Cultural and Trade Relations in Central Transcaucasia


The settlement and necropolis of Grakliani Hill are located in the Central Transcaucasia, in Georgia, on the territory of the village Igoeti in Kaspi region and Samtavisi, on the hill situated on the right bank of the river Lekhura near the Tbilisi- Senaki-Leselidze highway(pl.1). It occupies dominant position and appears between two small rivers - lekhura and Tortla. In connection with the widening of the highway in 2008, on the southern slope of the Hill archeological excavations which had extremely significant result, were conducted. Namely, both multilayer settlement and settlements of different periods have been revealed. The lower terrace on which the mentioned monuments appeared are dislocated at 680 m above sea level, though the upper undug terraces and the surface of the Hill the open space is upper and locates approximately within the range of 720-723 m.

The monuments found on the territory of the settlement and necropolis belong to different periods. Now the existed material gives stratigraphical picture presented below that can be made more precise relevant to the new findings.

1. Paleolithe.

This period has been identified by Professor G.Grigolia and is presented by great number of tools processed on cobblestones .


To this period belong mainly stone weapon implements - axe, flint spearheads, bone pins. Several fragments of ceramics with low quality fabric were found in which it is clearly observed stubbly admixtures due to which they also could be defined as Eneolith.

3.Early Bronze Age

In the western part of the southern slope of the Grakliani Hill the necropolises of different periods have been revealed. The earliest among them is the tomb of the early Bronze period.

4.Late Bronze/Early Iron Age

This period is presented far better than the monument. It is evidenced both in settlement and necropolis. Chronologically it is the period from the 13th century BC to 900 years BC (pl.6).

5.Age of Developed Iron (8th-7th centuries BC)

Cult and resident constructions of this period as well as burials are proved.

6. 6th century BC

One dwelling house and one alter (arched) belong to this period.

7. 5th -4th centuries BC.

To this period belong "the western sanctuary" and only partially preserved buildings on the lower terrace.

8. 4th-3rd centuries BC

Numerous burials are presented there.

9. 3rd- 2nd centuries BC

Pottery  of the so-called Samadlo type is evidenced in this period.

10. 2nd-1st centuries BC

In this period the end of human activity on the Grakliani Hill is evidenced. The remains of the upper sanctuary, probably supporting wall and burials.

Consideration of separate archeological monuments and graves' inventory

1.      Monumental alter belongs to 1100- 900 BC. It appeared in the eastern section of the settlement. From the building in which it was set only the part of the northern wall was preserved. The building is of standard type - the imprints of massive tree logs arranged horizontally, closely to each other, the walls of which were plastered with thick mass of clay from inside and outside. Also, the floor was accurately pressed with clay layer under which the substructure prepared from clay and gravel was attested. It should be mentioned that in other buildings such processing of the floor is not found. The alter represents an imitation of the so-called "Khovle type" oven and it differs from ordinary ovens not only by sizes but also decorative elements. In the first place it is decoration of the eastern and western corners of the altar with semi-arches that is completely alien to ordinary ovens. From the southern side of the altar at the height of 10 cm from the floor level relief belt of 5 cm thick borders. This altar differs from ordinary oven by these two elements. Though from the east ash pit was placed which in its turn along the northern wall connected the platform. This was a platform designed for placing the offerings. There was placed light colored pottery of different size the earthenware of which is badly processed. The majority of this ceramics area is decorated on the shoulder. Such ceramics is alien to the end of 2nd millennium BC. It is interesting to note that among these offering forms there appeared cylindrical brown earthware which has two small size horizontal handles. One handled pot gives complex date which analogs are known in Kartli. Namely, such forms  are found in the monuments dated by the years 1100-900 BC (e.g.#51 grave in Samtavro, Zemo Avchala grave) [Pitskhelauri, 1973: 65-68]. The altar was arranged in the north-western corner of the building. Its arrangement just in this spot, i.e. in the corner seems to be standard for bread baking ovens. For comparison we can take the ovens discovered during excavations in the houses of Treliogorebi [Abramishvili, 1978: 12], Narekvavi [Nikolaishvili..2007: 6-28], Samtavro and Khovle Gora, as well as the ovens found in comparatively later  period Uplistsikhe - bambebi settlement, from the so-called Medaburi house [Khundadze, 1979:50-56].

