Online Review: Book

Pichvnari. Results of Excavations Conducted by the Joint Britishgeorgian Pichvnari Expedition. Vol. 1, Pichvnari 1998–2002: Greeks and Colchians on the East Coast of the Black Sea

Zofia H. Archibald


By M. Vickers And A. Kakhidze. Pp. 457, b&w pls. 333, color pls. 108. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, and the Batumi Archaeological Museum, Batumi 2004. $56. ISBN 1-85444-203-1 (cloth).

The English-language reader of this volume is confronted with something exotic, for this is a parallel Georgian-English text symbolizing the joint approach of the excavators to the planning and publication of this monograph. I do not read Georgian, but the English text (13–14, 143–225) appears to be a close translation of the Georgian original (11–12, 15–142), if this was indeed the procedure adopted. It would have been helpful to know whether this was the case, since there is no discussion in the preface (11–14) of how the different approaches of local Georgian archaeologists and those from Oxford were brought together. Joint excavation of a site by archaeologists from different national traditions is never an easy matter, particularly when we are dealing, as in this case, with a pioneering venture.

A brief introduction (143–44) outlines aspects of the Kobuleti district, in which the site is located, between the Mesolithic and Bronze Age, and the establishment of Pichvnari in the mid fifth century B.C.E. The main body of the text begins with a short description of activities in the North (“Colchian”) Cemetery (145–47), followed by lists of the burials and their contents excavated between 1998 and 2001 (147–51) and reference to earlier studies of Colchian cemeteries (151). The analysis of the excavated features (152–65) includes a description of the pine coffins (see Broadgate [224–25] for analysis of the iron nails), which were laid in pits in the sandy soil. A description of the grave goods follows: local ceramic wares, imported ceramics, coins, jewelry, weapons, fibulae, tweezers, and beads. These were the burials of “ordinary people” (165), although a few contained gold items (Burials 268, 311), and many (we are not told how many) contained Colchian silver coins.

The description of the north part of the West (or “Greek”) Cemetery is similarly organized, with a brief description of the trenches opened between 1998 and 2002 (167–68), followed by lists of the burials and their principal contents (168–73); the coffins and amphoras used as containers (177–78); and short, summarized descriptions of imported and local ceramic vessels and other finds, notably small, core-formed glass vessels (184–85). A description of the south part of the West Cemetery (188–202) outlines 54 fourth-century B.C.E. burials excavated in the same period. In all, 90 fourth-century B.C.E. burials have been excavated if earlier excavations are included (the new burials are numbered accordingly). Since 1998, 83 burials have been added to the 232 burials in the Colchian Cemetery, and 91 to the previously excavated 159 in the Greek (fifth century B.C.E.) Cemetery. It is confusing that all the burials are not numbered together in sequence, but each sector begins with its own series. Another nine Hellenistic burials were studied (in addition to the 156 already known [203–8]), plus five burials from the fourth century C.E. (209–14).

A final section of the text describes activities in the same years at the settlement of Pichvnari (215–23). It is not clear to this reader exactly what area was investigated in the period 1999–2001 (perhaps six trenches, 4 x 4 m [216]; apparently not excavated down to stereo [217]), and there is no consideration of any features, just a short summary of the finds (217–22). The bibliography, in Georgian and English, is clear and usefully cross-referenced (226–55). The standard of plans and figures is satisfactory, though the scales can be unhelpful (the site grid is based on quadrants 4 x 4 m2). The finds are generously illustrated but could have been more helpfully arranged. Artifacts appear to be organized so as to fit as many items as possible to a page rather than for clarity. The color images are nevertheless a considerable asset.

I found this volume slightly puzzling. The systematic presentation of excavated material from a site that has been accessible mainly to Georgian readers constitutes a valuable resource (earlier material has been summarized in a small number of English-language publications that are appropriately referred to here). But it is not clear from the text of this monograph what a joint initiative has achieved that Georgian archaeologists had not already done. If there was a specific research objective that the joint international team wanted to pursue, it has not been stated here. Apart from a brief reference to glass analyses in progress (184), I could find no reference to the research questions that these excavations were intended to answer. The peripheral character of the site investigation in relation to the cemetery is particularly striking. If one aim was to clarify relationships between natives and incoming Greeks, then one might have expected the site excavation to have played a more significant role in the program. More burials have been excavated, but it is no easier to resolve the ambiguities of the definitions formulated by earlier researchers, who classified burial areas by ethnicity. The identifications of the Colchian Cemetery as native and the Greek Cemetery as immigrant remain propositions that have yet to be verified.

Zofia H. Archibald
School of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology
University of Liverpool
Liverpool L69 7WZ
United Kingdom

Book Review of Pichvnari. Results of Excavations Conducted by the Joint British-Georgian Pichvnari Expedition. Vol. 1, by M. Vickers and A. Kakhidze

Reviewed by Zofia H. Archibald

American Journal of Archaeology Volume 111, Number 2 (April 2007)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1112.Archibald

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