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On salt, copper and gold

 | 
Catherine Marro
, 
Thomas Stöllner

Early mining in the Caucasus and beyond

Kura-Araxes ceramics and the prehistoric gold mine of Sakdrisi

Nino Otchvani, Felix Klein, Sebastian Senczek, Irina Gambashidze et Thomas Stöllner

Résumé

Les tessons de céramique collectés sur le site de Sakdrisi datent pour la plupart de la période kuro-araxe (deux tiers d’entre eux) ; ils permettent ainsi de dater les niveaux de la mine non perturbés du Bronze ancien. Les céramiques datant de l’Antiquité sont présentes dans les mêmes proportions que celles des autres périodes mises en évidence sur le site (Bronze récent/Fer ancien et période médiévale), lesquelles sont aussi attestées sur certains sites des environs. Ces sites n’étaient pas tous liés à l’exploitation minière. En ce qui concerne la période kuro-araxe, la forte fragmentation et la sélection des types de vase perceptibles dans la céramique de Sakdrisi sont surprenantes au vu du vaste répertoire de céramiques en usage sur le site de mineurs de Dzedzvebi, situé à proximité.
Cet article passe en revue les assemblages céramiques collectés sur les deux sites, en se concentrant sur les vases de particulièrement grande taille et les pots à anse. Leur ornementation et la composition des pâtes est comparée aux répertoires de certains autres sites transcaucasiens. Cette étude montre que les décors en spirale, par exemple, étaient largement distribués à travers la Transcaucasie. Certains styles céramiques, comme le groupe de Kirovakan, ont atteint le Kvemo Kartli via la gorge de Tbilisi. La diversité d’origine des céramiques kuro-araxes de Sakdrisi est perceptible à travers leur composition chimique : si certaines d’entre elles sont similaires à celles de Dzedzvebi, les autres viennent d’ailleurs. Ceci démontre que les céramiques de Sakdrisi n’étaient pas toutes des productions locales.
Un autre point intéressant concerne les usages secondaires de certaines céramiques (ré-emploi). Ce point est abordé à partir d’observations tracéologiques et taphonomiques : des anses et d’autres types de tessons ont visiblement été utilisés de façon opportuniste, peut-être sur du cuir afin de gratter les restes de minerai pilé et moulu. D’autres usages sont envisageables : étant donné que ces tessons laissent des traces rougeâtres et poudreuses, ils ont pu être utilisés pour marquer des surfaces ou comme poudre. Cela dit, il est certain que la plupart de ces céramiques ont tout d’abord été utilisées aux entrées de la mine (p. ex. comme vases à eau) pour être ensuite réutilisées une fois cassées à divers usages ad hoc.

Texte intégral

We are grateful for twelve years of mutual collaboration within the research team, especially with Dr Irina Gambashidze (Tbilisi). The research at Sakdrisi-Dzedzvebi is financially supported by the Volkswagen Foundation (Hanover) and the DFG (since 2013); Dr Levermann (Hanover) and Dr Bienert (Bonn) must be thanked for their continual interest in our research. For this article we have to thank especially A. Hornschuch, Dipl. Eng. T. Sachvadze and K. Tamashashvili, MA (Tblisi). We also thank Roselyn Campbell, Los Angeles, USA, and Dr Catherine Marro for correcting the English version and for giving useful advice.

Characterisation of the Kura-Araxes ceramic at Sakdrisi

1The ceramics found at the mining site of Sakdrisi have been an important aspect of our research from the beginning. By cleaning and opening the mine pockets and entrance mouths the excavators found ceramic material from three periods of history – those of the Kura-Araxes culture, the Iron Age, as well as the late antique periods and medieval periods. 67% of the material belongs to the Kura-Araxes culture (fig. 1). According to the results of 14C analyses, the samples taken from the corresponding layers of the Sakdrisi mines can be attributed to the mining activities on the Kachagiani hillock between the second half of the 4th millennium BC and the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC (for chronological details, see Stöllner et al. 2014, p. 79, fig. 7).

Fig. 1 – Chronological distribution of pottery sherds on the mine of Sakdrisi (DBM/RUB/GNM, N. Otchvani).

Fig. 1 – Chronological distribution of pottery sherds on the mine of Sakdrisi (DBM/RUB/GNM, N. Otchvani).

2The study of ceramics may prove fruitful for breaking down the socioeconomic aspects of the Kura-Araxes culture (for a general presentation, see Kushnareva 1997; Kohl 2007), from their role within the mining production process to the identification of the groups involved in the production process at the mine. The Kura-Araxes phenomenon saw serious changes in the spheres of agriculture, cattle raising, pottery and metallurgy that led to more autonomous and interdependent social relationships among Kura-Araxes communities. When addressing the vast expansion and spreading of Kura-Araxes commonalities, it seems relevant to study the relationships between communities living in the same region, but also those between the latter and more distant communities.