2.      Arched alter is a building of an open type which the wall is a main constructional part. It represents vertically installed logs plastered with clay. This wall is of Western direction. On the southern side of the wall clay arches are made. The alter is strongly damaged and because of this its complete reconstruction is difficult. It can be said with confidence that such two arches have really been preserved. In front of the central (?) arch small size pit (diameter 0.2 m) is dug in which small size pottery brought for sacrifice was laid. Also for sacrifice was brought cup placed in the west part of the wall (its fragment has been preserved). The bearer of the same function is small size double-cone one-handled vessel. The vessels of similar shape are known from Colchis (e.g. they are found in the grave I of the Ergeta III which dates back to the end of the  7th century BC or beginning of the 4th century) [Mikeladze, 1995:2-22]. Hence, the arched alter with this double-cone one-ear vessel must be dated on the verge of the VII-VI centuries. Though, here we should note that one-ear vessels as was shown above, are also found in the years 1100-900 BC but they do not have double-cone shape because of which in my opinion Grakliani double-cone vessel finds much in common with Ergeti pair and therefore I give preference to this date.

3.      In the lower, II terrace part archeological complex was found ("western temple") which consists of three main sections. In each of them there is one cult and one store room connected with it (Tab.II,3). The pits for wooden columns which surround the entire complex have been preserved. Hence, they appear in one system of roofing and represent the unity of rather complicated design and elements bearing different function. The buildings are open to the south that indicates right calculation of the external conditions and optimal account of humidity and air. This fact represents rare occurrence of designing earlier totally unknown cult and economic buildings in the space chosen for implementation and then rare occurrence of idea realization in ancient Georgian architecture.  The plan of rather complicated, separate buildings entering into the entire complex, type and all details of the interior decoration were worked out. The scheme of the interior design consists in the following: the main part of the building is represented by three sections oriented at N-S direction which inner space is divided into two parts; in each section the elements having the main functional loading are brought into the forefront:

i)                    Podium;

ii)                  Quadrangular, edged table diligently plastered with clay is put at the podium or set up close to it;

iii)                In front of the edged table it is arranged a circled pit which is cut in the floor. At the basement flat, oval stone is specially inserted (ritual hearth);

iv)                Bread-baking oven which sizes change in appropriate with the size of the building.

The rest space of the building is used in correspondence with those practical tasks that separate section has. For example, let us describe #1 section:

Its size makes 4.70X2.30 m. Here as well as in the mentioned two rooms there is a podium at the western wall with the size of 1X0.70X0.3 m. In the west side of the podium in the central part has deepening for putting sacrificed pottery (with diameter -0.25m) which is finished with stone pillow.

Edged table which is supposed to be intended for offerings is preserved to the north of the alter. At the northern wall of the hearth at 0.25 m from it the ritual hearth has been discovered at the basement of which the stone pillow is inserted; it is 0.30 m in diameter and 0.25 m in depth. The oven found in the north-eastern corner of the room has been preserved best of all among the oven survived on this monument. According to the mentioned oven it can be concluded that in the three buildings there must have been one type the so-called Khovle type, double layer and three department (fireplace, ash-pit and the section of the oven itself) oven. Apart from the ovens found in other monuments, these ovens have the mechanism for regulation of the temperature - these are fired clay bars to cover baking and fire section. In the centre of the closet fragmented pottery is discovered as a result of destruction of the roof.

The succession of the cobble-stone separates this building from the second one and limits the mentioned closet from the western part. Its sizes are 4.30X0.65 m. There is economic space between the cobble-stone laying and alter. As to the eastern side of the closet here is also proved the structure composed from big cobble- stones. The size of the preserved structure makes 2.30x1 m.

