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Full Access Recent Archaeological Finds on the Upper Terrace of the Vani Site

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Recent Archaeological Finds on the Upper Terrace of the Vani Site

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The site of Vani, in western Georgia, the ancient land of Colchis, is situated 30 km northeast of Kutaisi. Located near the confluence of the Sulori and Rioni Rivers, the ancient town spread over three terraces on a 200 m high hill with a commanding view over the fertile valley below. Large-scale archaeological excavations are conducted at Vani since the 1940s. The site was occupied uninterruptedly from the 8th century to the mid-1st century BC. Archaeological excavations in recent years (2002-2006), carried out on the upper terrace of the Vani city-site, were marked with extremely interesting finds, among which stand out a series of rich graves and ritual burials of bronze figurines. Similar figurines, both bronze and iron, have already been found at the Vani site. Six of seven figurines were specifically made for a ritual, while only one, that of the Satyr, was re-employed in this ritual.

In 2002-2005 seven graves were uncovered on the upper terrace, five of which had already been robbed in antiquity. The two other were partially damaged by a later construction. All burials are four-sided pits, cut into the bedrock. The pits were, as a rule, filled with large-sized pebbles. The distribution of iron nails around the perimeter of the larger graves indicates the presence of wooden constructions. In some graves human and animal (horse) sacrifice was evidenced. Though only inhumation was practiced, no strict rites have been followed: grave No. 22 proved to be a collective burial containing at least four individuals of the same rank, while, by contrast, one main deceased is identified in grave No. 24, accompanied by four servants; the small dimensions of grave No. 28 presuppose the existence of only one occupant. The orientation of the deceased varies too. These features link recently discovered graves with those of both earlier (mid-5th and first half of the 4th century BC) and contemporary times. Grave No. 22 might be dated to the second half of the 4th century BC. A coin of Panticapaeum dates grave No. 24 to the third quarter of the 4th century BC.

In the recently excavated graves the coexistence of traditional and new funerary practices, characteristic of the Hellenistic period, was evidenced. Among new elements is the placement of death-coins, as well as amphorae in graves. Recent finds allow us to speak about the appearance of a new custom in Early Hellenistic period Vani too. This is the arrangement of a special platform along the south wall of the pit for servants and pet animals. Among previously excavated synchronous graves only one (grave No. 9) featured this element. The use of coins in the cult of the dead seems not to have been limited in placing Charon's obol in a grave; rather, the large number of silver coins in grave No. 22 might be interpreted as another manifestation of placing death-coins in burials; it is more likely that these coins were offered for their intrinsic worth as a grave gift. Silver belts, found in graves Nos. 22 and 24, add new elements.

The deceased in grave 22 were furnished with silver torques of the same type, which points to their relative status in relation to one another. The same seems to be true for the servants or slaves buried together with the principle occupant of grave 24, who were adorned with silver torques of the same type. The question arises whether these torques are indicatives of a definite social stratum. The quantity and quality, as well as the repertoire of grave furniture of the principal deceased in burial No. 24, give grounds to reckon the buried person a representative of the local elite.


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Affiliations: 1: Otar Lordkipanidze Centre for Archaeological Studies, Georgian National Museum, Uznadze 14, Tbilisi 0102, Georgia


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