Triangular Pendants from Pre-Classical Colchis

The development of jewelry-making has a long history in Georgia. The earliest gold items have been found in Eastern Georgia, in the so-called Early Burrows Culture. It is dated to the Early Bronze Age (the 3rd mill. B C). The first pick of the development of the goldsmithery becomes in Middle Bronze Age (The end of the 3rd mill - the first half of the 2nd mill. B C), in the so-called Trialeti Great Burrows.

The second stage of the development of the goldsmithery, after TrialeTi Culture, starts in western part of Georgia, in the Pre-Classical period (8th -7th cc. B C) Colchis. In the history of jewelry-making this is the period on the basis of which was created the masterpieces of Colchian goldsmithery from Vani, Sairkhe, Itkhvisi etc. and which represents an important part of our country`s treasure.

Pre-Classical goldsmithing became known based on the archaeological research conducted in recent decades - after the formation of the Colchis archaeological expedition under the leadership of T. Mikeladze when the object of thorough research, together with various monuments, became the collective burial pits. Most of the gold items of this period were found in these burial pits; before that gold items were known as accidentally found hoards.

The re-flourishing of goldsmithing in Colchis was probably also connected with general epoch-making events - at this time, after the great wars and cultural changes, the re-flourishing or re-establishment of goldsmithing took place in many cultural areas (Greece, Etruria, Phoenicia, Lydia etc.). This fact once again emphasizes the active involvement of our country, especially Colchis, in the cultural or trade-economic processes of the outside world. This is confirmed by the first mention of Colchis in Greek and Urartian written sources.

Colchian goldsmithing of the Pre-Classical period includes many items of high technological and artistic value. That is why it is difficult to imagine that they are the pieces of the early stages of goldsmithing. Their creators must have had a lot of experience [Papuashvili, ... 2015: 22], but, unfortunately, earlier gold items have not been found in Colchis yet.

In Pre-Classical Colchian goldsmithing, we find gold items mainly in the form of jewelry - earrings, pendants, beads, temple rings and a large number of plates for decorating items of unknown purpose. In terms of technology, we confirm granulation, filigree, gilding and inlay, which is a very rare occurrence in Caucasian, Scythian and Mediterranean goldsmithing of this period. Of these, granulation is the leading method of embellishing gold items (as well as goldsmithing of the next period).

The purpose of this paper is to consider a group of items common in Pre-Classical Colchian goldsmithing - triangular pendants, which in some cases are attached to the open rings with pierced finials. These pendants were supposed to be part of an earring or a temple ring, although some may have even been used as a pendant. 

The earrings and temple-rings were one of the principal components of headdress decoration in ancient Colchis. According to the current data, such pendants were quite widespread (outside the borders of Georgia - in Armenia and Azerbaijan) and, due to the dates of various complexes, cover a large period (8th – 3rd centuries BC). They are found in settlements, tombs, and accidentally discovered known as the hoards.

One of the sites, where such kind of pendant was found situated in the western Georgia, on the left bank of the river Rioni, in the eastern part of the village Sakorkio. It represents artificial settlement-hill dated to Classical period. On the top of the hill were wooden houses. There three inhabitation layers were archaeologically identified [Mikheladze, 1974: 47-53]. The golden pendant is found in the 2nd cultural layer of Simagre settlement - it is the layer with very interesting and diverse materials. It is well dated by the great part of the imported pottery and a variety of iron items [Mikheladze, 1974: 58]. Beside golden pendant among the personal ornaments we found a great quantity of beads made of different kind of semi-precious stones (get, cornelian, a brown mineral with white vein, glass) and silver grooved ring [Mikheladze, 1974: 60]. 

The gold pendant of interest to us is made of triangular sheet golden pieces soldered on top of each other, the lower corners are adorned with bull heads made of granulation (Pic. 1). One side of the pendant surface is completely decorated with similar heads made of granulation. According to T. Mikeladze, the excavator of this site, the shape of the pendant should also be the contour of the bull's face. The other side of the surface is also decorated with a meander ornament made of granulation [Mikeladze, 1978: 61-62]. The reverse of a similar type of pendant found in Vani Tomb N24, a triangular pendant in the Tskhinvali hoard and a pendant found in Tsaishi, Tomb N2 are decorated with such ornament and technological method (granulation). However, the latter is not decorated with granulation, the meander is carved on it with a relief structure.