3In the case of Sakdrisi for instance, the provenance of the clay used as a raw material for pottery-making indicates that the groups involved in gold mining were numerous and varied. The rich diversity of stone tools found around the mines, as well as the high number of these tools, suggests intense mining activities at different periods of the Early Bronze Age; but the gold artefacts resulting from this production, it must be noted, are seldom found in archaeological contexts (Stöllner et al. 2014). Ceramic provenance analyses may give some further hints concerning the involvement of different communities in the production and consumption of the gold extracted from Sakdrisi. These communities simultaneously practised ore-extraction and grinding, followed by milling and washing. Labour proceeded in an organised and integrated manner. The ceramic assemblage brought to light at Sakdrisi, in spite of its fragmental character, can be compared both quantitatively and qualitatively with the archaeological artefacts from other Kura-Araxes sites of Georgia or neighbouring countries. Considering the fragmented status of the pottery, such comparisons may appear questionable, but luckily enough, we may also use the ceramics found on the nearby mining settlement of Dzedzvebi, on the Balitchi plateau (for the settlement and its relations to the mine see Stöllner et al., this volume; Gambashidze et al. 2010, p. 105; Gambashidze, Stöllner 2016; Stöllner et al. 2010; Stöllner et al. 2014). Its relationships to mining activities set the former settlement of Dzedzvebi apart from other Kura-Araxes sites in the region.

4As the final treatment of the ores extracted from Sakdrisi was mostly carried out at Dzedzvebi, it is likely that part of the pottery was made at Dzedzvebi. This also includes the ceramics found in the burial grounds discovered across the settlement plateau of Balitchi-Dzedzvebi. The ceramics from Sakdrisi and Dzedzvebi display many common points through their colours, slips, pastes, structures, sintering practices and even decoration types. It is therefore possible to reconstruct the forms and designs of the pottery from Sakdrisi from the complete vessels present on the settlement and the burial grounds of Dzedzvebi. A typological system was developed accordingly (Otkhvani et al. 2015). It turned out that the vessel’s maximum body diameter is twice the diameter of the bottom and equivalent in size to the rim diameter, while the height, in most cases, exceeds the rim diameter by 1.5‑2.0 cm. Rim and bottom diameters, we observed, often match. In a few exceptional cases, the vessels’ height is lower than the rim diameter by 1.0‑1.5 cm. This is also true for the so-called goblet-vessel group (fig. 2). Four subtypes have been established with the size of the neck, body and basis as criteria. Certain cases remain uncertain: this is the case with large vessels with fairly small-sized necks or with incomplete profiles, as is often the case in Sakdrisi. One small fragment for instance (n°10425), is a close copy of a larger vessel belonging to the goblet group. Judging by neck and shoulder fragments, the vessels from Sakdrisi seemingly belong to group I (drinking goblets; cf. subgroups I.A, I.B and I.C respectively (inventory no. 10983; 10423; 3604; 11131‑1; 14350‑1; 6800‑9) (fig. 3ac).

Fig. 2 – Fragments of goblets and drinking vessels from the mine of Sakdrisi, different scales (DBM/RUB/GNM, T. Rabsilber, T. Sachvadze).

Fig. 2 – Fragments of goblets and drinking vessels from the mine of Sakdrisi, different scales (DBM/RUB/GNM, T. Rabsilber, T. Sachvadze).

Fig. 3a – Type I.A, group of mugs and drinking vessels from the settlement of Dzedzvebi (DBM/RUB/GNM, H.‑J. Lauffer, T. Sachvadze).

Fig. 3a – Type I.A, group of mugs and drinking vessels from the settlement of Dzedzvebi (DBM/RUB/GNM, H.‑J. Lauffer, T. Sachvadze).

Fig. 3b – Type I.B, group of mugs and drinking vessels from Dzedzvebi (DBM/RUB/GNM, H.‑J. Lauffer, T. Sachvadze).

Fig. 3b – Type I.B, group of mugs and drinking vessels from Dzedzvebi (DBM/RUB/GNM, H.‑J. Lauffer, T. Sachvadze).

Fig. 3c – Type I.C, group of mugs and drinking vessels; 1: Dzedzvebi; 2: Sakdrisi (DBM/RUB/GNM, H.‑J. Lauffer, T. Sachvadze).

Fig. 3c – Type I.C, group of mugs and drinking vessels; 1: Dzedzvebi; 2: Sakdrisi (DBM/RUB/GNM, H.‑J. Lauffer, T. Sachvadze).

