Environment and society in the late prehistory of southern Georgia, Caucasus, S Connor, A Sagona

Tags: Georgia, Tsalka Plateau, Caucasus, pollen, Tbilisi, Black Sea, Eastern Georgia, southern Georgia, Kura-Araxes, communities, pollen diagrams, vegetation, Western Georgia, Chalcolithic, Javakheti Plateau, Charles Burney, South Caucasus, Kvemo Kartli, Lake Imera, vegetation changes, vegetation change, The Lake Imera, steppe vegetation, Lake Aligol, Middle Neolithic, North Caucasus, mountain slopes, Late Neolithic, mountain glaciers, remains, Mesolithic Period, the Black Sea, Neolithic Period, Palinologicheskie issledovania v Gruzii, Trans-Caucasus, pollen diagram, Moskalenko V., Bronze Age, Beech forests, Eliso Kvavadze, pollen data, Holocene Vegetation, oak savanna, environmental change, oak woodland, savanna vegetation, Kvemo-Kartli, Siedlungen von Kvemo-Kartli, pollen analysis, Georgian SSR, Phoenix Press, Hauptmann H., Quaternary Research, Precious Reflections of Economic Exchange, Blackwell Science Publishers, Cotsen Institute Press, Cambridge University Press, Tsalka, University of Minnesota Press, Metsniereba, radiocarbon chronology
Content: Environment and society in the late prehistory of southern Georgia, Caucasus Connor, S.E. and Sagona, A. This is a draft version of a manuscript published in Les Cultures du Caucase (VIe-IIIe millйnaires avant notre иre): leurs relations avec le Proche-Orient (edited by B. Lyonnet, 2007, Editions CNRS, Paris, pp. 21-36). Please note that there may be differences between this version and the final published version. The authors will be happy to provide copies on request.
ENVIRONMENT AND SOCIETY IN THE LATE PREHISTORY OF SOUTHERN GEORGIA, CAUCASUS Simon CONNOR and Antonio SAGONA INTRODUCTION Recent investigations into the palaeo-vegetation of southern Georgia, specifically on the Tsalka Plateau, have yielded significant results that help us to understand the environmental context of the late prehistoric societies in southern Caucasus. Despite discussions that have inferred ancient socioeconomic developments in the South Caucasus, trustworthy data have been limited. Attempts to provide a holistic picture, using multidisciplinary approaches that integrate the results from various fields, have been even fewer. In this paper we draw together data on the palaeo-vegetation and archaeology of southern Georgia from the Mesolithic until the Middle Bronze Age. The present-day landscapes of southern and eastern Georgia are dominated by steppe vegetation, with only a narrow and fragmented forest-belt that divides lowland and highland steppes (Figs. 1 and 2). Evidence from various quarters has suggested, however, that what are nowadays steppes may have been more wooded in the prehistoric past. This evidence includes forest faunal assemblages from archaeological sites in presently treeless landscapes (1), the presence of relict forest soils in steppe areas (2), remnant dwarf stands of trees on the Javakheti Plateau (3), as well as Bronze Age archaeological finds depicting deer-hunting scenes (4) and historical legends, such as the founding of Tbilisi during a pheasant- or deer-hunt (5). All of these point to the intriguing possibility that past landscapes were remarkably different to those we see today. The aim of this paper is to shed much-needed light on the environmental contexts of prehistoric settlements in the South Caucasus. Previous studies in the region have been hampered by a lack of an independent radiocarbon chronology, limiting the possibility of interpreting vegetation change in terms of human impact, and cultural shifts in terms of environmental change. Here we present two new pollen diagrams from Georgia and discuss the results in terms of their regional and archaeological significance.
