Issue 1, 2014. February-March

   

VANI: GEORGIA'S BRIDGE TO ANCIENT GREECE

The land of the ancient kingdom of Colchis is poised to draw further links to the Greek world.

Helena Bedwell

While the campaigns of Alexander the Great never touched Colchis, and its landhad never been part of any expansion or colonization by the ancient Greeks, discovery of four bronze lamps found in Vani, a small town in Georgia,confirms Hellenistic influence there.

These excavations have also unearthed as many as 28 burial sites, dating around 500 BC, including the graves of nobles who were buried with locally made gold jewelry, indicating that the region was not only rich in culture, but also blessed withpersons talented in gold craftsmanship.

"This region also generated huge interest from the ancient world not just starting from the Argonauts but also [continuing for] centuries after that," noted Nino Lordkipanidze, the main scientist specializing in religious artifacts filed at the Archeological Research Institute.

Lordkipanidze was disappointed, however, because she was unable to be personally present on that hot day in August 2007, when her colleagues Dimitri Akhvlediani and Darejan Kacharava made the discovery.

Akhvlediani made an emotional phone-call to inform Lordkipanidze about the amazing findings: 25 bronze objects were found in a deep pit, right near the ancient defensive wall of Vani.

Once known as the ancient religious center Kolhi, Vani was a highly developed area, which at that time already had its own unique culture.

Eros, Dionysus the Greek God of Wine and Ecstasy and his wife Ariadne, Heracles and Ganymede, these were all religious icons, and figurines of all of them made their way to Vani from somewhere in Asia Minor, perhaps as imports from the Greek world.

"Vani was under attack and I am confident someone had simply attempted to save these artifacts by hoarding them out of sight and placed them into a pit," Lordkipanidze said.

"The four discovered lamps are in the forms of elephants, just likethose mentioned in Dionysus' triumphant adventure in India - the theme was also used by Alexander the Great - this is why it is important that they were found here in Georgia, proving that it's not just mythology but a matter of fact!"

The lamps are being restored by the Getty Museum laboratories, in collaboration with the Georgian National Museum, and are in a well preserved condition; they are dated around third century B.C. and were buried during the waves destructions of Vani which began around 50 B.C.

Lordkipanidze says that new findings will be displayed eventually in a year or so, but before that more work needs to be carried out to turn Vani into a bigger tourist destination and global hub for ancient archaeology.In addition to these exciting findings, this area is also known as the destination of Jason and the Argonauts.

The World Bank is currently working on a $5 million investment project to improve Vani's infrastructure and tourism potential.

"All we know is that they were noble people buried in this area now known as Vani," Lordkipanidze says.

The 2007 finding was one more sign Vani is not getting the attention it deserves.In 1980s Tim Severin, a British explorer, historian and writer, built a 54-foot (16.5 m) replica of a Bronze Age galley based on a detailed scale model of Jason's Argo, and sailed from northern Greece through the Dardanelles, crossed the Marmara Sea, and passed through the Straits of Bosporus to the Black Sea—a voyage of 1,500 miles (2,400 km)—successfully repeating Jason's legendary voyage to Vani.

Lordkipanidze remembers the amazing meeting that took place in Tckhvishi, near Vani at the Rioni river embankment when the modern "Argo" landed.

"Now we know why the rich-in-gold [moniker]was applied to Colchis," Lordkipanidze said.

"That answers our question why the Greeks came for the Golden Fleece."

Helena Bedwell reports for Bloomberg.