Republic of Georgia: Aruchlo

A Neolithic tell of the 6th millennium BC

Excavations at an Early Neolithic settlement mound

Die Ausbreitung der bäuerlichen Wirtschafts- und Lebensweise aus dem Fruchtbaren Halbmond in die nördlich angrenzenden Gebiete des Kaukasus ist noch unzureichend erforscht. Zwar sind Siedlungen des frühen Neolithikums in diesem Großraum seit längerem bekannt und einige auch durch kleine Grabungen sondiert, doch fehlt es bislang an detaillierten Angaben zu Chronologie, Wirtschaftsweise, Hausbau, Siedlungsstruktur u. a. m. Um diese Kenntnislücke zu füllen, werden seit 2005 Ausgrabungen auf dem frühneolithischen Siedlungshügel Aruchlo I unweit von Tiblissi durchgeführt. Vordergründige Ziele des Projektes sind die Bereitstellung von Basisdaten zur Siedlungs- und Lebensweise sowie zu den Umweltverhältnissen, der Aufbau einer Chronologie der Siedlungshorizonte sowie die Klärung des Verhältnisses zu den benachbarten Tell-Siedlungen. Daneben wird die Rolle Aruchlos im Obsidianhandel eine wichtige Rolle spielen. An der komplexen Erforschung des Platzes und seines Umfeldes sind verschiedene archäologische und naturwissenschaftliche Disziplinen beteiligt. Das Projekt Aruchlo verspricht neue Erkenntnisse zum Prozeß der Neolithisierung in der Kaukasusregion. Langfristig sind weitere Ausgrabungen an frühneolithischen Siedlungen in benachbarten Regionen von Azerbajdjan, Iran und Turkmenistan geplant. Damit ergibt sich die Möglichkeit eines Vergleichs von Anpassungsstrategien früher Bauern an ganz unterschiedliche Umweltbedingungen.



41° 28' 29.0964" N, 44° 41' 14.0712" E

Fig. 1a. Plan of the excavation. © DAIFig. 1. Aerial view of the tell. © DAIThe Neolithic settlement of Aruchlo I is located about 50 km southwest of Tbilisi at the western access to the village Nachiduri on the main route in the direction of Bolnisi. Only a few hundred meters from this site the Chrami and Masavera rivers, exiting from the mountains, join to flow eastwards and into the Kura river, approximately on the Georgian-Azerbaijan border. The Kura continues southeastwards, draining into the Caspian Sea.

This situation, thus, is indicative of the basic direction of communication between early agriculturalists. Indeed, a number of tell settlements from about the same period of time are located along the Chrami river, for example, Sulaveris-Gora, Imiris-Gora and Chramis Didi-Gora in Georgia and farther to the southeast in the area of the Kura river Somutepe and Toiretepe in Azerbaijan. In view of their comparable architecture, pottery and other archaeological material, these tell settlements can be ascribed to the "Sulaveri-Somatepe-Group".
Further, their connections to nearby eastern Anatolia were likely of no lesser significance, where typical pottery of the Sulaveri-Somatepe-Group was also found.


Fig. 2. Aruchlo. Circular structure, excavation in 2005. © DAIAs early as the 10th millennium BC human subsistence activities and ways-of-life that were based upon agriculture developed in the so-called "Fertile Crescent", an area extending in a curve from the Levant in the west through the Taurus mountains in the north to the Zagros mountains in the east. This subsistence replaced mankind's earlier form of existence by hunting and gathering, which had endured for millions of years. The cultivation of cereals and the domestication of animals developed over the course of several millennia. The most influential archaeologist of the 20th century, V. Gordon Childe, termed the transition from the hunter-gatherer to the agrarian way-of-life appropriately as the "Neolithic Revolution", not only in view of the rapidity of change, but also the far-reaching effects of this rapid change in all aspects of life.

Since the 7th millennium BC farming and stock-raising spread successively from the Near East towards the West, to Anatolia and Greece as well as the Balkan peninsula. Whereas the process of Neolithic expansion to the west can be followed relatively well, it is difficult to trace to the north and east of the Fertile Crescent due to the lack of modern excavations and research.

Fig. 2a. View of the excavation during the 1960s © DAINew excavations in Aruchlo can contribute towards increasing our knowledge about these early agriculturalists in the Caucasus. Conducted over a longer term, they could be the first in a series of excavations in Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkmenistan, which would fill in this deficit in information. Comparable perspectives could be gained concerning the varied strategies used by early farmers in adapting to their new environment.