A classical city of Vani is another site were such pendants have discovered. It is located on the plains of Imereti, on the bank of river Sulori. In antiquity here was an important cultural and political centre of ancient Colchis, which has his flourishing peak in 3th-1st cc. B. C.  Pendants were found in the grave N24, dated to the end of the 4th century B.C. (Pic. 1). By technology they are almost similar to up mentioned ones – two triangular shaped sheet gold pieces are soldered to each other and framing with wattle-imitation filigree. Its front side features the mouse-like creatures (similar to Lori-Berdi6) and bull-heads at corners. Back side is decorated with meander representations made of granulation (similar to Simagre pendant). According to rich and numerous grave goods, in the grave the noble person must be buried. The discovery of this type of pendant in such a grave is underscores its special significance and value. Since the pendant reveals traces of wear, it is likely to have been created several centuries before the grave. This view is supported by the Mesopotamian print of Chalcedon found here, which is related to the Neo-Babylonian era (626 BC - 539 BC) and dates back to the 6th century B.C. [Kacharava… 2008: 175-182; Kacharava… 2009: 237-315].

A diverse collection similar to Colchian goldsmithing are known from the burials of Lori-Berd in the northern part of modern Armenia, which must have been one of the points of the spread of Colchian culture in Pre-Classical times. Six pendants of almost similar style have been found in Lori-Berdi graves N3, N4 and N56, dating back to the 7th century [Khanzadyan, 2007: Tab. CX-CXI]. The front side of four pendants is adorned with mouse-like creatures (similar to Vani pendants).  Unlike to Georgian pendants they are decorated with circular-shaped ornaments, soldered to the back side of pendants which are typical style for oriental goldsmithery. Such circles are inscribed on the reverse of five Lori-Berd pendants (four of them are decorated with mouse-like creatures and one - with small triangles pointing downwards at the tip). Also, here we have one, such pendant, smaller than the others, decorated on both sides with down-facing triangles made of granulation.  Noteworthy an open ring attached to some pendants. They have a flattened and pierced finial creating a snake-head imitation. They represent one of the characteristic details of Colchian goldsmithery. Amongue the pendants of Lori-Berdi one has such kind of silver ring. 

In the eastern Georgia, such pendant was reviled on the Samtavro cemetery, situated in the Northern suburb of old capital of Mtskheta. Here, in grave N206 was unearthed two silver pendants, attached with up-mentioned Colchian type of rings (Pic.1). In one of the rings a cornelian stone is inserted, the function of which is unclear. Presumably, it got there by accident [Lortkipanidze, 2015: 198]. On the reverse of these pendants, the ornament of the pendant found in Lori-Berd is repeated - down-pointing small triangles made of granulation. On the obverse triangles directed to the center are depicted, which form a sun-like ornament. A similar composition is characteristic for the Rhodesian and Etruscan plate disc pendants of the 8th -7th  centuries B.C. which are made under the Cypriot or Syrian influence, however, we do not find the technique of granulation there. This ornament is widely used on pre-Asian and Armenian monuments [Lortkipanidze, 2015: 198]. In Pre-Classical Georgia, such ornament is also found on other examples of goldsmithing (Partskhanakanev necklace, Tskhinvali necklaces, Urbnisi pin), which proves that this form of ornamentation, in general, along with other types of triangles made with granulation was actively utilized by the Colchian goldsmiths of the Pre-Classical period to decorate their own, individually created items. The Samtavro pendant is one of the rare specimens of a silver item decorated with granulation. Due to the rapid melting of silver at relatively low temperatures, the application of granulation techniques to this metal is even more challenging than in the case of gold. Silver jewelry made of granulation, except for the tomb of Samtavro, is known from Vani - two necklaces of the 5th  century BC [Chkonia, 1981: 230] - and from the Tsaishi cemetery - earrings of 8th -7th  centuries BC [Papuashvili, ... 2015: Fig.7416], whose triangular pendant is made of silver granules.