5The close stylistic comparisons between the two pottery assemblages suggest close relationships between the mining community and people living on the settlement. In order to test this hypothesis, chemical investigations were carried out on ceramics sampled from the mine of Sakdrisi, Dzedzvebi, as well as from Gudabertka, an important settlement belonging to the Kura-Araxes culture in Shida Kartli. Chemical and mineralogical investigations were carried out through the use of an X‑ray fluorescence spectrometer Philips PW 2404 (RFA) at the Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum (hereafter the DBM), which made possible the study of the trace and microelemental composition of the material. It proved possible to categorize ceramics once the major components of the clay were identified. It appeared that the clays from Dzedzvebi-Sakdrisi were characterized by SiO2, Al2O3 and CaO+MaO-, while those from Gudabertka material contained a lot of quartz, anorthite and malacolite (fig. 4). This reveals the geological specificity of the clays used in the samples under investigation. The ceramics from Sakdrisi and Dzedzvebi are partially similar. They can generally be characterized by their low calcium content. In the samples retrieved from the mine of Sakdrisi and the settlement of Dzedzvebi, the chromium and nickel components correlate with aluminium. They form two independent groups, which again should be attributed to the specific organic compositions of the soil. As for the Sakdrisi ceramics, we can divide them into two groups: one that matches with the material from the settlement of Dzedzvebi, and another that is characterized by a relatively high concentration of SiO and a low concentration of Al2O3. The binary diagram of secondary components (MgO, MnO, CaO) resulting from the experiments is rather interesting. According to this diagram, one of two clay groups found at Sakdrisi is similar to that used in the ceramics of Dzedzvebi (Otkhvani et al 2015, pp. 6‑29), while the assemblage containing low concentrations of MgO and CaO forms an independent group (fig. 4.1). This group possibly belongs to another pottery production unit, maybe a separate house. The identification of its location requires further study.

Fig. 4 – 1: Binary diagrams with MgO, MnO and CaO minor components; there are two ceramic groups at Sakdrisi, one of them matches the ceramics from Dzedzvebi; in addition to a low ratio of MgO, the second group also has lower MnO levels; the ceramics of Gudabertka display higher levels of MnO and CaO than the ceramics of Sakdrisi and Dzedzvebi; 2: Ternary diagram with the main components SiO2/Al2O3/CaO+MgO; while Gudabertka (Geo‑119) can be classified as lime-rich ceramics, the ceramics from Sakdrisi and Dzedzvebi are deficient in lime (Geo‑117, Geo‑118) (after M. Jansen in Otkhvani et al. 2015).

Fig. 4 – 1: Binary diagrams with MgO, MnO and CaO minor components; there are two ceramic groups at Sakdrisi, one of them matches the ceramics from Dzedzvebi; in addition to a low ratio of MgO, the second group also has lower MnO levels; the ceramics of Gudabertka display higher levels of MnO and CaO than the ceramics of Sakdrisi and Dzedzvebi; 2: Ternary diagram with the main components SiO2/Al2O3/CaO+MgO; while Gudabertka (Geo‑119) can be classified as lime-rich ceramics, the ceramics from Sakdrisi and Dzedzvebi are deficient in lime (Geo‑117, Geo‑118) (after M. Jansen in Otkhvani et al. 2015).

6Kura-Araxes potters usually adopted conservative practices, which resulted in the preservation of regional clay specificities. It is thus probable that all the clay deposits were related to regional traditions (such as metal-working) and lifestyles (Otkhvani 2012, pp. 85‑97). Potters used local raw materials, as illustrated at Sakdrisi, Dzedzvebi and Gudabertka.

Circular concentric circle ornaments in the Transcaucasian region

7A typical element of decoration on the vessels of Sakdrisi are circular concentric circles. Such ornaments were generally applied on large vessels, the so-called pithoi (Kushnareva, Chubinishvili 1970, p. 150). The examples from Sakdrisi are no exception. The wide diameter of these concentric circles should be pointed out; this unusual size probably explains that the circles were always applied over the vessel’s neck or by the shoulder over the handle (fig. 5). This rule knows no exception. It follows from this rule that the size of the circle probably corresponds to the size of the vessel. This kind of circular decoration has also been used as a chronological indicator to date these vessels within the Kura-Araxes culture (Chubinishvili 1970, pp. 151‑200).

Fig. 5 – 1: Fragments of grooved Kura-Araxes ceramics from Dzedzvebi; 2: Fragments of ornamented ceramics from Sakdrisi (DBM/RUB/GNM, H.‑J. Lauffer, T. Sachvadze).

Fig. 5 – 1: Fragments of grooved Kura-Araxes ceramics from Dzedzvebi; 2: Fragments of ornamented ceramics from Sakdrisi (DBM/RUB/GNM, H.‑J. Lauffer, T. Sachvadze).