 This complex of the buildings represents completely unique monument for the Transcaucasia. There two interesting details: as was mentioned at the entrance, on the left side, directly at the western wall there was set up podium plastered with clay in which round hollow of a small size (0.25 m) was also diligently prepared in the western part on the middle place. Its diligent preparation was expressed not only in exact localization but also in the fact that on the basement a flat stone of exactly hollow diameter was fixed. Such stable preparation seems to imply construction load, but in section II there appeared in the similar hollow in situ fixed jug with the same diameter that clearly indicates the cult character of this podium. It is noteworthy that podium of this type have chronologically too distant but functionally closest parallels with Eneolothic  temples of Eridu where they are also set to the wall and represent an indispensible part of the interior [The Cambridge...1971:334]. The fact that all buildings are oriented to the east also deserves attention. Such orientation is easily explained by natural conditions. Here strong winds from the west or east constantly blow which makes totally impossible the opening of the buildings from the east. Due to this, it is true the porch of the ritual buildings did not look at the east or morning sun but instead of this, all the day long it was opened to the sun.

In the material artifacts found in Grakliani Hill there is distinguished imported or a group of items made by imitation of the imported. Their redistribution according to the place of production gives the following directions of relations:

1.Southern Mesopotamia. This direction is represented by two seals (Tab.4). The first of them, as was mentioned above, was found in monumental altar temple. This is a cylinder seal of light color, made of high quality clay which surface before fire clay has been diligently decorated with softly scratched lines. The lines create schematic image of triangles arranged in one row. In the lower register well shaped chevrons are observed. At the top of the seal a cross is described and the base is a little bit cavity. The seal is pierced in the middle - it is evident that it has been pierce after putting the picture which contradicts the general rule of making seals. Thus, it is clear, that open-end hole on the seal is put later. The height of the seal is 5.2 cm, basement diameter - 2.8 cm and the diameter of the upper flatness is 1.6 cm. Professor N.Samsonia consider the seals of the group of Jemdet-Nasr IV to be direct analogy of the décor of this item. For the seals of the first part of this group analogous chevrons are characteristic [Samsonia, 2008:37; Collon, 1987: 13-22; Bollingen...1949:35]. Thus, it seems that Mesopotamian origin of this seal and its earlier date (3000 - 2800 BC; in Dominique Collon's view 3000-2334 BC) must not give rise to doubt. However, it needs special study in the future.  As to the fact of its appearance in the temple late i.e.  in 1100-900 BC, it can be easily explained. In the late temples the discovery of the earlier seals was a typical phenomenon for this period. Of course, it is extremely important to determine as to when this seal appeared from Mesopotamia on the territory of the modern Kartli - at the end of 4th millennium BC or later in 2nd millennium BC. At the stage it is difficult to say anything with confidence but unprecedented scales of almost synchronic Mtkvar-Araks culture give the possibility of all kind of suppositions. From the same point of view quite unusual is another seal which has circled handle is on the rectangular table. The item is made with sophisticated technique from light color, whitish sand stone. Its surface is so well done that high level of master's proficiency causes no doubt. The cut is deep, on the prints it is well seen radiated "temple of God" [Amiet, 1980:386-390]. The height of the seal I 3.2 cm, the height of the loop is 2.2 cm, the are of the photo flatness is 3.6x3.4 cm. This seal appeared in debris, destructed layer. Thus it can be dated only by means of the analogies. Such analogues are revealed in the materials in Jemdet-Nasr period and, relevantly, must belong to 3000-28000 BC. However, I'd like to mention here too that item is also subject of separate research. It is noteworthy that in the settlement a great number of local seals of the late Bronze Age, which surface is decorated in different ways, have been revealed. Among them is grey fabric seal (to which Professor N.Samsonia, who also treated Mesopotamian seals) on which lines/rays are spreading from the centre in four directions. It is an exact analogue of those archaic seals which are known from Mesopotamia in great amount. It is not excluded that just this seal is the earliest local imitation of Mesopotamian.