study area The Tsalka Plateau lies at the northernmost extension of the vast volcanic upland plateaux of Georgia, Armenia and Eastern Anatolia comprising the Anticaucasus (Lesser Caucasus) Uplands (Fig. 1). The landscape is a striking blend of flat, grassy steppes punctuated by the abrupt peaks of volcanic craters, calderas and scree cones. The Tsalka Plateau is bordered to the north by the Trialeti Range, and forms the headwaters of the Khrami River, a major tributary of the Kura (Mtkvari) River. Geologically, the plateau consists of Upper Pliocene and Quaternary lava flows (mainly dolerite and andesite-basalt), overlain in places by more recent lacustrine and alluvial deposits (6). The average annual temperature in the township of Tsalka is 5.8oC, with cold winters (average -5.3oC in January, absolute minimum -32oC) and mild summers (average 15.8oC). Rainfall averages between 600 and 700 mm per annum. The vegetation of the Tsalka Plateau in the present day is classified as mountain steppe, and consists almost entirely of grasslands, devoid of any forest vegetation. In May 2002, a sediment core was extracted from Lake Imera, which is situated 50 km west of Tbilisi and 10 km northeast of the town of Tsalka (Fig. 2). The site is surrounded by steppic grasslands dominated by Agrostis planifolia, Phleum phleoides, Phleum pratense amongst others, and has a diverse wetland flora. It is a small volcanic maar lake, and, because groundwater levels control its hydrology, it provides a very sensitive gauge of climatic and vegetation changes through time. In September 2003, this record was complemented by another core from Lake Aligol, also a small maar lake, 7 km northwest of Tsalka, located between the village of Santa, a Bronze Age burial mound (`Kurgan III') and the Tsalka Reservoir (Fig. 2). Pollen analysis provides the most readily available and interpretable means of determining past vegetation changes in chronological sequence. It is a useful companion to archaeological work because it provides as much information about the vegetation and climate of periods with abundant archaeological evidence as periods without. Pollen was prepared and counted using standard techniques (7). Six accelerator mass spectrometer (AMS) radiocarbon dates were obtained for the Imera record, and ten for the longer Aligol record (Table 1). Summary pollen diagrams are presented in Figures 3 and 4. The curve for each pollen type represents its percentage of the pollen sum. In both pollen diagrams, the percentages have been calculated independently for trees and shrubs (from the arboreal pollen sum), and grasses and herbs (from the nonarboreal pollen sum). The reason for this is that the volcanic lakes of southern Georgia have a high representation of grass pollen, even where forest is the dominant vegetation type (8). In part, this is due to the shallow, drying nature of
the lakes; such that as the water level drops, the `pollen source area' (9) is reduced. This is particularly true during early spring, when the Tsalka lakes are often at their lowest level and when many trees are releasing pollen. This explains why low lake-levels in the past are represented in the pollen diagrams by diminished percentages of tree pollen overall. Grasses are also common in the wetland flora of the lakes themselves. POLLEN RECORDS The Lake Imera Diagram The diagram (Fig. 3) spans the last 7000-8000 years and is subdivided into five stratigraphic zones by statistical splitting (10). The lowermost zone indicates that a mixture of subalpine meadows and scattered mixed mesophytic woodlands prevailed around Imeras Tba until 5500 BC. The most important tree species in this zone are hornbeam (Carpinus caucasica), hazel (Corylus), beech (Fagus), ash (Fraxinus) and possibly Zelkova or elm (Ulmus). High proportions of Campanula and other meadow herbs suggest that the landscape was only partially wooded. At the beginning of zone 2, the importance of fir (Abies) and beech (Fagus) increases. The charcoal record indicates that fires were increasingly common between 4000 and 3000 BC, inviting the possibility that humans were using fire slow post-glacial forest advance. Although no definitive answers to this question can be drawn from pollen data, there are some hints of human landuse at this time ­ alongside the fires was an increase in the pollen of agricultural plants and weeds: Triticum (wheat), Centaurea cyanus (cornflower ­ asssociated with grain crops), Silene (campion), Linum (flax), Vicia (vetch), Scleranthus (knawel), Trifolium (clover), etc. (11). At 2900 BC, this fire regime abruptly ceased. From 2900 to 1500 BC, the pollen indicates that an oak-dominated savanna with a grassy understorey grew around Lake Imera. This plant community also contained a few hornbeam (Carpinus caucasica), hazel (Corylus) and linden (Tilia), and was probably similar in certain respects to the dry Highland Oak (Quercus macranthera) woodlands that currently grow around the margins of the Tsalka Plateau (12). Between 2000 and 1000 BC, a cooling climate depressed timberlines and led to the replacement of the oak savanna by a coniferous association of pine (Pinus) and fir (Abies nordmanniana). Coniferous forests with fir occur in the study area today only along the northern boundary of the Tsalka Plateau, on the north slope of the Trialeti Range (Fig. 2). The remainder of the pollen diagram falls outside the period of interest of this paper, but it is worth noting that the areas of coniferous forest were burnt down in the 1st millennium BC. After repeated
fires, the Tsalka Plateau took on the treeless character it currently displays. There is no doubt that these fires were at least partly anthropogenic (13). The Lake Aligol Diagram The pollen diagram from Lake Aligol (Fig. 4) provides a considerably longer record of vegetation change, covering the past 14,350 years. In zone 1, the prevalence of Ephedra, juniper (Juniperus), wormwood (Artemisia) and goosefoot (Chenopodiaceae) indicates a hyper-arid desert or semidesertsteppe landscape in the late-glacial period, the climate reaching its utmost severity around 10,000 BC ­ the `Younger Dryas' stadial. After this time, rising precipitation allowed the rapid expansion of pioneer tree species such as hazel (Corylus) and birch (Betula) within an otherwise arid, open steppe. The pollen spectra of Aligol zone 3 are almost identical to those of Imera zone 1, consisting of a mixture of woodland and subalpine meadow species. The most important woodland species are elm, beech, hornbeam and fir, and mesic meadow species include Thalictrum, Dipsacus, Campanula and Polygonum bistorta. Like the Imera diagram, this zone has high charcoal concentrations, suggestive of a high fire frequency between 4000 and 3000 BC. Around 3000 BC, fires ceased and the pollen of oak increases dramatically. Meadow herbs simultaneously decline and grasses multiply, indicating that the surroundings of Lake Aligol were overtaken by an oak-dominated savanna at this time. Between the individual trees, the vegetation was grassy and somewhat steppic, with a high representation of juniper (Juniperus), St. John's Wort (Hypericum) and knotgrass (Polygonum aviculare). The persistence of plantain (Plantago major), cinquefoil (Potentilla) and cereal pollen throughout this phase indicates local pastoral and agricultural activity. Regional climate change saw this plant community yield to open coniferous woodland between 2500 and 1500 BC (zone 5). Fire-sensitive fir trees were burnt out in the ninth century BC, four hundred years earlier than those near Lake Imera, and the final transition to treelessness occurred between 1200 and 1700 AD. The similarity of the Imera and Aligol pollen diagrams demonstrates that the vegetational changes they record are representative of the Tsalka Plateau at large. Therefore, the results can be drawn into an informed discussion of the prehistoric environments of southern and eastern Georgia with the aid of previous palynological, faunal and limnological studies. In the discussion below, we bring together these lines of evidence in an archaeological context from the Mesolithic to the Middle Bronze Age.
