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Nazarlebi (Georgia)

Fig. 1: Nazarlebi from the southwest, with the Shiraki Plain in the background.

Fig. 1: Nazarlebi from the southwest, with the Shiraki Plain in the background.

Fig. 1: Nazarlebi from the southwest, with the Shiraki Plain in the background.

As part of a cooperation between the Seminar for Oriental Archaeology and Art History at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (Felix Blocher) and the Laboratory for Visual Anthropology and Local History at Ilia State University Tbilisi (ISU) (Paata Bukhrashvili), excavations began in 2017 at the Nazarlebi hill on the edge of the Shiraki Plain in Kakhetia (Eastern Georgia). It is a larger (ca. 150 x 130 m) and easily recognisable complex surrounded by ramparts, situated in hilly terrain, directly at the transition to the plain (Fig. 1).

Fig. 2: Wall section 2017 from the south with small dry stone walls and the stone pack above (front).

Fig. 2: Wall section 2017 from the south with small dry stone walls and the stone pack above (front).

Fig. 2: Wall section 2017 from the south with small dry stone walls and the stone pack above (front).

It has been named Nazarlebi after the neighbouring Nazarlebi Mountains. In a test cut in 1991, B. Maisuradze and G. Mindiashvili had found pottery there, which they dated to the 13th-11th centuries BC (Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age). An explorative excavation by A. Furtwängler's team in 1997 had yielded only two sherds, which were described as inconclusive. In 2007/2008, in connection with a kurgan excavation in the plain directly below Nazarlebi, further sondages were made through rampart complex by V. Varazashvili. Thanks to a start-up grant of the German Oriental Society a first excavation campaign in autumn 2017 was possible for the recent cooperation. We were able to excavate in an area on the eastern edge of the upper rampart ring. This part was chosen, because here erlier works had already been carried out.

Fig. 3: Gate section 2017 from the west

Fig. 3: Gate section 2017 from the west

Fig. 3: Gate section 2017 from the west

Here, simple dry stone wall settlements of larger and smaller pebbles in different orientations were found (Fig. 2). These could be primitive "boxes" of the rampart construction. A gate-like situation in a slight depression of the rampart could also be observed (Fig. 3).

On the Georgian side, the Georgian-German team consisted of the representatives of Ilia State University: Paata Bukhrashvili (archaeologist), Zurab Tskvitinidze (prehistorian), Guram Kipiani (building researcher) and Shorena Davitashvili (archaeologist). On the German side, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg was represented by Felix Blocher (archaeologist) and Annika Jochens and Judith Gwen Schulz (archaeology students). The field work were carried out by eight skilled Georgian workers.

Fig. 4: Bronze depot on the plateau from the east

Fig. 4: Bronze depot on the plateau from the east

Fig. 4: Bronze depot on the plateau from the east

In January 2018, an application was submitted to the Gerda Henkel Foundation for the continuation of the excavations, which was unfortunately rejected in March. We would like to thank Dr Simone Arnhold for providing the necessary sum from her HSP funds for teaching excavations, so that the work could be continued in August and September 2018. The second excavation campaign was preceded by an international workshop, which took place in Halle in May 2018 (see separate entry or LINK). Work carried out during the 2018 campaign: 1) First, the investigation of the gateway was continued by extending the existing excavation area to the north ("gateway section"). Further stone settings were revealed running from the gateway to the rampart adjoining it to the north. 2) Two areas were opened on the central plateau ("Plateau dig 1 and 2"). The eastern one revealed various stone settings, which can be roughly divided into two phases, the younger of which was already partly visible on the surface. In the western area on the plateau ("Plateau dig 2"), irregular stone settings were also already visible on the surface. When they were uncovered, a bronze deposit was found (Fig. 4), which consisted of 484 pieces in total, of which 457 were non-functional mock sword made of thin sheet metal. The remaining pieces consisted of a sword and a dagger, which probably formed a set, 14 lance points, two implements with two points connected by a concave edge, a double axe and a miniature axe, a sickle, two arm rings and four round plates, some with holes for appliqué. On top of the deposit was an inverted cup, and at the other end, next to the deposit, a shell. In the following days the excavation and recovery of the bronze depot were completed and an approximately 1 m wide double-shelled wall made of limestone and some sandstone blocks was revealed directly to the west of the site, the space between them carefully filled with pebbles (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5: Circular double-shelled stone wall with the site of the deposit (at the southern end of the scale).

Fig. 5: Circular double-shelled stone wall with the site of the deposit (at the southern end of the scale).

Fig. 5: Circular double-shelled stone wall with the site of the deposit (at the southern end of the scale).

The campaign lasted from 18th August until 22nd September 2019. Fieldwork, which started on 22nd August and ended on 19th Septermber, could take place on 24 days; we lost three days due to rain. On average, nine workers were employed per day. The Georgian side was represented by Paata Bukhrashvili, Zurab Tskvitinidze and Shorena Davitashvili; in addition, there were the archaeology students Ana Davitashvili and Nino Tatoshvili and the drivers Bakur Cherkesishvili and Davit Kandelaki. From the Halle side, Felix Blocher and the archaeology students Anna Uhlschmidt and Beatrice Wollny were involved. A preliminary report on the 2019 campaign will appear in the Mitteilungen der Deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft 152 (2020).