As for the date of the Samtavro burial where the mentioned type of silver pendants was found, R. Abramishvili placed it in the latter group of burials of extensive use of iron; it dates back to the 6th century BC based on stylistic analysis of the three-winged Scythian arrows found here, butterfly-shaped acinaces, and imported items [Abramishvili, 1957: 134]. However, we think it must date back to at least the 7th century BC.

Thus, as we have seen, a common feature of such pendants is the insertion of triangles made of gold/silver leaf into the filigree braided frame. Almost every specimen of the triangle (except for the silver pendant found in Samtavro tomb and one of the gold pendants found in the Lori-Berd) is soldered with relief zoomorphic images made of gold leaf, the face of which is decorated with granulation and the ears are soldered. Animal-like embellishment is not uncommon for other types of Colchian goldsmithing - it is found on Ureki rings of the same period, with images of dragons. Iconographic analysis was made on the mentioned type of pendants by N. Lortkipanidze, who connects the type of decoration of these pendants - filigree frame with geometrical figures and a plates with relief images made of sheet gold is connected to the main elements characteristic of the goldsmith schools operating in Greece and Etruria of the 7th 6th centuries BC (processing of the animal's face and body with granulation and soldered ears), which are presented on the gold and silver jewelry found on various sites of Georgia in their original style [Lortkipanidze, 2015: 196; Despini, 1996: 144 N131, 146 N133, 148 N134; Higgins, 1980: tab. 36-37]. It is noteworthy that only the triangular pendants found in Vani and Lori-Berd are characterized by mouse-like zoomorphic images. As for the filigree braid, we find them on other contemporary items of gold as well as in Georgia of the previous epoch - even in the Trialeti Gold Cup.

As for the image of the meander on the gold plate found on most of the pendants of this group - two silver pendants of the Samtavro cemetery, two pendants found Vani grave N24, a triangular pendant from Tskhinvali hoard and the pendant found in the Tsaishi burial pit N2- have origins among the specimens of goldsmithery of Attica from the 9th c. BC. Here at first it was treated by means of engraving and later with granulation and filigree [Lortkipanidze, 2015: 194]. In terms to manufacturing techniques, these pendants are close to a rhomboid shaped pendant from Nisiri with meander and wattle frame dated to 8th-7th cc B. C. and to the similar rhomboid pendant from Tsaishi burial-pit N2 dated to the same period, but in contrast to the Nosiri`s pendant, the Tsaishi`s one is an open-work example. Due to the above mentioned, we can say that the ornament - the image of the meander - is typical for both these pendants and Colchian goldsmithery at least till 7th century B. C.

As already mentioned above, another characteristic detail is the open ring with flattened and pierced finials ends (probably every pendant must have had such a ring, but not all of them have reached us) which let us imitate a snake`s head. These types of rings are unique to Colchian goldsmithing, and the discovery of these rings with triangular pendants once again proves their Colchian origin. We find them on other types of triangular pendants as well. They continue to exist later, in the classical era - we find them abundantly on various earrings found in Vani and Sairkhe. Some of them have additional details - the decorative belt on the front side and a rosette, sometimes accompanied by a bird's image.

 As for the ornament, as we have seen, unlike the Colchis pendants, the specimens found in the tombs of Lori-Berd and Samtavro are adorned with elements more characteristic of Oriental goldsmithing - relief circles and triangles pointing towards the centre - although the general style of the pendant is still Colchian.

The dates of the complexes in which the mentioned type of pendants are confirmed are 7th -4th centuries BC. We believe that in some cases these dates do not correspond to the date of making of the pendants and they should be older than certain tombs. Due to the fact that the pendants of Vani and Simagre clearly show traces of use [Lortkipanidze, 2015: 196], they must have been created much earlier than the tomb - at least in the 7th century BC.