DISCUSSION The Mesolithic Period (c. 8500­7000 BC) Archaeological finds of the Mesolithic in the South Caucasus are concentrated in Western Georgia, primarily in cave sites found on mountain slopes fronting the present-day Black Sea coast. These sites are characterised by a suite of flint microliths and bone tools, and faunal remains indicative of forested surrounds (14). Some of these sites are situated at relatively high altitudes (e.g. Tsona, 2100 m). It must be remembered that, during the Mesolithic, the Black Sea coast lay some kilometres westward of the present-day coastline due to lowered sea-levels and the Sea itself was a huge freshwater lake fed by extensive European mountain glaciers (15). Palynological evidence shows that climates improved significantly in the early Mesolithic, allowing thermophilous plants to expand up mountain slopes from their `glacial refugia' in Colchis (16). This process was curtailed by climatic instability between 8000-7000 BC, resulting in the depression of timberlines and possible reactivation of glaciers (17). Eastern Georgia is not itself bereft of Mesolithic remains. These are mostly open settlement types and are centred on the broader Tsalka Plateau itself, at Edzani/Barmaksyzi, Zurtaketi and Lake Paravani (18; Fig. 2). All three sites are nowadays situated in mountain steppe landscapes. They are differentiated from their Western Georgian counterparts in the almost exclusive use of obsidian in the manufacture of stone tools, which are characterised by an abundance of asymmetrical triangles, blunt-backed microliths and other geometric shapes. Faunal remains here also differ from those of sites in humid Western Georgia. The Eastern Georgian sites have yielded remains that indicate the existence of both forest and steppe environments (19). On the basis of the Lake Aligol pollen record, this landscape appears to have been an arid wormwood-Ephedra steppe with fragments of hazel and birch pioneer woodland (Fig. 5), although denser forests may have been found at lower altitudes. Climatic modelling based on palaeoenvironmental data from Southwestern Asia has shown that, during the Mesolithic, summer temperatures were perhaps a few degrees warmer than at present, although the climate was still quite arid (20). In addition to the above, some prehistorians maintain that cultural developments in southern Georgia, in the late eighth millennium BC, are post-Mesolithic but pre-Neolithic. Sites such as Kobuleti, Khutsubani, Choloki, those in the Ajara region, and, most importantly, at Dmanisi, in Kvemo Kartli, foreshadow a new lithic industry based almost entirely on obsidian obtained from south Georgian sources (21).
The Neolithic Period (c. 7000­4800 BC) Of the many geographical regions in Trans-Caucasus, Georgia provides the best evidence for the emergence and evolution of Neolithic communities. Within Georgia, Neolithic settlements first appear in the so-called `sub-tropical' western zone, bordering the Black Sea (22). About 7000 BC, changes in material culture, economic subsistence and settlement types suggest a shift away from a Mesolithic lifestyle to one that is more in keeping with the sedentary practices of the Neolithic. The earliest tradition, termed Anaseuli, is pre-pottery and lasted approximately 800 years. It is found throughout the Colchian depression and is distinguished by its chipped stone industry that is based on flint and obsidian blade-core techniques. By contradistinction, the contemporaneous Paluri tradition, which extended beyond western Georgia to the northwestern part of eastern Georgia, is a stone-flake industry that is spread across the foothills and mountains (23). Despite technological and geographical differences, the societies of both the Anaseuli and Paluri subtraditions did not live in caves and rock-shelters, preferring instead to live in open-air settlements. Regrettably, few traces of their dwellings survive. To judge from the discolouration of soil left by postholes, embedded within thin layers of cultural debris, these earliest Neolithic peoples built freestanding, wattle-and daub houses that approximate a square in plan. Western Georgia also assumes primacy over its eastern neighbour in the manufacture of early pottery that first appeared along the north Colchian coast about 6000 BC, and gradually spread to encompass the entire plain. This socalled `Odishi' culture marks the beginning of the Middle Neolithic, which has, among its diagnostic material attributes, a repertoire of handmade ceramics of non-articulated shapes that are mostly red or brown burnished and occasionally incised with a pattern (24). A range of ground and polished tools suggest an increase in agricultural practices, though the acidic soils have left few traces of macrofossils. Again, though, we have very few settlement remains. The environment of Western Georgia was changing during the Neolithic. The expansion of chestnut (Castanea sativa), oak (Quercus) and Zelkova forests in the lowlands from the beginning of the Neolithic indicates a considerable increase in temperature (25). Cold-adapted species, such as conifers and beech, climbed the mountain slopes and formed the upper tree line. Around 6000 BC, according to several authors, the Black Sea was flooded catastrophically by sea water pouring in through the Bosphorus from the Mediterranean Sea (26). Other studies have conversely argued that the Black Sea overflowed into the Mediterranean as glaciers in the Caucasus and Eastern Europe melted, discharging into the Danube and other rivers (27). Arguments continue as to the direction, salinity, timing and rapidity of the changes, but for archaeological purposes it is important to note that a more or less modern Black Sea level was attained during the Neolithic.
