, which had only been studied episodically by Abkhazian archaeologists in the 1980s, fell victim to intensive looting in that period. The expedition team has now completed its investigation of a two-level burial-pit with group burials after cremation performed outside the cemetery dating from the 11th to the late-8th century BC, of two individual burials dating from the 9th century BC in well-pits, also post-cremation burials in well-pits, and of three burial complexes dating from the second half of the 5th to the 3rd/2nd century BC, which contained group burials after local cremation. As a result of these investigations it has proved possible to trace patterns of change in the culture of the local population over a period of almost a thousand years. A series of finds testifies to this population’s links to the culture of early nomads. What points to the penetration this far of Greek traders is the presence of Classical imports, while clear “Koban” features can be traced back to the northern slopes of the Greater Caucasus range. It is here that the earliest find of an iron artefact was discovered in Abkhazia — a ring-shaped pendant dating from the 11th century BC. It is probable that the population which abandoned this burial-ground controlled the main trade routes in antiquity, which linked Western Transcaucasia with the Northern Caucasus.

A.Y. Skakov

Digital publication