The main focus of the campaign was the further uncovering of the presumed wall ring discovered in plateau section (PS) 2 in 2018, which was followed by the depot find (depot find 1) with its weapons and implements (Figs. 4-5). Further areas were laid out in the south (PS 3), in the east (PS 4) and in the south-east (PS 5) of the already open area. In this way it was possible to cover the entire stone circle, including the wide entrance to the east (Fig. 6). From the location of the entrance in the east, can be concluded that deposit 1 from 2018 was located at the other "end" in the west of the site. This also applies to the two depots (Depot Finds 2 and 3, Figs. 7-8) encountered in 2019 (see below).

Fig. 6: View of the sanctuary of Nazarlebi from the south (photo G. Kirkitadze, ISU, 14.09.2019). Plateau sections (PS) 3 and 5 in front, PS 2 and 4 in the back (from the west). In the area left out by the excavation the concreted trigonometric point is located.

Fig. 6: View of the sanctuary of Nazarlebi from the south (photo G. Kirkitadze, ISU, 14.09.2019). Plateau sections (PS) 3 and 5 in front, PS 2 and 4 in the back (from the west). In the area left out by the excavation the concreted trigonometric point is located.

Fig. 6: View of the sanctuary of Nazarlebi from the south (photo G. Kirkitadze, ISU, 14.09.2019). Plateau sections (PS) 3 and 5 in front, PS 2 and 4 in the back (from the west). In the area left out by the excavation the concreted trigonometric point is located.

The wall is circular; the diameter of the presumably central enclosure may have been about 13 m (at present, about a quarter of the circle has been uncovered; the depot was thus located directly on the wall inside the enclosure). The similarity with the East Georgian sanctuary of Shilda in the Alazani valley is obvious, both in terms of architecture and finds. The dating to the Late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age (c. 12th-9th century BC), which results from the depot finds and the abundant pottery, also fits well into this picture.

The composition of the team on the Georgian side was unchanged; on the German side, Max Morten Michalk, Judith Gwen Schulz and Beatrice Wollny participated as students of Oriental Archaeology. Thanks go to the whole team as well as the ten excavation workers from Tavtskaro and Dedoplistskaro, who went about their hard work tirelessly and always in good spirits.

In 2019, the excavations could be continued with the help of funding from the Gerda Henkel Foundation, Düsseldorf. Our great thanks go to the foundation for providing funds for 2019 and a following excavation.

The stone circle has a diameter of about 19 m and is approximately round (Fig. 6). The double-shelled wall has been found practically in only one layer. It was built of slabs and blocks of different sizes and materials. Only in two places the masonry is lying on top of the two-shelled wall still preserved, consisting of slabs or stones; the latter come from the material found in the mound and in the surrounding area. The same material can be found in various stone layers, especially outside the wall enclosure, which may be interpreted as remains from damaged walls.

Fig. 7: Deposit find 2 in PS 3. Sherds of the pot, the jug with frit coating and individual bronze objects are visible.

Fig. 7: Deposit find 2 in PS 3. Sherds of the pot, the jug with frit coating and individual bronze objects are visible.

Fig. 7: Deposit find 2 in PS 3. Sherds of the pot, the jug with frit coating and individual bronze objects are visible.

With the help of drone photos by Giorgi Kirkitadze (ISU) (Fig. 6) and orthophotos by Zurab Tskvitinidze, we were able to generate an accurate drawing of the stone, which will serve as the basis for material investigations and building history clarifications in the next campaign. Apart from the two deposits (DF) in PS 3, we encountered various high-quality individual finds in the interior of the circle (see below).

Fig. 8: Deposit find 3 in PS 3; the imprint of the vessel from deposit 2 can be seen immediately to the south. The position directly at the inner edge of the wall corresponds to that of deposit 1 from 2018 (cf. fig. 5).

Fig. 8: Deposit find 3 in PS 3; the imprint of the vessel from deposit 2 can be seen immediately to the south. The position directly at the inner edge of the wall corresponds to that of deposit 1 from 2018 (cf. fig. 5).

Fig. 8: Deposit find 3 in PS 3; the imprint of the vessel from deposit 2 can be seen immediately to the south. The position directly at the inner edge of the wall corresponds to that of deposit 1 from 2018 (cf. fig. 5).

Deposits 2 and 3 in PS 3, the SW quarter of the circle, were located close to each other and - like DF 1 from 2018 - directly in front of the double-shelled wall (Figs. 7-8). For reasons of excavation progress, they have been found, excavated and recovered one after the other. Both DF 2 and 3 have were stored in small bulbous vessels, which again consisted of already familiar poor quality wares and immediately disintegrated into countless pieces. Nevertheless, a restoration attempt is planned in order to determine the shape of the vessels and perhaps draw a chronological conclusion. Also characteristic of the two deposits is the combination of bronze jewellery objects and beads; there are no weapons or implements among the objects.