Eastern Georgia enters the Neolithic, in a major way, only at the beginning of the sixth millennium BC, when communities began to settle on the light-chestnut soils of the Kura (Mtkvari) and Araxes river valleys. Unlike the situation in western Georgia, communities east of the Surami massif established clusters of farmsteads that were intensely settled over prolonged periods, leading to a rapid accumulation of cultural deposits that are today distinguished as conspicuous mounds up to 5 m high situated in wide plains (28). This type of settlement pattern has more in common with the Anatolian landscape than the Colchian one, which shares closer links with North Caucasus and the steppes beyond. What is curious, however, is that the Late Neolithic settlers of eastern Georgia avoided what are today the most fertile riverside valleys -- the alluvium of the Iori and Alazani valleys -- choosing instead to establish their villages in areas that allowed farming of cereals only with careful management. Perhaps these valleys were at that time densely forested, as they were in the historic past, leading early agriculturalists to establish settlements at the steppe border where cultivation could be carried out without the need for extensive land clearing. Rivers such as the Khrami, Debeda and Mashavera (Fig. 2) would also have been less susceptible to potentially destructive glacial meltwater floods than the Alazani and Iori. However, summer droughts in Kvemo Kartli would have necessitated ploughing during winter and early spring to ensure water penetration in what are generally shallow soil horizons, and artificial irrigation may have been employed at some sites (29). Perhaps the settlement choice of these early farmers was determined by the availability of wild stands of wheat, which Nikolai Vavilov documented many decades ago (30). No less than nine species of wheat, several species of barley, as well as rye, oats, millet, lentils and peas have been identified at early agricultural sites. It is also now generally accepted, on the basis of domesticated grape pips (Vitis vinifera subsp. vinifera) recovered from Late Neolithic sites, that Georgia can claim to be the homeland of winemaking and viticulture. Indeed, wine appears to have played a central role in social and economic life of these first farmers. The vegetation of Eastern Georgia at the time of early agriculture consisted of extensive dry savanna on the plains, dense gallery forests along river courses, and oak-hornbeam forests on the foothills (31). Faunal remains from early agricultural sites include not only domestic animals, but also wild fauna, with a predominance of red deer (Cervus elaphus), a species strongly associated with woodland (32). Other fauna indicate the persistence of steppe or savanna landscapes alongside these woodlands. In the arid parts of Eastern Anatolia and Caucasus, atmospheric moisture began to increase gradually after the 6000 BC stabilisation of the Black Sea, resulting in the slow expansion of oak woods (33). The climate of the Neolithic in Eastern and Southern Georgia was
almost certainly drier than it is today, a factor that perhaps confined permanent agricultural settlements to the lowland river valleys. The Late Neolithic agricultural tradition, named after Shulaveri Gora, a type-site located south of Tbilisi, in Kvemo Kartli, is found over much of eastern TransCaucasus, including northeastern Armenia and northwestern Azerbaijan. Among other key sites in Georgia are Khramis Didi Gora, the largest Neolithic site in Trans-Caucasus, and Imiris Gora (34; Fig. 2). Chronologically, the Late Neolithic stretches from about 5800 to 4600 BC. A high density of architecture, comprising compounds that are cell-like in plan, distinguishes these agricultural settlements. Clusters of round huts, connected by walls, formed a circular enclosure, which was used for storage, food processing and other activities. These dwellings and units were built from plano-convex (or `hog-back') mud bricks and had a domed roof that was constructed using the corbelling technique. Pottery is coarse, monochrome and handmade, and forms are limited, mostly egg-shaped. Decoration is also used sparingly with knobs and applied relief motifs -- S-curves, V- and U-shapes -- being the most common, especially in the later phases. In contrast to ceramics, stone-tool and bone industries are notable for their quantity, diversity and quality. Stone tools are predominantly obsidian crafted into well-made conical cores, which produced a repertoire of blades, burins and scrapers. The Chalcolithic Period (c. 4800­3100 BC) It has been argued that a general cultural continuum stretched from the TransCaucasian Neolithic to the end of the Late Chalcolithic period around 3100 B.C. During this period a socio-economic structure was gradually established that also served highland communities of the subsequent the Early Bronze Age. Broadly speaking, the Chalcolithic of Trans-Caucasus, or Eneolithic as it is also referred to, can be divided into three separate zones (35): East TransCaucasus, West Trans-Caucasus and North Caucasus. It is the first of these that is most relevant here and includes the sites of Sioni, Delisi, Berikldeebi, Alikemek Tepesi, Leila Tepe, and Tekhut. A series of recurring cultural traits and patterns define the East TransCaucasian Chalcolithic, which can be divided into two broad chronological phases: (a) an Early Chalcolithic phase, stretching from around 4800 to 4000 cal. BC; and (b) a Middle/Late Chalcolithic phase covering the 4th millennium ca. 4000­3200/3100 cal. BC, or possibly even 3000 BC. The latter phase, whose cultural sphere extended beyond Trans-Caucasus into east Anatolia, is germane to the origins of the ubiquitous Kura-Araxes culture. Indeed some of the traits and patterns warrant the identification of a `Proto-Kura-Araxes' developmental phase ca. 3600/3500­3200/3100 cal. BC (36).
