O. Djaparidze, Professor, Tbilisi State University

Owing to its geographic position, North-Western Colchis had since earliest times been a link between Western Transcaucasia and northern areas of the Caucasus. Recent archaeological finds evidence than man had come to populate Transcaucasia quite early in the past. The Black Sea littoral and the adjacent coastal area of Western Georgia were the lands that hosted ancient man and where he eventually proliferated. North-Western Caucasus probably possessed favourable conditions for man to live and thrive.

Monuments of ancient epochs have been found here, the most noteworthy of them being an Acheullean station of ancient man known as Yashtkhva. Later on ancient man moved northwards - to the basin of the Kuban river.

The subsequent epochs - the Mousterian and upper Palaeolithic periods - saw a more vigorous spread of ancient man over North-Western

Transcaucasia. Presumably, the Upper Palaeolithic epoch witnessed a dramatic cooling of the climate all over Transcaucasia, as well as in the entire Caucasus. So, ancient man had to seek other habitats with a more favourable climate. At the same time, the population of the Western Caucasus becomes denser, especially so in its north-western part and in the basins of the rivers Rioni and Kvirila. Quite well known in North-Western Colchis are the following Upper Palaeolithic sites: Apiancha Svanta Savane, Tsivi Mgvime and other stations. At that time the population of the Caucasus, particularly in Transcaucasia was chiefly concentrated in Western Transcaucasia. This circumstance brought various groups of people together and promoted the formation of a homogeneous culture. It may be surmised that Western Transcaucasia was home to the all-Caucasian ethnic culture.

During the subsequent Mesolithic period the climate changed again and the present geological period - the Holocene epoch - set in. Monuments from this time in North-Western Transcaucasia are well known: Kvachara, Apiancha, Djermukhi, Tsivi Mgvime, etc. The Mesolithic times saw the beginning of a large-scale proliferation of man throughout the Caucasus thanks to the now friendlier natural conditions, which process contributed to disintegration of homogeneous cultures. At this time local variants of culture were formed in different regions of the Caucasus. The population infiltrated here mostly from Western Transcaucasia and its spread all over this large territory was to contribute to the disintegration of the all-Caucasian ethno-cultural community.

The New Stone Age - the Neolithic - is one of the most significant epochs in the life of mankind, during which the foundation was laid for new forms of economy - agriculture and animal husbandry. The Neolithic culture was to stem from the local Mesolithic bases. This is well evidenced by the monuments from North-Western Colchis - Apiancha, Tsivi Mgvime, etc. where Early Neolithic materials have been unearthed from under Late Mesolithic strata. Neolithic monuments are well known in this region of Colchis - Gali I, Gumurishi, Chkhortoli, Kistriki (near Gudauta), etc.

This period could have perhaps seen the formation of a rather strong tribal organization. Late Neolithic sites are well known here, mostly in the coastal area - Machara, Gvandra, Guadikhu ,etc. Quite noteworthy are the hoes of the so-called "Sochi-Adler" and the "Sukhumi" types unearthed chiefly in the coastal area between Gagra and Sochi. These hoes are traced back as originating from Western Asia where similar implements occur as used in the early stages of the development of agriculture. However, the form of these hoes could have well been evolved locally.

The transition to the new forms of economy caused a substantial

growth of the population which doubtless pointed to the efficiency of the agricultural system. Settlement of the redundant population over a large territory contributed to gradual alienation of the people from one another which, in a certain measure, found its reflection on the material culture. By the close of the Neolithic period the cultural community loses its unity, and the process of disintegration of all-Caucasian community that had started as early back as during the Mesolithic times becomes still better expressed. We can make judgement of all these rather sophisticated processes proceeding from archaeological material that has been unearthed. In actual fact, material culture is the basic source of our information that can throw light on the ethno-cultural processes that took place in the Caucasus in the most ancient times. Other information, such as linguistic, or anthropological is practically absent.

It is almost impossible to say anything definite about the linguistic situation of the population in the Late Neolithic times. The disintegration of a single cultural community couldnt have failed to tell on the language the people spoke. The cultural peculiarities observable locally could have probably indicated disintegration of the ethno-linguistic community too. As far back as in the Mesolithic times dialectal groups of the all-Caucasian language began to drift apart from one another which, to a certain extent, was promoted by the geographic relief of the Caucasus. The linguistic community gradually loses its communal character, and the all-Caucasian language gradually breaks up into so many related tongues.

It may be inferred that by the close of the Stone Age (7th-6th millennia B.C.) the Caucasian social and linguistic community fell apart. By this time the main ethnic groups of the ancient population of the Caucasus should have germinated: East Caucasian, West Caucasian and South Caucasian together with the delineation of the territories of their habitation. The north-western part of the Caucasus was mainly peopled by the parent Abkhazian-Adyghe population, the North-Eastern part of the Caucasus gathered on its territory the parent Nakho-Daghestani community. South Caucasian parent Kartvelian tribes lived in Western Georgia and in the main areas of central Transcaucasia.

Thus, the turn of the epochs from Stone Age to Metal witnessed disintegration of the all-Caucasian community, and ancestors of all the peoples of the Caucasus came to the fore and occupied the historic arena here.

First human settlements on the territory of the Colchian Plain appear at the beginning of the Metal Epoch. Most noteworthy in its northern part are those at Ochamchiri, some remains of stations at Machara, Gvandra and elsewhere. In the Early Bronze epoch the dolmen culture becomes widespread in North-Western Colchis. In the latter half of the 3rd millennium B.C. an original culture takes shape in Western Transcaucasia whose roots can be traced to the local Neolithic culture. No essential changes in the ethnic composition of the population are observable.

Issues concerning the origin of the most ancient population of the Caucasus and the primary areas of its habitation have long attracted the attention of researchers. Already ancient authors noted the patchwork fashion of distribution of their contemporary Caucasian peoples over the territory of the Caucasus and located the areas of their original habitation somewhat further down south from where they live today. These views were shared by quite a number of prominent scholars. However, archaeological finds dramatically changed the idea of where the Caucasian peoples originally lived and the concept of their local origin comes to the fore. Issues of the ethnogenesis of the most ancient population of the Caucasus have long been the object of investigation of linguists. Despite the fact that studies of the Caucasian languages have a long history, scholars are still divided as to the kinship between these tongues_. The thing is that genetic ties between the Caucasian languages go back into the most ancient past and their reconstruction is extremely problematic. However, it may be assumed that all the Caucasian languages take their origin from one parent language from which the Caucasian autochthonous languages stemmed and branched out later on. This process appears to have been quite long and complicated. As will be seen, differentiation of the all-Caucasian language began as early back as at the end of the Palaeolithic period, in the Mesolithic and in the Early Neolithic epochs.

There also exists another - an opposite view of the Caucasian languages which questions their kinship, particularly that of the Kartvelian and the North Caucasian languages. It is, doubtless, extremely difficult to judge of how true the picture of remote past as reconstructed from linguistic data is, but early archaeological materials testify that it was the time when the Caucasus was an area of a gradual change of cultures.

The surmise that the Caucasian tribes and, understandably, their languages penetrated into the area from outside does not seem to be sufficiently well founded. Even if we assume that these tribes had penetrated into the Caucasus from the south, they could not have found this area unoccupied or deserted, but, rather, they found themselves in a densely populated area with a rather developed culture, where the local ethnic element must have played a leading and determining role. Therefore, the view that Caucasian tribes are autochthonous appears more convincing. So all the basic Caucasian peoples must have shared a local ethno-cultural origin.

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