T. Kiguradze - The Chalcolithic - Early Bronze Age transition in the eastern Caucasus
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Tamaz Kiguradze

The Chalcolithic - Early Bronze Age transition in the eastern Caucasus.

In: Chronologies des pays du Caucase et de l’Euphrate aux IVe-IIIe millénaires. From the Euphrates to the Caucasus: Chronologies for the 4th-3rd millennium B.C. Vom Euphrat in den Kaukasus: Vergleichende Chronologie des 4. und 3. Jahrtausends v. Chr.Actes du Colloque d’Istanbul, 16-19 décembre 1998. Istanbul: Institut Français d'Études Anatoliennes-Georges Dumézil, 2000. pp.321-328. (Varia Anatolica, 11);

In the early forties Boris Kuftin coined the term "Kura-Araxes" and provided the first clear definition of this cultural assemblage in the Transcaucasus. For him the Kura-Araxes period belonged to the Eneolithic, or what we now call Late Chalcolithic, which he dated to the late 4th and 3rd millennium B.C. According to Kuftin, the Early Bronze Age was characterized by the increase in metal work that is represented at such sites as Sachkere and early Trialetian Kurgans. Since the sixties, however, certain scholars have viewed the Kura-Araxes as belonging primarily to the Early Bronze Age. During the last few decades a number of settlements have been discovered in the eastern Caucasus that relate to the transition between the Shulaveri and Kura-Araxes cultural complexes. These settlements which in eastern Georgia number more than twenty are grouped by the author into a cultural complex termed "Sioni". Similar sites have been reported in Armenia, Azerbaijan and the northeastern Caucasus, in the latter they are represented by settlement Ginchi. This paper will focus on the precursors of the Kura-Araxes which have only become known to us in recent decades. Furthermore, I will suggest a possible connection between what is here termed as the "Sioni" cultural complex and the earliest Kura-Araxes phase.

In eastern Transcaucasus the Shulaveri culture, best represented by Shulaveris Gora, Imiris Gora and Khramis Didi Gora in Georgia, Shomu Tepe in Azerbaijan, and Khatunarkh in Armenia, encompasses 5th millennium the Neolithic b.c. (uncalibrated). and Early Chalcolithic The Shulaveri periods culture that fall is between characterized approximately by : the mid-6th to the - mud brick circular cell compounds consisting of domestic quarters and storage; - coarse, handmade pottery reflecting a limited repertoire of jars and pots, fired mainly to a greyish brown colour. Certain vessels bear relief or incised decorations; - a lithic assemblage consisting of a sophisticated blade industry; - a very rich bone and antler assemblage. The late Shulaveri period merges almost imperceptibly with the following cultural developments that extend from the late 5th millennium B.C. to the mid-4th millennium B.C. termed "Sioni" by me. The main characteristics of the Sioni cultural complex are as follows:


Altitudinally, Sioni sites are found on the valley floors, foothills and uplands, a zone which extend from 300 m above sea level to almost 2000 m. This range of ecological zones occupied by the inhabitants of Sionian sites contrasts with the distribution of Shulaveri sites which are invariably positioned on the lowlands, but compare well with the geographical distribution of Kura-Araxian sites. These Sioni sites are found in the central and eastern part of north Caucasus, eastern Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia.


Sites are generally one period, shallow and small, occupying an area of no more than 1 hectare. A small number of sites, however, have Sionian deposits stratified either above Shulaverian levels (Alikemek Tepesi), or below Kura-Araxian ones (Berikldeebi, Aranisi, Araplos Gora in Georgia, Ovchular Tepesi in Azerbaijan, and Geoy Tepe M near Urmiah). This absence of a deep and reliable stratified sequence necessitates a periodization of material culture based on typology and seriation.


Architecture is mostly mud brick, but poorly represented at Sionian sites. The best example comes from Berikldeebi where a large public building (possibly a temple, according to the excavators, Alexander Djavakhishvili and Lili Glonti) and an enclosure wall were uncovered in level V. The building measures about 14.5 x 7.5 m, and consists of three rooms - a large and two small ones. Evidence of domestic houses at Berikldeebi was scanty. Houses, rectangular in form, are better represented at Alikemek Tepesi and Leila Tepe, where multi-roomed structures were exposed. A fragmentary section of a curved stone wall about 4 m in length and 80 cm in width, preserved to a height of a metre, was found at Sioni. Common to all Sioni sites are pits that are either straight-sided or bell-shaped and generally larger than a metre in a diameter. Evidence of plaster on the interior face is rare.