A slightly different type of the triangular pendant is represented by five specimens decorated with various geometric ornaments made of a single gold plate (Pic. 2), which are now found in Tsaishi, in Zugdidi Municipality. Here, two collective burial pits dating to the Late Bronze-Early Iron Age have been explored. Interesting jewelry, found in burial pits N2, dated to the 8th century BC and the jewelry found in the burial pits N1 dates to the second half of the 8th c. – the first half of the 7th c. B. C (Pic. 2). Each pendant is a triangular plaque enclosed by a wireframe and decorated with the following geometric ornaments: circles, triangles, encircled triangles, swastikas, and meander embellishments. In one case, incomplete rotating swastikas are made with granulation, and circles and triangles are soldered through the relief of the remaining thread. One of the pendants is completely decorated with meander-like images and is almost similar to the pendant included in the Tskhinvali hoard (only unlike the Tskhinvali pattern, it is decorated with granulation) and is similar to the images of the meander on the pendants of Vani, Samtavro and Simagri. As for the circles and triangles on the plates, the similar style of decoration dates back to 8th century BC, characteristic of Attica goldsmithing (e.g., crescent-shaped earrings and ornaments on rectangular plate pendants made of oriental influences, found in Eleusis and Sparta) [Deppert-Lippitz, 1985: Tab. 32, 35, 360; Lortkipanidze, 2015: 197]).

In Tsaishi burial pit N1 a hollow triangular pendant made in a slightly different style was found. It is made of two thin plates of gold and decorated with a relief embossed ornament composed of triangles. Apparently, it was filled with something inside. No exact parallels can be found with this pendant yet, although it is also a work of art of the Colchian goldsmith. The mentioned pendant, according to the burial complex, dates back to 8th -7th cc. B.C. 

Another group of triangular pendants consists of specimens of relatively small size, composed of granulation balls or decorated with its imitation (Pic. 3). They are common in complexes dating to 8th -3rd centuries BC and includes the territory of both western (Ergeta, Tsaishi, Chuburkhinji) and eastern Georgia (Treli, Varsimaantkari) and Azerbaijan (Mingechaur, Yaloilu-tapa). However, the most diverse pendants, both in form and material, are found in Colchis. Therefore, we consider the samples of Azerbaijan and Eastern Georgia as products of Colchian goldsmithing.

In Colchis these type of pendants are found in Ergeta 4th cemetery collective burial-pit N2 dated to first quarter of the 1st millennium B.C. [Papuashvli, 2010: 32-42; Papuashvli, 1998: -57]; Ergeta 2nd cemetery [Papuashvli, 1999: 3-9], collective burial-pit N4 and Tsaishi cemetery, collective burial-pit N1 [Papuashvli… 2015: 114, 125; Papuashvli… 2002: 48-54] dated to the second half of the 8th – the first half of the 7th c. B. C.;  Chuburkhinji hoard dated to 6th c. B. C. [Gagoshidze, 1976: 18-20]; In eastern Georgia: in  Treli cemetery dated to 7th-6th cc. B.C. [Lortkipanidze, 2015: pic.209] and in Varsimaantkari cemetery dated to 5th-4th cc. B.C. [Ramishvili… 1984: 57-66].

The pendants made of tin and bronze with the imitation of granulation is also noteworthy [Papuashvili, 1999: 3-9]. This fact is important because it reveals how popular and beloved technique granulation was in Colchis. In Pre-Classical Colchis almost, all ornamental faces are made of granulation. This tendency more actively continues in next period - when Colchian goldsmithery was at his peak of development. On the golden materials of this period we found such a rich effect by using a different kind (colour) of gold that in Greek this was achieved only with the use of polychrome stones.

In Azerbaijan, such pendants are quite abundant in Mingechaur in the graves dated to the 7th-5th cc. BC; 5th-3th cc BC; and even 1st c. B.C [Асланов ... 1966: 11-14,] (Pic. 3).

In Colchis, we find them in gold and silver as well as tin and bronze, however, unlike the gold and silver specimens, the tin and bronze pendants are decorated with imitations of granulation (Pic. 3). Granulation imitations are also found on relatively early gold pendants found in Azerbaijan [Исмизаде, 1973: 304]. This fact once again highlights their local origin and reflects the transition from bronze to precious metals.