Therefore, one of the main objectives of the new excavations in Aruchlo is to gather as much data as possible that is relevant for a reconstruction of the environment in prehistoric times. This would include botanical and zoological remains, examinations of sediments and others, which would be integrated into a framework of secure radiocarbon dates.

A further endeavour of the project is to provide students of archaeology in Georgia with the opportunity of gathering experience on excavations.

History of Research

A number of excavations at tell settlements of the "Sulaveri-Somutepe-Group" have been conducted since the 1960s. The settlements are characterised by relatively small circular structures built of mudbrick (Fig. 2-3) as well as pottery typically decorated with knobs (Fig. 12-13), but rarely red-polished clay vessels. There was an energetic production of bone artefacts, including needles and above all awls as well as axes and hammers made of antler (Fig. 5). Abundant use was made of tools made of obsidian (Fig. 6). Clay figurines are rare in Aruchlo, in contrast to their prolific appearance in coeval settlements in Mesopotamia and the Zagros mountains. Botanical and zoological investigations could not be correlated with settlement layers, functional contexts or a sufficiently fine network of 14C dates.

Fig. 4. Carnelian pendants and beads. © DAI Fig. 5. Bone needles and spatula. © DAI Fig. 6. Obsidian tools. © DAI

Previous Activities

Excavations were conducted in Aruchlo under the direction of T.N. Čubinisvili between 1966 and 1976 and under D. Gogelia between 1978 and 1985. Older excavations encompassed one central area and several long trial trenches that served to investigate a ditch complex. A total of 936 square meters of the tell settlement was uncovered. However, the documentation recorded as well as the finds made during this time were largely destroyed by a fire in the excavation house.

The excavators were able to distinguish six settlement horizons in the excavated areas, of which the two uppermost were severely disturbed by later Bronze Age intrusions. The undisturbed lower layers contained circular structures of various sizes (Fig. 2), which presumably served different functions. They were densely built without any recognisable hierarchic distinction.

Recent Activities

Fig. 8. Polished clay vessel. © DAIFig. 7. Polished clay vessel. © DAIAfter achieving primary information about the state of preservation of the architecture during the summer excavation of 2005, in 2006 four trenches measuring 4 x 4 m were opened. The best preserved building thus far is slightly oval in plan with a maximum inner diameter of 2.30 m; its walls were about 20 cm thick and preserved up to a height of 1.2 m (Fig. 2; 9). The fill of the abandoned structure consisted of several compact layers of ash containing pottery and tools made of obsidian and bone. The lower layers contained the mudbrick rubble from the upper collapsed walls; the original floor level lay below the rubble. Only few finds were found on the floor, among these a bone hammer that lay close to the wall.

Fig. 10. Structure built of dark mudbricks. © DAIFig. 9. Circular structure with adjoining mudbrick walls. © DAIThe circular structure was built of yellow mudbricks that were set in thin layers of a dark adhesive material. Upon their erection, a final plaster-like coating was applied to the structures. In order to determine the relationship of the various structures to each other this plaster coating was removed. This enabled the joins of walls that were added later to be distinguished from those that were built at an earlier time. Two courses of wall join in the smaller circular structure, which - when the corresponding parts of the building are brought to light - would increase its size to a presumed 5-6 m in diameter.

Fig. 12. Pottery with relief decoration. © DAIFig. 11. View of trench K. © DAIAside from yellow mudbricks, dark brown mudbricks were used in Aruchlo as well (Fig. 10). They are very difficult to recognise in the earth, especially since they have a plano-convex form. Furthermore, the bricks were set rather irregularly in places. Nevertheless, it can be stated that a large number of structures were built of dark mudbricks, which strengthens the impression of dense construction all the more.

As in other parts of the excavated area, the southern part of trench K is disturbed by large pits of later date. In this case an encircling wall was dissected, of which thirteen layers of brick could be discerned (Fig. 11). The wall had been renewed several times.

Fig. 14. Macehead. © DAIFig. 13. Pottery with relief decoration. © DAITo the first repair phase belongs a use horizon, upon which a row of larger stones lay. To the later repair phase belongs another use horizon that contains a number of hand-grinders (querns and handstones or pounders). Large examples were found inverted, that is, with the work surface downwards.