Compared to Neolithic settlements, Chalcolithic sites cover a much wider distribution area and more diverse ecological zones. Communities began to spread upland, above the altitude of 400-500 metres, utilising the thin soils of the foothills and mountains that are most suited to grazing, a practice that continued into the period of the Kura-Araxes complex. Domestic sheep, goats, cattle and even pigs were primary husbanded animals. Pig bones argue against a nomadic lifestyle (37), but not against a transhumant subsistence strategy, copying the seasonal movements of the animals. Numerous palaeoenvironmental analyses show that the region experienced a `climatic optimum' between 4000 and 2000 BC (38). Effective moisture and temperatures both increased during the Chalcolithic. Higher rainfall may have rendered lowland floodplains uninhabitable during spring snowmelt (39), leading to a diversification in resource exploitation apart from cereal-based agriculture. Higher summer temperatures would have increased drought susceptibility and thus the risk of crop failure in the lowlands. For these reasons, highland environments probably provided a more stable base for cropping and animal husbandry during the late Chalcolithic and Bronze Age. Afforestation of the arid parts of Georgia began at this time. Near Tbilisi, the foothills were cloaked with oak-juniper xerophyte shrublands from at least 4000 BC (40). On the Tsalka Plateau, trees began to encroach upon the mountain grasslands (Fig. 5). Even pollen data from the most distal part of the Javakheti Plateau (41) show an expansion of birch and fir during the Chalcolithic. For agriculturalists reliant on domestic livestock and crops, the disappearance of formerly arable land beneath a forest canopy would have led to economic difficulties, particularly for light-demanding grain crops. The numerous fires recorded in the pollen records between 4000 and 3000 BC were most probably deliberately lit by agriculturalists to stall the expansion of woodland vegetation or to manipulate its composition. The charcoal records from lakes Imera and Aligol appear to confirm the view of Roberts (42), that the persistence of oak `savanna parkland' throughout the Neolithic may have been the result of deliberate woodland management on a landscape scale, a practice that, in southern Georgia, seemingly intensified during the Chalcolithic. The Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods also differ architecturally. The multi-level mounds of the Neolithic with settlements of circular mud brick houses, give way to `flat' settlements of the Chalcolithic that have yielded a preponderance of pits and very few architectural remains, which are mostly small dwellings of a round or rectilinear plan (43). Pottery is our main source of information on the crafts. Ceramics of the Late Chalcolithic are characterised by a limited range of vessel forms and a restrained ornamentation (44). In general, pottery was built by hand, using either rings or slabs of clay. Moreover, the clay is gritty and has a very
micaceous quality, most notable among vessels from Sioni. In Georgia, ceramics can be grouped into a number of categories. One is baked quite hard and its colour varies from pale browns through reds to yellows; this is the socalled `Sioni' pottery. Another group has a highly burnished surface, and is slipped in black or dark grey, rarely in red-brown. Typologically, it shares attributes with Sioni pottery, but is closer to the classic Kura-Araxes to warrant it to be viewed as its earliest manifestation. It should be noted that related ceramics and other artefacts are found at contemporary sites in eastern Anatolia, most notably at Sos Hцyьk, near Erzurum, to suggest that communities in the highlands between the Kura and Euphrates rivers promoted a number of significant cultural and socio-economic dialectics from about 4000 to 3100 BC that gave rise to the Kura-Araxes culture complex. The major shift in settlement patterns and dwelling plans in the Chalcolithic period appear to reflect a change in the way communities responded to `risk management'. The mosaic of environments in TransCaucasus did offer diversity, to be sure, but certain ecological zones, though potentially productive, had a degree of unpredictability. Accordingly, to manage this risk, communities appear to have changed their strategies, travelling to resources that were more dispersed. The Early and Middle Bronze Ages (c. 3000­1500 BC) So much has been written on the Early and Middle Bronze Age and the KuraAraxes culture that it would be otiose to repeat the well-known data here (45). Nonetheless, several issues are worth highlighting. By 3000 BC, the village communities of stock-breeders and farmers that emerged in the Late Chalcolithic period were fully established in the highlands of Trans-Caucasus and eastern Anatolia. In terms of social complexity they may be best described as tribal societies or simple chiefdoms What distinguished these Early Bronze Age communities from their predecessors was largely their cultural assemblage, the `Kura-Araxes package', which by now reflected considerable regional adaptations. In Georgia this character included: Architectural diversity: free-standing rectangular dwellings, with wattle-and-daub walls supported on a framework of posts, were the preferred construction modes in the forested region of Shida Kartli and in parts of the Javakheti region. Elsewhere mud-brick rectilinear agglomerations, typical of the Near East, and circular architecture, emphasise the strong sense of regional diversity. Standardisation in the domestic use of space: Despite variations in the plan and construction of houses, there is remarkably little evidence for differentiation
