The outstanding success of the studies of the Early Bronze culture of Western Transcaucasia and the South Caucasus carried out over the last two decades (the settled sites at Dikhagudzuba I and II in Anaclias, and also at Ochamchiri, Nosiri, /42/ Saeliao, Machara, Guandra, Gumista I and II, Ispani, Pichori (layers VIII - VII) and elsewhere have enabled the researchers to identify two synchronous cultures on this territory: that of the Rioni-Kvirila rivers basin which was covered by the Kura-Araxes culture and that of the Early Bronze in the Colchian Plain that also covers Abkhazia. This culture is characterized by rough, hand-moulded grained pottery of the Ochamchiri type decorated with bands carved in relief, with riveted handles, cuneiform recesses, etc.
Also conspicuous are the vessels that are rather reminiscent of jars; these are pots, bowls, large pots and salt cellars. Quite specific are stone artifacts (hoes, grain grinders, pestles, flint arrow- and spearheads, flint blades mounted into the inner curvature of sickles) and metal articles (axeheads with a tubular shaft-hole to take the haft, hoes, flat axeheads). The identical material culture almost on the entire Colchian Plain permits us to regard it as a single culture. It should be noticed in this context that this single culture has peculiar features in the area north to the Gumista River, which is characterized by dolmen burials, where the sites are located on natural hills and where hoes of the Sochi-Adler type with gill-like shafts, pearl ornamentations have been unearthed. Owing to its geographical proximity to the cultures higher up to the north, this particular area was under greater influence of the Maikop-Novosvobodnenskaya culture.
An analogous picture is observable in the Middle Bronze period (the first half of the 2nd millennium B.C.) whose material culture is genetically connected with the previous time and repeats it in some way. Some forms and ornaments undergo changes (e.g. the long shafts, oval in the cross section, become shorter and flatter with a round lug); bronze hoes of the Ureki type with a triangular blade appear. These exceptionally close affinities between the materials from both periods enable the researchers to term this culture "Proto-Colchian" without, however, any ethnic implications, but with a view to recording the fact that this culture precedes the so-called "Colcho-Cholchian culture" that became widespread from the middle of the 2nd millennium B.C.
Interrelations between these two cultures constitute one of the basic challenges in the archaeology of Transcaucasia, the question being whether they are genetically connected with each other, or whether we deal here with a culture that naturally comes to succeed another one. There were attempts at tracing the genetic line of development, but none of them was sufficiently convincing. While the line tracing evolution of metal implements and weapons looks more or less acceptable, this cannot be said about pottery and ornaments, largely because no such artifacts belonging to the transition period from the Middle Bronze (Proto-Colchian culture) to the Late Bronze (Colchian culture) had by then been found.
Things have changed dramatically over the last decade. The Abkhazian archaeological expedition working at Pichori identified a separate layer (IV) as containing materials from both the Proto-Colchian and Colchian cultures. Analogous stratigraphy was registered at the Ergeta site and also at Anaclia and Namcheduri which had been studied earlier. Thus, the archaeologists were in a position to identify a whole layer containing mixed materials representing both these cultures. Notably, the character of the stratiography attests that the above /43/ cultures merged gradually, which is only feasible between related cultures. Chronologically, this process unfolded in the 16th-15th centuries B.C., and it enables researchers to both account for the differences between these cultures and indicate those similar elements and factors that link them together genetically (metal, pottery, architecture). All the above gives us sufficient ground to state that these cultures are closely connected with each other and were evolved by ethnically related and geographically close tribes.
The universally accepted theory classes Colchian culture with the Megrelo-Zanian ethnos. This vigorous culture that had taken shape in the southern part of Western Georgia and inAnatolia begins, from the middle of the 2nd millennium B.C., to gradually spread northward and crosses the river Enguri. From the beginning of the 1st millennium B.C. this culture proliferates still farther and over a greater area and comes to cover the entire territory of present-day Abkhazia, probably as far as the Sochi-Adler district.
According to the archaeological data, the proliferating Colchian culture could not help avoiding encounter with the culture of the ethnically related tribes. Otherwise abrupt substitution of one culture by another would be conspicuous.
The above-mentioned nature of the layers deposed in the course of the transition period indicated that the preceding culture could have only been evoked by a related ethnos from the Kartvelian (Georgian) group. This ethnos could have possibly comprised only Svanian speaking tribes who, in our view, lived in the Colchian Plain in the Early and Middle Bronze epochs. After gradual proliferation of the Megrelo-Zanian ethnos to the north, some Svanian tribes partially assimilated with the Megrelian ethnos, while the main bulk of these tribes moved to the highlands and started developing these territories. This process also had economic implications. In the Colchian Plain we find sites of advanced metallurgy and metalworking dating back to the 3rd millennium B.C. Using the ore brought over from the south slopes of the Greater Caucasus Mountain Range, the metal smelters and smiths fully met the local demand for their produce. From the latter half of the 2nd millennium B.C. and especially throughout the 1st millennium B.C. bronze metallurgy attains the peak of its development. Demand for copper ore grows which stimulates vigorous development of the Caucasian highlands in Racha, Svaneti and Abkhazian Svaneti - a fact corroborated by such burial grounds as those at Brili and Tli.
As mentioned earlier, part of the Svanian population stayed back and assimilated with the Megrelo-Chanians. This process may have found reflection in the ethnonym of the Svano-Colchians referred to by Claudius Ptolemy (Claudius Ptolemaeus, 2nd c. A.D.). Referring to Colchians ancient authors traditionally implied the ethnonym ofMegrelians and the emergence of such an ancient ethnonym may perhaps reflect the historic process which took place in the middle of the 2nd millennium B.C.
The material culture of Western Transcaucasia is closely linked with Georgian tribes (Megrelians, Svans). Yet it is noteworthy that the territory of Abkhazia lying north to the river Gumista appears as a local variant of a whole Colchian (or Proto-Colchian) culture which preserves its specificity throughout the centuries until /44/ late Mediaeval times. Only the south border of this local region varies sometimes.
Despite its local nature and only on a definite territory the material culture of Abkhazia features as an integral part of the Colchian (Georgian) milieu. We are inclined to support the hypothesis that part of the territory of present-day Abkhazia (the northern area) was populated by the tribes referred to in historic sources from the beginning of the Christian era. But these tribes had no genetic connections with the Abkhazo-Adyghe ones who, according to archaeologists, appeared in Abkhazia only in the Late Mediaeval period.