2.      Chronologically following stage of the relations and other direction belongs to 8th-7th centuries BC. From the viewpoint of possible analogy with Colchida the fragment of terracotta figure - protoma, more precisely the head of an animal discovered in the layer of the 7th century BC is completely different (Tab.5, 1). Its exact identification is difficult but in my view it is a horse's head that has some stylized form. From this viewpoint of attention is its complete identity with one of the specimens of small plastic statuette in the collective grave in Colchis. It is  horse on which the goddess is sitting [Mikeladze, 1995:20]. The statuettes of horses have not only style in common but also bridle indicating ring which runs over the nose. It is just because of this attribute I consider this figure to be the image of the horse.  To my mind the figure of a horse found in Grakliani Hill is the only terracotta replica of Colchian horsewoman. Here I would like to mark that genesis of the images of horsewoman goddesses has been long a subject of discourse [Lortkipanidze, 2002: 183]. For example, a stauette  found on the isle Samos the presumable site of preparation of bronze figure of a woman is considered from the onset Colchis areal [Vojatzis, 1992: 259-279]. Really, beyond Colchis boundaries, to the east and south - in Anatolian district, none of the horsewoman figures have been attested that might indicate the fact that the existence of this figure on the island Samos is a result of relations with Colchis (though, it is also possible that these relations had not had systematic character yet). But in such case in my opinion, conceptual identity of one and the same figures discovered in the Caucasus and continent Greece is of importance. At the same time it is absolutely clear that the figure of the warrior woman was prepared in the workshop of different regions. In connection with this question it is to be emphasized the terracotta figure of horsewoman from Heraclea Museum (1450-1100 BC, Hall X) which as it seems is the earliest among the similar specimens. It is extremely significant from the viewpoint of genesis of these statutes. I would like to touch upon cardinal scientific problems and, thus, all findings and interpretations have a special meaning. One of the findings linked with this theme might be a jug revealed on the Mzetamze necropolis which according to morphological features repeats east Georgian ceramics of the 8th-7th centuries BC, though its décor for Colchis and east Georgia of that time is totally unique and reveal parallels more with geometric period ceramic in Greece and Colchian axes. Here I mean Meandr's ornament that according to Whitley's researches belong to the number of those horizontal meanders that is found in the zone of pottery handle and has appeared since the 9th century BC [Whitley, 1991]. However, exactly the same in the late geometric II period (the end of the 8th century, the years 770-40 BC). From the same viewpoint of special interest is one more pottery from Mzetamze necropolis -a vessel which body is separated in frieze that is completely new both for Colchis and east Georgia ceramics and totally natural for Greece of geometrical period. It is interesting that vessel has triangles set up in frizers that especially wide spread in the production of Greek ceramics just of that period - 8th century BC. It should be also mentioned that meander appears just at that time in the eastern Anatolia (Konia areal) from where it could penetrate to the Caucasus easier. However, this supposition seems to be unacceptable due to a simple reason that on Mzetamze necropolis both items as well as "Scythian" arrowhead revealed there, has been found in the complex of well expressed Colchis artifacts. Due to this fact, in my view, they must have been appeared in Samtskhe. If we consider according to the contexts (and probably this is right way) it is possible that the proof of the same supposition is also zoomorphic pottery found in Treli hills which has analogs both in Greek world (e.g. Late Helladic C period pottery from Attic, Perat, Rhodes, etc) and in the east, must be considered not Greek but oriental influence due to the fact that they do not contain any western context and totally appear in local and oriental environment.

1.      In the same context attention is also attracted by the fact that in spite of increasing Colchis elements, in the 8th - 7th centuries BC in the east and west of Colchis territory the spreading of such prestigious Colchis item as for example, it is a statute of horsewoman. In the same way there are not seen terracote figures that already become typical for Colchis ritual monuments on the directly closed to Colchis territory [Nasidze. Licheli, 1990]. Therefore, certain skepticism naturally arises in    connection with especial activation of strong Colchis initiative various directions. It is because of this fact that I also consider that these discoveries can be considered a sign of sporadic character of the earlier Greek-Colchis relations [Lortkipanidze, 2002,190]. In my opinion that the findings which are made on the isle Samos and linked with Colchis world must be considered just in this context. Namely, in my view, the logic and regularity of the emergence of these items on the island Samos must be made precise, otherwise whether they represent or not the indicator of a strong Colchis impulse.

In my opinion, this question is easily solved with account of the works conducted in recent years on the island Samos.