among these houses in regard to their internal use of space. They tend to have a standardised interior that includes a circular terracotta hearth built into the floor, a bench along the back wall, and portable, horse-shoe-shaped, horned hearths. Distinctive crafts: These include highly distinctive ceramics, which for many archaeologists define this period. Despites many regional variations, KuraAraxes crafts do reflect a `sameness'. Vessels were often ornamented with relief, fluted and incised designs, burnished, and then fired to a black or red colour. Some examples were polished to a lustrous finish, presumably to imitate metal containers. Metal technology, too, developed during this period. The rich copper-bearing deposits in the mountains surrounding Georgia provided the fundamental ingredient for Bronze Age metallurgy. Kura-Araxes metalsmiths initially favoured copper-arsenic alloys, but then, towards the end of third millennium BC, regularly used tin to produce a limited repertoire of bronzes ­ ornaments, dress pins, lunate earrings, spearheads and shaft hole axes mostly­ whose purpose was more to do with display and prestige than utilitarian tasks. Around 2300 BC, or a little earlier, towards the end of the Early Bronze Age, the social dynamics of communities began to change. Throughout Trans-Caucasus, but particularly in Georgia, communities adopted a mode of burial for important personages that differed markedly from the modest and simple pit inhumations of the preceding millennium (46). Large and striking йlite barrow tombs, or kurgans, are generally accepted as the hallmarks of a new age distinguished by fundamental social changes. The rich assemblage of these burials included vessels of precious metals and, in some cases, a vehicle (or a part of it), with four wheels of solid wood. Early kurgans are found at Martkopi, Trialeti, Samgori, Bedeni and in the Alazani valley. Their internal tomb architecture varied from shafts dug into the ground and covered with timber planks (Trialeti), to substantial log burial chambers, measuring up to 11 Ч 10 Ч 2 m (Martkopi). In each case a mound of earth and stone rising up to 15 m covered the internment, making it a conspicuous feature in the landscape. The dead were either cremated or their bones ceremoniously placed on a wooden platform. In most cases, the deceased were accompanied by symbols of power accorded to the emergent class of йlites. Some kurgans, such as Bedeni, contained the remains of several individuals, a practice suggestive of human sacrifice. Impressive though these early kurgans are, the wealth of Bronze Age chieftains is most vividly expressed in the later burials, especially those at Trialeti. Among the dazzling array of objects deposited with the deceased were an embossed silver goblet, depicting a procession of humans and animals in two friezes, and a silver bucket edged with gold (47). Collectively, these finds, both in terms of technical execution and iconography, reveal a fusion of local and foreign influences that
reflect ancient Georgia's growing participation in a far-flung system of exchange which extended to the shores of the eastern Mediterranean during the second millennium BC. With the aid of palynological evidence, we can now place the impressive Trialeti kurgans within a landscape of oak savanna. During the early-mid Bronze Age, oak is the dominant tree in both the two pollen records presented here and in charred macrofossils recovered during excavation of the nearby Beshtasheni settlement (48; see Fig. 2). This gives a certain indication that oak trees, in all likelihood Quercus macranthera, grew in close proximity to the Trialeti settlements during the Bronze Age. But while oaks were indeed present on the Tsalka Plateau during the Bronze Age, there is no evidence to suggest that they formed anything like dense forest ­ not only are grassland plants well represented in the pollen records for the Bronze Age, but traditional agriculture would have been impossible in forest. The Bronze Age witnesses a new relationship between society and environment. In contrast to the Chalcolithic, where woodlands appear to have been burnt rather than conserved for timber, the Bronze Age saw the emergence of `woodmanship' (49). The use of timber and joinery in the kurgans and wheeled vehicles reveals a level of sophistication in this craft unprecedented in earlier archaeological periods. The reasons for this are as yet unclear, although the development of sturdy bronze axes would have allowed trees to be maintained and utilised without the need for large-scale fires. We need not regard these fires as destructive and indiscriminate ­ their purpose was almost certainly to mould the vegetation to suit the economic life of the people. Arid oak savanna in many countries satisfies not only the timber and firewood requirements of the neighbouring villages, but livestock can be grazed there, game can be hunted, pigs