Georgian discovery reveals life 4,300 years ago

5 Aug 2014

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By Lali Tsertsvadze

Agenda.ge,5 Aug 2014 Tbilisi,Georgia


How long does your fruit last? One week? A month?

An archeological discovery in Georgia revealed ancient people living on Georgian territory more than forty centuries ago found a novel way to keep fruit and nuts fresh for thousands of years.

For the first time in history, preserved berries were discovered in ancient tombs on Georgian territory.

The berries showed some signs of decay as the roof of the tombs had collapsed, allowing oxygen and air to contaminate the enclosed tombs however a local expert said this discovery was the first time ancient wild fruit had been discovered in such a preserved condition.

Archeologists found wild fruits in an 4,300 years old burial site in eastern Georgia; Photo courtesy Georgian National Museum 

At a recent archaeological conference in Switzerland, Georgian archaeological expert Zurab Makharadze spoke about the archeological expedition from the Georgian National Museum, which discovered an ancient burial chamber containing funeral carts, gold subjects and possible human sacrifices in the country’s east.

Zurab Makharadze, head of the Centre of Archaeology at the Georgian National Museum; Photo by N. Alavidze / Agenda.ge

Archeologists believed the burial site in Georgia’s Kakheti region dated back 4,300 years to a time described as the Early Bronze Age.

The graves were opened in 2012 and artifacts were sent to one of Europe’s prestigious labs in Germany for expert examination. Makharadze said ongoing tests revealed the red berries found in the burial chamber even spread the aroma of fresh fruits when specialists analysed the samples.

Makharadze, who is the head of the Centre of Archaeology at the Georgian National Museum, said this was the first recorded time in the world when wild fruits had been preserved in such a fresh state at an ancient site.

Even though the laboratorial analysis of the artefacts had not finished, Makharadze suggested the site belonged to the Early Barrow Culture who lived in the mid-3rd millennium BC. The name of the culture was derived from the funeral rites at individual mound-burials, called a ‘kurgan’.

The burial mound excavated in eastern Georgia in 2012 measured 12m high, was 100m in diameter and had a burial chamber of more than 58sqm. Photo courtesy Zurab Makharadze

At that time, people would build a large crypt for the deceased – often using wooden or stone construction – and a burial chamber which was set into an underground pit. The deceased was placed in the chamber on a large wooden table and surrounded by a variety of rich goods to use in the afterlife, including gold and silver, fine pottery, bronze weapons, food, as well as a great quantity of sacrificed cattle.

Often, servants could also be sacrificed and buried alongside their ruler in rich barrows but unlike their masters, their graves would not be furnished with goods.

The burial mound excavated in eastern Georgia in 2012 measured 12m high, was 100m in diameter and had a burial chamber of more than 58sqm. After the bodies were placed in the chamber, the tomb was sealed for eternity.

Some of the vessels were broken as the roof of the tombs had collapsed; Photo by N. Alavidze / Agenda.ge

Georgian restorers work around the clock to restore the ancient artifacts; Photo by N. Alavidze / Agenda.ge 

Makharadze said the site was of particular importance as it was the best surviving example of wooden construction characteristics of the Early Barrow Culture.

Makharadze said the tomb contained two four-wheeled funeral carts. This was the first recorded case of double burials in the southern Caucasus.

The tomb contained two four-wheeled funeral carts. Photo courtesy Georgian National Museum 

The National Museum of Georgia has created a model of the carts so that the visitors can easily imagine how they looked like; Photo by N. Alavidze / Agenda.ge

"Laboratory analysis revealed traces of honey on the bones, a fact perhaps attributable to a certain mode of embalming,” Makharadze told Agenda.ge.

Among the grave goods, archaeologists found 23 gold objects including ornamented pendants, beads and shield bosses. A string of well-worn amber beads constituted the earliest amber necklace ever found not simply in the Caucasus region but the entire Near East.

All the discovered artifacts are exhibited at the Georgian National Museum; Photo by N. Alavidze / Agenda.ge

A string of well-worn amber beads constituted the earliest amber necklace ever found not simply in the Caucasus region but the entire Near East. Photo by N. Alavidze / Agenda.ge

As well as these small trinkets and the well-preserved red berries, a wooden armchair with ornamented legs, fragments of leather, textiles and various nuts (hazelnuts, chestnuts and acorns) were also discovered in the tomb.

The discovery, which dated to about 4,000 BC, reflected the everyday life of a society whose rulers were buried in riches, Makharadze said.

When the tomb was examined, archaeologists found seven people buried in the chamber. The human remains had been disturbed and were in a disordered position – presumably the result of a robbery which was likely to have occurred in ancient times.

"One of them was a chief and others should be members of his family, sacrificed slaves or servants," Makharadze said.

The Georgian expert said they were lucky to find 23 gold artefacts in the burial. It appeared the site had been robbed twice in the past as archaeologist found two tunnels leading to the chamber.

"The robbers did such clean work. They probably had attended the burial ceremony and knew what was placed where”, Makharadze said, adding some artefacts had been dropped by the robbers as they attempted to climb out of the tomb.

A basket full of the nuts discovered at the burial site is possible to be seen at the National Museum of Georgia; Photo by N. Alavidze / Agenda.ge

The remains were sent to Germany to define the biological ties between the buried people. The analysis is expected to also reveal how the people died.

This was not the first ‘kurgan’ discovered in Georgia. Earlier, archaeologists uncovered burial sites believed to be 1,000 years older than this one.

Specialists said these were as much importance for Georgia as the pyramids were for Egypt.

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