The archeological context of those motives the part of which is the statue of a horsewoman is as follows (the results of excavations conducted under H.Kyrieleis's leadership) [Kyrieleis, 1993: 125-153]: the remains of the sacrificed domestic animals (ox prevails then - of cow and sheep, goat and pig bones); the remains of unique wild animals (a fragment of Egyptian crocodile's head, the head and horn of African antilope); amazingly numerous terracone figures - the stems of pomegranate and poppy, their seeds and pinecones (which do not grow there); Egyptian statute of a lion made of elephant bone; two Babylon figures of a man; stylized models of the ships (which played certain role in the feasts devoted to Hera) and many others. Thus, it concerns imported items which were imported from Babylon, Phoenicia, Iran, Assyria, Urartu and Cyprus. But in this case it must be also emphasized: wooden chair with horse images; horse's front straps trapezoid form of oriental origin; great number of horse bronze equipment which has no analog in any Greek temples. On the basis of this too it is recognized that in archaic period Hera has specific feature - it is a protector deity of horses and warriors namely (sic!). Against this background the fact of discovering Colchis sculpture here is completely ordinary phenomenon - as well as other things appeared in the areal of Colchis culture it was sacrificed to Hera by a traveler or trader. But if we take into  account one notable fact that from Aeagean world to the east beyond Colchis - in Anatolian areal none of the bronze statutes of analogous horsewoman has been found, we must still consider that its emergence here is a result of direct link (maybe at least only one) with Colchis. At the same time its unique character evidences that it is too early to speak about some regular relation between Aegean  world and Colchis. But in this case that obvious thematic identity which exists between the statutes found in continent Greece and Colchis remain to be explained.  Although it is also obvious that as it has been already adopted in special literature in correspondence to this common concept the figure of horsewoman were produced in various regional workshops. Thus, discovery of Colchis statutes on the island Samos looks to be accidental from the viewpoint of Colchian -Aegean interrelations (though it is already a sign of certain common interests) but from the viewpoint of Heraion function it is completely logical.   

More active relationship with Colchis seems to be in earlier antique and Hellenistic epoch. I give only several examples from the excavations of Grakliani Hill: in the first place it is silver earrings/pendants. Material of similar kind is typical for the inventory of Colchis necropolis of the 5th-3rd centuries BC, although in comparison with the Colchis one, several silver specimens of similar size have been also discovered on the territory of Samtskhe and Kvemo Kartli. Unlike these "depressed" forms Grakliani specimens are massive and almost of Colchian size. At the same time on Grakliani Hill it seems to have been preserved earrings/temple pendats property distinguished  - putting into rich context. Though from technological point of view there is a difference - the items found in Grakliani Hill are made of silver spinned wire and the images of neither birds nor rosettes embellish it. Also the response to Colchis gold seems to me the discos like silver pendants of small size necklace which analogs are found in Sairkhe.

3.      Interesting events developed in the Caucasus in the middle of I millennium that means the activation of Achaemenid Iran. I won't repeat the known suppositions concerning the unification of Kartvelian tribes (in Caucasus and to the south of it) satrapies and Achaemenid army [Hdt, III: 94]. Achaemenid activity is evident by  discovering of such administrative centers of support as: dome [Knaus, 2001],  Karajamirli [Babaiev.. 2007], Sari-Tepe, Drakhshanakerty, Arinberdi, Ervandashati [Ter-Martirosof, 2001, Kanetsyan, 2001]. There exists supposition   that the builders of the Gumbati and other Achaemenid palaces were invited from Iran or Annatolia [Knaus, 2001], that seems quite logical because it is well known as to how rich and diverse central Caucasus with the products of Achaemenid Iran [Lortkipanidze, 2001: 28-71]. In the first place it is notable the painted ceramics of every day utilization (pl.7, 1) and jewelry. Of the Achaemenid findings from the Grakliani Hill of special attention are glass vessels (pl.2; burial 217).  As is known, glass vessels are rarity in the Caucasus. Of those found in Georgia the date of the Pichvnary vessel (I group according to D.Barag) belongs to the quarter of the 5th century BC [Kakhidze, 2007: 109-117]. The pottery of the same type has been discovered in Vani. It dates back to the 5th century BC [Phuturidze, 1972: 111-135]. According to D.Barag classification, it also approximately dates to 5th or 4th centuries BC. The same dates are named by M.Pirtskhalava [Pirtskhalava, 1983: 79-86]. Other pottery found on the territory of Georgia (e.g.Enageti, Takhtidziri) dates mainly to 5th century BC or beginning of the 4th century. The vessel from the Grakliani Hill also belongs to I group of Barag classification and dates back to the second half of the 5th century [Barag, 1975:26-28]. It is well known that more obvious Achaemenid influence has been fixed in such monuments of Kartli as Tsikhia-Gora and Samadlo and in Colchis - Vani. The view on Achaemenid influence of the latter in the architecture of 4th-3rd centuries BC was expressed by me as early as 1991[Licheli, 1991]. From this viewpoint of particular importance was the fragment of limestone friz found in Vani on which relief image of a chariot and charioteer. On this architectural detail Achaemenid is the image of a chariot with "Bottoms"on the weels. The image of similar carriage is scratched on Darius's seal [Starr, 1977: 231]. Similar are the wheels of a  golden carriage preserved in British Museum [Boardman, 2003: 191-238]; identical wheels has the carriage described on Apadana relief with two ponies [Littauer, 1979: 144-149]. This architectural detail that can be considered as a part of monumental structure of a frieze (the trace of the preserved paint indicates that frieze was painted) evidences that in Vani which was religious and administrative centre of Colchis in the course of centuries, preserve Achaemenid influence up to Hellenistic epoch. This part of a frieze is such synthesis of Greek and Achaemenid elements as at the beginning of the Hellenistic epoch must be  (this frieze is interpreted as Eos image) [Lortkipanidze, 2002: 232-233]. At the same time, frieze and monumental wall revealed on the central terrace in Vani must indicate the existence of Achaemenid traditions in 4th-3rd centuries BC. The   discovery of double protomian capitel on the central terrace in Vani has proved the supposition expressed by me [Lacheli, 2001:39].