can forage for acorns, crops can be grown between individual oaks, and the trees' leaves can provide valuable stock fodder (50). In this way, agricultural and silvicultural needs are met in a patchwork of trees, grassy meadows and farmsteads. Previous investigations into the Prehistoric Landscapes of the Tsalka and Javakheti Plateaux, and current research taking place near Tbilisi, enable us to further refine the picture of vegetation during the Bronze Age. Using sites from different elevations, we can reconstruct the altitudinal zonation of vegetation belts (Fig. 6). On the Tsalka Plateau, at 2100 m elevation, a prevalence of Betula pollen (51) suggests that a subalpine birch wood formed the upper tree line during the Bronze Age. Today, subalpine `krummholz' woods of Betula litwinowii occur between 2000 and 2600 m above sea level in Eastern Georgia, although most of these plant communities are thought to have been destroyed by recent human activities (52). Below this, a coniferous plant community existed, as indicated by the prevalence of pine, fir and also birch in a pollen record from 1800 m above sea level (53). The Aligol and Imera records indicate
that oak savanna extended upward to at least 1600 m above sea level, and these merged with denser oak-hornbeam forests on the foothills about Tbilisi. Beech forests could have been found on protected, north-facing slopes. The landscape of the Kvemo Kartli lowlands comprised dense swathes of lianafestooned gallery forest along river courses, and a complex mosaic of semideserts, grassy steppes and oak-pistachio savanna on the plains (54). It is clear that events since the Bronze Age have conspired to produce a present-day landscape quite different to that that existed 4500 years ago. CONCLUSION The integrated picture of environmental and archaeological changes we have presented in this paper provides a backdrop for the interpretation of cultural developments in late prehistoric southern Caucasus. The gradual transformation of the Southern Georgian mountain landscape can be charted, in broad terms, from the post-glacial re-emergence of trees during the Mesolithic, through their slow expansion during the Neolithic, to their deliberate and careful management in oak savanna vegetation in the millennia that followed until about 1500 BC. This process was accompanied by an increase in rainfall and temperature that saw a `climatic optimum' peak between 4000 and 2000 BC, which, in cultural terms, is more or less synonymous with the rise and expansion of the Kura-Araxes cultural complex. Indeed, while several factors such as the quest for metals no doubt contributed to the well-known movements of these Kura-Araxes communities, we should once again take note of environmental change as an influencing element in their economic strategies and expansion. As for the tumuli that began to appear in the late third millennium BC, it now seems that they were established soon after open oak woodland became more abundant on the Tsalka Plateau and dense forests spread at lower altitudes. If, as has been argued, these tumuli were cultural and territorial markers, one could ask whether the very adoption of a tumulus was, in fact, an attempt at visibility in an increasingly wooded landscape. Acknowledgements We express our sincere gratitude to Dr. Eliso Kvavadze, Dr. Ian Thomas, Dr. Genia Avakov, Dr. Oleg Bendukidze, Dr. Zaal Kikodze, Dr. Maia Jejelava, Mr. Michael Fletcher, the Todria family, and the Institute of Paleobiology, Georgian Academy of Sciences, for their invaluable fieldwork assistance. All radiocarbon dates in this paper were provided thanks to an Australian Institute of Nuclear Science and Engineering PGR award and the helpful guidance of Dr. Geraldine
Jacobsen, Dr. Henk van der Gaast, Dr. Alan Williams and Dr. Quan Hua at ANSTO. Footnotes 1. Bendukidze, 1979. 2. Ketskhoveli, 1959. 3. Nakhutsrishvili, 1999. 4. Burney and Lang, 1971; Kushnareva, 1997. 5. TCHANTURIA, 2000. Both animals are usually associated with woodland. 6. Maisuradze, 1989. 7. Moore et al., 1991. 8. Connor et al., 2004. 9. Jacobson and Bradshaw, 1981. 10. Bennett, 2002. 11. Behre, 1986. 12. Connor et al., 2004. 13. For example, the Roman Army is known to have burnt down forests during their campaigns in Georgia in 66-65 BC; see LANG, 1966 : 86. 14. Bendukidze, 1979. 15. Chepalyga, 1984; Ballard et al., 2000. 16. Kvavadze and Rukhadze, 1989; Tumajanov, 1971. 17. Kvavadze et al., 1992; Kvavadze and Rukhadze, 1989; Serebryanny, 1984. 18. Kikodze and Koridze, 1978; Janelidze, 1980; Kiguradze and Menabde, 2004. 19. Bendukidze, 1979. 20. Davis et al., 2003; Roberts and Wright, 1993. 21. Kiguradze and Menabde, 2004 : 348. 22. Nebieridze, 1972; Gogitidze, 1978; Kiguradze and Menabde, 2004. 23. Grigolia, 1977. 24. Nebieridze, 1972; Gogitidze, 1978; Kiguradze, 2001a; Kiguradze and Menabde, 2004. 25. Kvavadze and Jeiranashvili, 1989; Kvavadze and Rukhadze, 1989; Neustadt et al., 1965. 26. Ballard et al., 2000; Ryan et al., 1997; Uchupi and Ross, 2000. 27. Aksu et al., 1999; Gцrьr et al., 2001. 28. Kiguradze, 1986; Kiguradze, 2001a; Kiguradze and Menabde, 2004. 29. Janelidze, 1980. 30. VAVILOV, 1992. As demonstrated by the post-glacial increase in Triticum-type in the Lake Aligol pollen record (Fig. 4). 31. Gogichaishvili, 1984a; Gogichaishvili, 1984b; Gogichaishvili, 1990.
