III.3. Caucasus

The Neolithic arrived in the Caucasus during the 7th millennium BC. Farmers began to settle in the Kura–Araxes interfluve, bringing with them traditions different to those found in Anatolia and the Zagros Mountains, developing regional cultures which shared affinities with traditions in northern Mesopotamia and north-western Iran. Three Neolithic traditions can be distinguished: the Shulaveri-Shomu culture, in the central and southern regions; the western Caucasus and east Pontic region, concentrated on the area of Colchis in the foothills and along the coast; and the central and northern Caucasus, from the Surami massif to the piedmont of the northern Caucasus (Sagona 2017).

Certain Georgian sites ca. 6th–5th millennium BC show a transitional material culture (“Pre-Pottery Neolithic”), different from both the Trialetian Mesolithic and Pottery Neolithic traditions. The Pottery Neolithic of central and southern Caucasus is represented by the Shulaveri-Shomu culture, which refers to three groups: the main one, centred in the middle reaches of the Kura River; another one between the Nakhichevan region, Mil Plain, and the Mugan steppes; and the third in the Ararat Plain. This culture is thought to have been started by immigrants from northern Mesopotamia or Iran, interacting with Late Mesolithic communities (Sagona 2017).

In the Kura corridor, the typical Caucasian Neolithic village (small hamlets averaging about 1–1.5 ha) consists of high-density, cell-like compounds of round or oval houses, measuring ca. 2.5–5 m in diameter, and linked by low walls. The building on top of old structures represents a conservative building code, a tradition strongly related to the own ancestors, and thus kinship organisation, with a mentality reminiscent of Çatalhöyük. Some settlements may have been left seasonally, and courtyards were important communal areas, enclosed by small storage cells and houses (Sagona 2017).

In the Ararat plain, similar settlement plans and round structures can be seen. In the southern Caucasus a shift to fully rectangular constructions can be seen in the second half of the 6th millennium BC, reflecting a change in the social organisation, from a more communal-based village to one orientated towards the nuclear family. The plain Neolithic ceramic wares represent a local production displaying affinities with the northern Iranian Plateau (Halaf) or Anatolia (Sagona 2017).

All Shulaveri-Shomu groups are characterised by the abundance and diversity of flake tools, large quantity of scrapers, the adoption of advanced blade techniques, and ground stone artefacts, with the lithic assemblage predominantly formed by obsidian. Their economy is based on animal husbandry, raising sheep, goats, pigs, and cattle, and complementing them with hunting and fishing. Farming included a diversity of crops greater than neighbouring regions (like Northern Iran or the eastern Caspian regions). The beginnings of the wine culture is associated with this culture (Sagona 2017).

The fully-fledged Neolithic farming communities from the Mil Plain, ca 5600–5400 BC, had strong ties to northern Iran and the south Caspian region, but interaction with Shulaveri-Shomu appears to be minimal. Communal co-operation is evident, with a sub-circular planning of mud-brick constructions, with ditched enclosures pointing to potential cattle corrals, enclosed marketplaces, fortifications, or even astronomical observatories with ritual values (Sagona 2017).

Burials do not show unity among the different cultures: most findings involve inhumations, many in a crouched position, positioned either on their back or on the left or right sides (no gender differentiation). Common is the use of figurines depicting humans. Metalworking begins in the Caucasus in the late 6th – early 5th millennium, with emerging jewellery industry, including bead production and far-flung connections with central Asia and its borderlands (Sagona 2017).

In central and northern Caucasus, the evolution of the 7th to the 6th millennium is marked by a change in lithic typology and stone resources, the appearance of Pottery Neolithic, and the addition of agriculture to the subsistence economy (Sagona 2017).