From the viewpoint of interrelation with Achaemenid culture of interest are also golden, silver and bronze disc found in the burials of the Grakliani Hill with ornament of Achaemenid type (pl. 2) which are identical to the bases of Achaemenid cups by that ornament which seems to be spread in ancient Georgia (e.g. the cups of Akhalgori treasure - 4th century BC) [Lortkipanidze, 2001: 28-71] and, generally, in various districts of the Black See coast and west Anatolia  [Treister, 2007: 84-91].

4.      The fourth direction of relation with the outer world according to the findings of the Grakliani Hill is manifested with Greek world/Anatolia which started with the emergence of bronze fibulas [Licheli, 1999] and continued with "Samadlo type" ceramics. The burial was dug in Grakliani Hill in which finger-ring with image of a figure appeared (very likely of "pan-musician" that probably is far close to the truth).

5.      Also of interest is the finding of hieroglyphic written Egyptian scarab (pl.2) in burial #217 of Grakliani Hill because in that period (5th-4th century BC) they as is seen, are widely spread in the western Georgia and are also found in the east (e.g. the items found in Atskuri burial #04-4). At that time scarabs were used as beads; it is proved by their detection breast area of the deceased along with the beads. It is natural that this item as well as beautiful beads ( pl. 2), are entered to the Caucasus as a result of activity of Greek tradesmen. The result of these relations is the fact of appearance on the Grakliani Hill items made at different times in different and quite distant regions.

Thus,  the findings of Grakliani Hill clearly evidence that in the central section of the Transcaucasia due to its comparatively simple and convenient, and at the same time suitable for economic activity physico-geographical conditions, main direction of trade activity was concentrated followed by reciprocal process: such environment conditioned the existence of the settlement with rather active economic balance which has the tendency of approximation of the road to the settlement and on the other hand, for the existence of this settlemet in certain chronological sections the existence of the same road became topical. The discovery of Mesopotamian seals cannot be accidental on Grakliani Hill. There is all reason to suggest that the temple complexes of the Late Bronze-Early Iron age different from each other were gathered here by chance, as well as building of the unique temple complex ("west temple") of the lower terrace; the fact of the decline of the settlement more than once and its rise again is quite obvious and this underlines the importance of this spot. All the above mentioned was caused only by geographical location. If this Hill had any sacral importance, the response to this question will be given by the result of future excavations. In any case due to the existence of the settlement in big chronological section and character of the artifacts researched there the settlement of Grakliani Hill and necropolis must be considered as etalon monument of the Central Caucasus.

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