Issue 5, 2016. October-November



A finding at an archeology dig east of Tbilisi has completely changed the history of the Georgian alphabet.

Nino Bakradze

A finding at an archeology dig east of Tbilisi has completely changed the history of writing in Georgia.

Georgian archaeologists found the script, which dates back to 11th or 10th century BC, about a year ago on Grakliani Hill, east of Tbilisi.

An Ancient, Advanced Society

The hill, one of the oldest inhabited areas excavated by archaeologists in the Kaspi region, in eastern Georgia, was the home of an ancient, wealthy society 3,000 years ago, according to Vakhtang Licheli, the head of the archeology expedition at the site.

He said the society that lived on the site was advanced, and worked with iron and steel. The people were also believed to be talented farmers who produced enough wheat to export it to neighboring settlements.

"Almost in every room that we have explored are stone hand mills, which they used to grind their wheat. Wheat culture at Grakliani Hill's city was at a very high level. We have found pots with remnants of wheat meal," Licheli said.

He added that, based on the 300 graves that have been discovered in the area, the people lived well.

"Once, we found the grave of a young woman who was buried with gold and silver necklaces and with a small glass vessel filled with mascara. At this time, they would have imported mascara from the territory of present-day Iran, so this means they must have had money to buy some fancy stuff too," Licheli said.

One of the biggest discoveries, however, has been of a writing script.

Student archaeologists at the site, Grakliani Hill

An Unknown Alphabet

The characters were found on the site of an old temple, and at first Licheli thought it was writing from the 7th century BC, but it turned out to be even older: Miami-based Beta Analytic, the world's largest professional radiocarbon-dating laboratory, determined the script was written in the 11th or 10th century BC.

This makes it the oldest writing ever to be found in the region - and the oldest alphabet in the Caucasus.

The script contains several symbols; most of them bear a resemblance to different alphabets active at that time, like Greek and Aramaic. One symbol is totally unique, however, and does not exist in any yet-known alphabets, Licheli told

Currently, the script, which could change the way scientists believe writing was developed, is at the site covered by a piece of fabric to protect it from the elements and is awaiting further analysis.

Reconstructed view of room

Uncovered by Modern Construction

Archeologists became interested in the site in 2008, when it was uncovered during highway construction.

Licheli, the head of Archaeology Faculty at Tbilisi State University, started exploring the hill with a group of young archeologists. The majority of that group are students, who continue to find artifacts every week. They have uncovered ancient toys, pottery and a 5th-century altar, among other items.

Over the past eight years, just one to two percent of the hill has been investigated, Licheli said. He noted that 50 years of exploration could be necessary for archeologists to discover all that Grakliani Hill has to tell them.

Ritualistic oven used for fire-worship

Ancient Surgery, Religion

So far, the archeologists working on the site - which include specialists from Georgia, as well as the U.S. and Europe - have discovered the city was inhabited by fire worshipers and was probably abandoned after Georgia adopted Christianity in the 4th century AD.

People moved to a neighboring village, Samtavisi, where they built an Orthodox Church.

Scientists have also discovered that the average life expectancy for a citizen of Grakliani Hill was between 40 and 50 years. In addition, the people who lived there used to suffer from tumors and they had the ability to perform some complicated surgeries, such trepanation. A member of the team found a man's skull with a hole - and evidence that he survived the surgery, Licheli said.

Vessels founded on the site

A Museum on a Hill

By the end of 2017, Grakliani Hill will have a new museum, planned for a site just below the hill, according to Nika Antidze, the head of The National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia. The Agency has allocated 300,000 lari for the museum, which will exhibit all the artifacts (currently stored in different museums) that have been found at Grakliani Hill since 2008.