Ceramics from the site of Sioni, attributed to the early Chalcolithic, are hand made, using slabs of clay clearly evident in cross section. The fabric is mostly grit tempered and often micaceous, and fired to a reddish brown colour on the exterior and pale greyish on the interior. Certain vessels are fired to a pale brown colour all over and display a dark grey /black core. The least common are sherds that have a consistent colour (pale brown) throughout. Surfaces are mostly slipped and either smoothed or lightly burnished. Additionally, some pieces are flint-scraped on one or both surfaces. Typologically, vessels are mostly ovoid-bodied jars or pots with a sinuous profile, though angular forms are not uncommon. They have a straight or everted neck, or have a hole-mouth. Bases are generally flat with spiral basket impressions. Hole-mouth jars and flat bases, typical of the earliest phase of the Sioni complex, are also attested at late Shulaverian sites, suggesting either a chronological overlap between the two periods, or that they are consecutive. Rims are often decorated in the following ways:

- perpendicular or oblique incisions on the lip; - perpendicular or oblique shallow grooves on the lip; - perforations on the lip; - crinkled rim; - serrated rim. The closest parallels that may be drawn with the ceramic repertoire from Sioni are to be found at Jinvali and Tsiteli Sopeli where the perforated and incised lip type, and the serrated rim occur. At Alazani III (Kviriastskali) the decorated rims are restricted to two types: the incised and perforated lip. Noteworthy are the numerous mat-impressed bases. Elements new to the ceramic tradition, including solid knobs, tab handles, perforations around the rim, loop handles joining neck to shoulder, and a finger-impressed relief band around the body. The next stage of development is represented at Damtsvari Gora which has produced only the obliquely incised lip, perforated rim, solid knobs and tab handles. New forms appear at Tsopi, including bag-shaped vessels with sharply flared rim or gently everted neck. Chaff-temper is also introduced. Continuity with the earlier phases, however, is evident in ornamentation, with certain vessels having the serrated rim, incised lip, solid knobs and perforations around the rim. The final stage of the Sioni sequence is attested at Berikldeebi V, Tekhut and Leila Tepesi whose pottery is similar to the chaff-tempered wares at Tsopi, but with a marked decrease in decoration which is represented only by incised lips. Broad shallow plates are the only new form to be introduced during this phase.


Ninety-four percent of chipped stone from Sioni is manufactured from obsidian and present an equal quantity of flakes and blades. Microliths are very rare. Formal tools are mostly blades. Some specimens display fine shallow, squamous retouching over the entire surface. The most common tool types, in order of quantity, are: - pièce écaillée; - end scraper; - burins; - awls. Ground stone objects such as saddle querns and rubbers are not as conspicuous as during the Neolithic. As the Sioni sequence develops, the lithic tradition is represented by a greater proportion of flakes. The fine squamous retouching evident at Sioni is represented by only a few pieces at Alazani III which has also yielded a pièce écaillée, an end scraper and burins. During the last stages, as represented at Berikldeebi, stone tools are predominantely obsidian flakes; the few blades recovered are almost all manufactured from flint.


A few examples of arsenical bronzes point to a period of experimentation with metallurgy. Types are standardized and comprise:

- square-sectioned awls (Alazani III, Berikldeebi, Tekhut and Leila Tepesi); - spiral bracelet (Berikldeebi); - knife (Tekhut).


Bone and antler tools are rare and stand in contrast to the Shulaveri assemblage.

CONCLUSION (Tables 1-2)

The material culture outlined above that may be placed chronologically between the Shulaveri and Kura-Araxes period is marked by subtle regional and inter-site variability. Only a few common denominators are evident:

- pale brown slipped ceramics with mica inclusions; - the manufacture of vessels using the slab technique, seen as laminations in cross section; - incised decoration along the lip of vessels; - vessels bearing a flint-scraped surface. This characteristic of variability together with the absence of a deep stratigraphy suggests, for the time being, that the Sioni period should be viewed as comprising a cultural complex. The earliest sites of the Sioni complex have parallels only with the Neolithic of western Georgia (Odishi, Anaseuli II, and Gurianta). Notably different, however, are the lithic industries of the two regions. The style of ornamentation using a relief band with finger impressions around the body, evident at the sites of Alazani III and Damtsvari Gora, may be compared with a similar decorative concept used in the Early Chalcolithic level at Korucutepe. The Korucutepe connection is further strengthened in the Late Chalcolithic period when comparisons may be drawn with Late Sionian sites. These with their chaff- tempered, bag-shaped ceramics point to Amuq F, Gawra XII-IX, and Late Ubaid. This last link is most clearly seen in the painted wares from Tekhut. In some ways, this Sionian complex may be seen as foreshadowing the Kura-Araxes period. Sites of both periods occupied a similar ecological zone which differed from that preferred by the Shulaverian inhabitants. It is tempting to establish a chronological connection between the Late Sioni and the earliest phase of Kura-Araxes because of:

- the Trelli and Grmakhevistavi settlement assemblages which have both chaff-tempered ware and early Kura-Araxes represented by smoothed pale brown vessels; - the handful of early Kura-Araxes sherds found within the Berikldeebi V deposit; - the concept of a contrasting colour scheme, the discrete use of relief ornamentation and perforations under the rim common to both assemblages The earliest Kura-Araxes sites should be placed within the Late Chalcolithic and be seen as transitional to the Early Bronze Age.


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