According to present data, the earliest sample is found in the Ergeta 2nd cemetery, burial-pit N2. In contrast to the other pendant it has more primitive, archaic form – its granules are comparatively few, uneven, large and asymmetric (Pic. 3). The specimen is not confined to a ring imitating a snake's head typical of other pedants - it is soldered to the relatively thicker band (although it may have been a similar ring at first) with a characteristic snakehead imitation. These kinds of items, as well as other golden simples of Pre-Classical Colchis are made of gold with low sample. 

Comparatively better quality works can be seen in the samples of Tsaishi and Chuburkhinji (Pic. 3). Exquisite forms are distinguished by a similar pair of earrings (Fig. 3) found in the tomb of Treli cemetery (Pic. 3) dating back to 7th-6th cc. BC. A similar pendant found in Varsimaantkari has a slightly different shape and its exact parallels are found in Mingechevaur. At the base corners of the triangle and in the middle, they have added three-dimensional spheres. Varsimaantkari earring dates back to the 5th-4th cc. BC [Ramishvili ... 1984: 57-66], and similar specimens found in Mingechaur in a ground tomb date back to the 7th-5th cc. BC  [Исмизаде, 1973: 303; Aslanov, 1966: 13, Tab. 11].

In Azerbaijan, specifically in Mingechaur, we find a large number of similar types of earrings. Here, in the ground tombs of 7th – 6th centuries BC, four pairs of triangular-shaped gold earrings made of low-quality gold were found [Асланов, 1966: 12-13]. We also have a pair of similar gold earrings from the tombs dating to the 5th -3rd centuries BC associated with the Yaloilu-tapa culture, only, unlike other earrings, these earrings are made of high-quality gold. There are also several damaged triangular-shaped hanging pendants made of granulation, some of which are also found in 1st century BC complexes.

All the pendants found in Mingechaur are attached to a ring rings with flattened and pierced finials  which imitates the snake`s head. As already mentioned, some earrings are decorated with imitation instead of granulation and are especially distinguished by low-quality (375) gold. According to some authors, these pendants are prototypes of granulation patterns and belong to the period when the technique of making it was not yet established in Azerbaijan. They consider similar types of earrings as samples of Azerbaijani goldsmithing, which have remained popular for a very long time.

Most likely, these pendants found in Azerbaijan are the result of the infiltration of the Colchian culture, and the date of creation of many of them must be earlier than the date of the complexes they had been found in. Perhaps in the classical period, similar types of earrings were indeed made in the territory of Azerbaijan and did not lose their relevance, but their assimilation with Colchian goldsmithing, we think, is indisputable. This is confirmed by many facts: 1) their earliest and archaic parallels have been found in Colchis, 2) all types of triangular pendants have been found in Colchis. 3) A typical example of Colchian goldsmithing is the ring on which most of the pendants are soldered; 4) In Pre-Classical Azerbaijan, unlike in Armenia, goldsmithing does not seem to be as developed as in Colchis. Here we find very small quantities of gold items, mostly in the form of pendants interest to us.

Thus, we think that the gold products of the group discussed above are all related to one root - Colchian goldsmithing of the Pre-Classical period. They (as well as other gold items) reflect the fact of indirect transmission of the epoch-making trends prevalent in the outside world, which the Colchian goldsmith carried out at all stages of its development.

From an ornamental point of view, we can conclude that the main tendencies of Colchian goldsmithing of the Pre-Classical period, which are so clearly reflected in the pendants we have discussed, were: abundant use of granulation, using filigree on items, and geometrical figures. Given that the pendants are closely related in terms of decoration to other items of contemporary Colchian gold, we can say that all the pendants in question have a common root and are a product of Colchian goldsmithing. The date of their creation should be 8th – 7th cc. BC. Pendants of this shape are no longer found in Colchian goldsmithing of the classical period, although connections are still observed in certain details (such as ornaments, certain shapes, technology).


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