More than 11,000 sherds were found in Aruchlo during the excavations in 2005-2007. Ca. 90 % thereof can be assigned to the Neolithic period. All of the sherds are hand-formed and exhibit clearly working traces such as finger impressions on the exterior surface. The clay was tempered with minerals; the sherds are often poorly fired and show traces of fire. The wall thickness of the vessels ranges between 0.5 and 1.2 cm. Most of these fragments have a rough, barely smoothed surface ranging from yellow-orange-red to grey-brown in colour, or a greyish to olive-green slip. Almost one-third of the corresponding vessel rims is decorated with longish or oval knobs (Fig. 4). In general, the knobs were adfixed to the rim before firing, while the clay was still moist; only in a few cases were they pressed into the clay. Most of the knobs are aligned in a simple row, seldom with alternating spaces. The majority of sherds bear either one or up to eight knobs; one exceptional piece has 15 small round knobs (Fig. 12). Further, some sherds display a relief decoration of circles (Fig. 13), semicircles, wavy lines or small rectangular applications. Fig. 16. Querns and mortars. © DAIThere are also combinations of different kinds of decoration. In addition, relatively thin-walled sherds without decoration, but with an evenly finished, smoothed surface account for a well-polished, reddish ware, which makes them quite distinctive among the other sherds described above. This red-polished ware represents less than 10 % of the total assemblage of Neolithic sherds.

Among the vessel forms that have been distinguished thus far are primarily simple small dishes and slightly globular pots, some with a horizontal grip. Further, there are small bowls, lids with a knob as grip and flat bases. All of the bases display mat impressions, plaited in a spiral manner.

Among the noteworthy small finds are several carnelian pendants (Fig. 4) and a clay cone ("token"). A stone macehead was found in 2007 (Fig. 14). Special mention should be made of the broad spectrum of mortars, querns of various shapes, pounders and other stone artefacts (Fig. 15). The nearby rivers were likely the inexhaustible source of raw materials of great variety. Thus, small river pebbles with a naturally elongated shape could be easily utilised as runners and polishers, as indicated by their worn surfaces and shiny patination (Fig. 16).

Cooperation / Cooperation partners

Excavations in Aruchlo are conducted in cooperation with the Archaeological Center "Otar Lordkipanize" of the Georgian Academy of Sciences, represented by Dr. Guram Mirzchulava. Participating again in the investigations are: Prof. Dr. Ivan Gatsov and Petranka Nedelcheva (stone tools), Katrin Bastert, M.A. (pottery), Dr. Baoquan Song (geomagnetics), Prof. Dr. Norbert Benecke (archaeozoology) and Dr. Reinder Neef (archaeobotany). Members of the excavation team in 2007 included: Michael Ullrich (Eurasia Department of the DAI), Joni Abuladze, Dr. Irma Berdzenishvili, Elene Charebava, Tamar Kentschoshvili, Marina Kurdaze, Illo Songulashvili, Tea Udesiani, Dimitri Zhvania and Jean Zivzivadze (all from Tbilisi), and Daniel Neumann, Annika Hotzan-Tshabashvili, Vladimir Josseliani und Levan Tchabashvili (Freie Universtät Berlin).

In addition, the Eurasia Department is engaged in further cooperative excavation projects in Georgia: in Tachti-Perda and the Bronze Age gold mine at Saktrissi, in which the Deutsches Bergbaumuseum in Bochum is also involved.
Fig. 17. The excavation team of 2007. © DAIFig. 16. Stone tools. © DAIExcavations at Udabno under the direction of Manfred Korfmann () have been completed in the meantime and a preliminary report was recently published in the Archäologischen Mitteilungen aus Iran und Turan: J.-K. Bertram/K. Picxelauri, Vorbericht über die Ausgrabungsarbeiten in Udabno (Ostgeorgien) im Jahre 2005. AMIT 37, 2005, 323ff.


S. Hansen, G. Mirtskhulava, K. Bastert-Lamprichs, I. Gatsov, P, Nedelcheva, D. Neumann, M. Ullrich, Aruchlo 2007. Bericht über die Ausgrabungen in einem neolithischen Siedlungshügel. Archäologische Mitteilungen aus Iran und Turan 39, 2007 (im Druck).

S. Hansen, G. Mirtskhulava, K. Bastert-Lamprichs, Aruchlo 2005-2006. Bericht über die Ausgrabungen in einem neolithischen Siedlungshügel. Archäologische Mitteilungen aus Iran und Turan 38, 2006, 1-34.

S. Hansen, G. Mirtskhulava und K. Bastert-Lamprichs, Aruchlo: A Neolithic Settlement Mound in the Caucasus. Neo-Lithics 1/07, 13-19.

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