Fig. 9: The Lower Terrace North (UTN) from the east.

Fig. 9: The Lower Terrace North (UTN) from the east.

Fig. 9: The Lower Terrace North (UTN) from the east.

Fig. 10: Deposit 2. Ornaments (1).

Fig. 10: Deposit 2. Ornaments (1).

Fig. 10: Deposit 2. Ornaments (1).

Fig. 11: Deposit 2. Ornaments (2).

Fig. 11: Deposit 2. Ornaments (2).

Fig. 11: Deposit 2. Ornaments (2).

DF 2 is the more extensive of the two. It contains about 360 pieces of various flat bronze objects of different shapes, such as pomegranates, leaves, rectangular or rounded platelets (including perhaps armour platelets), axe- and bottle-shaped platelets, flat and convex round discs with different decorations, as well as lunula-like pendants, some with still preserved hangers ending in two spirals (Figs. 10-12). It is interesting that some of these objects are attached to chains (Fig. 12). Individual chain links also occur and are difficult to distinguish from rings, i.e. jewellery.

Fig. 12: Depot find 2. various objects on chains; chain links.

Fig. 12: Depot find 2. various objects on chains; chain links.

Fig. 12: Depot find 2. various objects on chains; chain links.

DF 3 (Fig. 13) is clearly less extensive than DF 2. Several bronze objects, including decorative discs, bracelets, finger rings, a diadem (or undecorated, very narrow belt plate?) and a button are the metal findings. In addition, there are five rather large beads with lengths of 2.5-3.2 cm made of different, not yet exactly determined materials (among them probably agate). As with DF 2, ball and disc beads made of red stones are added, but only a single bag-shaped pendant.

The second large work area in 2019 concerns the lower terrace of the overall complex, specifically its northern area (Fig. 9). There, some rectangular structures are visible in the magnetic recording. To test this finding, several areas were opened on the lower terrace (UTN 1-3, numbered from west to east). They follow the topography and are therefore not uniform in size. UTN 3 was extended to the south and reached up to the upper terrace or plateau at the end of the campaign.

Immediately below the surface of UTN 1-3, fine stone layers appeared, which are compared to those in the eastern area of the lower terrace (2017 campaign), but may also be natural. The entire area is also covered by layers of stones of varying sizes, some of which look like structures but may be simply rolled down material and subsequently concentrated by rainwater. Pottery and small finds were rare in UTN.

Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)

Fig. 13: Deposit 3.

Fig. 13: Deposit 3.

Fig. 13: Deposit 3.

Within the wall circle, individual finds were found in various places, which are probably also to be considered as intentional deposits in the sanctuary. A sword as well as a whole and a fragmentary "razor" (Fig. 14) were found, all three of them comparable to the pieces found in DF 1 (Fig. 4). The whole preserved razor shows different groove decoration, in addition to the three grooves there are two short points emerging from the edge of the handle. Here, too, the two cutting edges are sharp. The same applies to the fragmentary piece, which has a central ridge.

The second group of finds in DF 2 consists of bronze small finds, including bracelets, a complete bronze plastic of a bird with outstretched wings, claws and attached eyes as well as an eyelet for hanging, various buttons and elongated bronze beads with central knobs.

In addition, there are countless small red beads or pendants (made of carnelian, agate, possibly coral) in spherical or disc and bag shape, as well as 16 frit beads of various shapes and two dentalium beads and a fragment of one.

DF 2 also contained the special feature of a small jug (Fig. 7) with a frit coating of light green-bluish colour and incised decoration in triangular shape on the shoulder; this is where the handle, which has not been preserved, attaches. The body area was decorated with vertical lines. Many fragments of the rim and lip of the vessel indicate that they were decorated with narrow lines. The jug itself contained eleven red disc beads and one ball bead.

Fig. 14: Single finds from the stone circle. Sword, two "razors".

Fig. 14: Single finds from the stone circle. Sword, two "razors".

Fig. 14: Single finds from the stone circle. Sword, two "razors".

A small bronze double axe is slightly deformed and shows a good and a bad half of the blade. The points face the shaft hole; there is a triangular widening with a central ridge.

Two clay bread stamps (and a few fragments of such) were also found, a round one with two interlocking spirals and a rectangular one with one central and four outer elements arranged in a circle. Also worth mentioning are a long, carefully crafted flat stone pendant and four serrated flint blades. The latter were all found separately.

Photos

All illustrations, unless otherwise stated, are from the Georgian-German team of the Nazarlebi excavation.


Prof. Dr Felix Blocher

P. Bukhrashvili, F. Blocher, Z, Tskvitinidze, Sh. Davitashvili, Ausgrabungen in Nazarlebi, Kachetien (Georgien) 2017 und 2018. Mittelungen der Deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft 151, 2019, 271-294

P. Bukhrashvili, F. Blocher, Z, Tskvitinidze,  Sh. Davitashvili, Ausgrabungen in Nazarlebi, Kachetien (Georgien) 2019.  Mit einem Beitrag von J. Faßbinder. Mitteilungen der Deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft 152, 2020, 125-154

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