32. Bendukidze, 1979. 33. Gogichaishvili, 1984a; Wick et al., 2003. 34. Kiguradze, 1986; Kiguradze, 2001a; Kiguradze and Menabde, 2004. 35. Munchaev, 1982. 36. Kiguradze and Sagona, 2003. 37. Kiguradze, 2001b. 38. Gogichaishvili, 1984b; Margalitadze, 1971; Roberts and Wright, 1993; Wick et al., 2003. 39. cf. Oguchi and Oguchi, 1998. 40. S. CONNOR, unpublished data. 41. Lake Kartsakhi : Margalitadze, 1977. 42. Roberts, 2002. 43. Kiguradze and Sagona, 2003. 44. Ibid. 45. For recent papers see those in Marro and Hauptmann, 2000; Smith and Rubinson, 2003; Sagona 2004a. 46. Sagona, 2004b. 47. Rubinson, 2003. 48. YATSENKO-KHMELEVSKII and KANDELAKI, 1941. Bronze Age Beshtasheni macrofossils were predominantly of oak (45%) and fir (30%). Chalcolithic wood was mainly (60%) alder (Alnus incana), a fireenhanced riparian tree. 49. Rackham, 2001 : 4. 50. GROVE and RACKHAM, 2001. `Savanna' is used here in the broadest sense, denoting arid grassland with trees. 51. Nariani Wetland, near Lake Tabatsquri : MARGALITADZE, 1977. 52. Nakhutsrishvili, 1999. 53. Lake Kartsakhi : Margalitadze, 1977. 54. Gogichaishvili, 1984a; Ketskhoveli, 1959. Bibliography AKSU A.E., Hiscott R.N., and Yaar D. 1999 Oscillating Quaternary water levels of the Marmara Sea and vigorous outflow into the Aegean Sea from the Marmara Sea-Black Sea drainage corridor. Marine Geology 153: 275-302 Ballard R.D., Coleman D.F., and Rosenberg G.D. 2000 Further evidence of abrupt Holocene drowning of the Black Sea shelf. Marine Geology 170: 253-261.
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Table 1 ­ Radiocarbon dates for the Lake Imera and Lake Aligol cores. Calibrated ages are given as the one-sigma distribution with the highest probability statistic (STUIVER and REIMER, 1993). Calendar ages (AD-BC) are provided on the pollen diagrams.
Site and Laboratory Radiocarbon Calibrated age
level (cm) code
(14C yr. BP) (cal. yr. BP)
Imera 54 OZG-619 1010±40
Imera 115 OZG-642 1630±40
Imera 146 OZH-067 2360±40
Imera 198 OZG-623 4030±110 4649-4405
Imera 230 OZH-399 4290±50
Imera 271 OZH-398 6590±60
Aligol 38 OZH-397 190±40
Aligol 70 OZH-396 930±40
Aligol 110 OZH-395 1510±40
Aligol 147 OZH-394 2700±40
Aligol 165 OZH-393 4030±50
Aligol 203 OZH-392 4660±50
Aligol 219 OZH-391 4450±40
Aligol 252 OZH-390 9540±160 11115-10677
Aligol 285 OZH-389 10250±90 12168-11892
Aligol 309 OZH-388 12430±90 14949-14147
Figure 1 ­ Topographic map of Georgia showing the location of the Tsalka Plateau study sites (denoted by stars). The rectangular box surrounding Tbilisi is enlarged in Figure 2. Figure 2 ­ Map of Southern Georgia, comprising the regions of Trialeti and Kvemo Kartli. Pollen sites are marked by stars. Also shown are present-day forest areas (shaded), some archaeological sites mentioned in the text, and the position of the altitudinal transect (W ­ E) elaborated in Figure 6.
Figure 3 ­ Percentage pollen diagram for Lake Imera. Sediment depth and radiocarbon chronology shown at left; pollen zones and charcoal curve shown at right. Hollow curves are exaggerated ten-times. Only major pollen types shown.
Figure 4 ­ Percentage pollen diagram for Lake Aligol. Sediment depth and radiocarbon chronology shown at left; pollen zones and charcoal curve shown at right. Hollow curves are exaggerated ten-times. Only major pollen types shown. Figure 5 ­ Timeline of palaeo-environmental changes on the Tsalka Plateau, southern Georgia. N.B.: Temperature curves were produced by Detrended Correspondence Analysis (HILL and GAUCH, 1980) of pollen data and indicate vegetation responses to temperature variations, rather than temperature variations per se.
Figure 6 ­ Present-day altitudinal distribution of vegetation belts in southern Georgia compared to their proposed distribution during the Early Bronze Age (as reconstructed from pollen data). See Figure 2 for the location and scale of transect (W ­ E).
Minerva Access is the Institutional Repository of The University of Melbourne Author/s: Connor, S; Sagona, A Title: Environment and society in the late prehistory of southern Georgia, Caucasus Date: 2007 Citation: Connor, S; Sagona, A, Environment and society in the late prehistory of southern Georgia, Caucasus, Les Cultures du Caucase (VIe-IIIe millйnaires avant notre иre): leurs relations avec le Proche-Orient, 2007, 1, pp. 21 - 36 Persistent Link: http://hdl.handle.net/11343/55213

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