8Besides, the appearance of this type of decoration may correspond to a specific cultural momentum. The spatial distribution of these ornaments is limited to a specific area: Armenia, Azerbaijan, eastern Anatolia. As for Georgia, it is found in Kvemo Kartli, in the plain of Shida Kartli, in the Javakheti uplands and on the plateau of Trialeti (Gönül-Yalçin 2012, p. 117). This kind of decoration apparently did not reach the North Caucasus; nor is it known in western Georgia. Its westernmost extension in that area borders the line that connects Kareli and Akhalkalaki (Orjonikidze 2002, pp. 15‑17). Otherwise, it has been found in Georgia on the prehistoric settlements of Dmanisi (Kuftin 1944, pp. 1‑128), Ozani, Kvatskhela B1 (Japaridze 1976, p. 142), Bdadzori, Sadakhlo, Kerifluri (Pkhakadze 1963, p. 93). Similar examples are attested in the assemblages of Quil-Tefe and Echmiadzin (Grigolia, Tatishvili 1960, pp. 67‑70). The red burnished vessels discovered in the Saburtalo region of Tbilisi in 1960 are also considered to be similar to the pottery found at Shresh-Blur and Shengavit in Armenia (Japaridze 1976, pp. 60‑142). Similar relations with the Armenian highlands and the neighbouring Ararat valley are also evident in the assemblages of Kvemo Kartli. The pottery found at Shulaveri-2, Ghmaitmaz and “Dangreuli Gora” displays shapes and decoration comparable with the ceramic repertoire of the Ararat valley (Orjonikidze 2002, pp. 15‑17). Material found at Dzedzvebi in area II.7 and in area II.8, as well as at Sakdrisi, bear similar characteristic concentric circle ornaments. It seems possible to suggest that the Sakdrisi-Dzedzvebi cultural context was once closely related to the Kvemo Kartli/Armenian pottery traditions. Incidently, we may note that the settlements of Satkhe, Jigrasheni and Baraleti “hill”, together with Kaspi Tsikhiagora B2, are also attributed to the Kirovakan group defined by Orjonikidze (1989, p. 172).

9On the basis of Tsikisgori pottery, it seems possible to say that material from the south reached the gorge of the Kura and even the plain of Kvemo Kartli, possibly as the result of mobility or migration events (Makharadze 1984, p. 65). It is possible that ceramics of this kind arrived in eastern Georgia gradually, by stages – firstly in the Kvatskhela B1 period, and later, during the occupation of Tsikhiagora B2. At the same time, these southern cultures coexisted with local Kura-Araxes groups until the end of the Early Bronze Age, but this did not affect the main characteristics of local culture. The spatial distribution of the spectacles-shaped decoration with deep concave-convex decoration is limited. Different variations of the concave-convex ornaments brought to light at Sakdrisi and Dzedzvebi are thought to originate from the Ararat valley (Orjonikidze 2002, pp. 15‑17). This was also the opinion of B. Kuftin, who compared the stylistical chracteristics of the Beshtasheni material with the ceramics of Bluri and Shengavit (Kuftin 1941, p. 116). Among its many stylistical specificities we may note the presence of a stylized ram head (Cholokashvili 1987, pp. 68‑71), the Tree of Life (Raevsky 1985, p. 201), the sun (Urushadze 1988, pp. 34‑35), and perhaps the symbol of a divinity (Shanshashvili 1997, p. 10). A regional origin is usually assumed for this type of decoration. Its stylization implies the existence of especially significant semantic codes established and accepted by the regional Kura-Araxes communities.

  • 1 Such a function was discussed by various scholars such as T. Chubinishvili (1970, pp. 151‑200).

10In the assemblage of Sakdrisi, a fragment of a reddish-brown vessel decorated with concentric circles is noteworthy, as a hole was pierced in the still unfired vessel’s body (fig. 5, 8379). Similar specificities can be found nowadays on large vessels used for keeping grain1: this hole was possibly meant for ventilation purposes. The function of this large vessel is still unclear, but it may have served originally as a grain container, which had later been reused for another purpose. Only a restricted selection of the vessels used at Dzedzvebi were also found at Sakdrisi. The material of Dzedzvebi is far more diverse, both from a functional and a decorative point of view. This is not surprising since only a selection of vessels would have been used in Sakdrisi, in particular, the presence of decorated vessels is not expected. This shows that ceramics were employed on the mine for specific functions.

11The existence of vessels decorated with concentric circles and spirals in Sakdrisi therefore needs to be explained. Such vessels were likely favoured/used for their large capacity. One possibility is that they were used as water containers. The ceramic found on the mine is mostly monochromatic, but there are artefacts of reddish-brownish-blackish-bluish hues too. However, the colours attested in the ceramic repertoire of Sakdrisi are less varied than in the assemblage of Dzedzvebi. Considering the shapes and colours of the vessels present at Sakdrisi, one wonders whether the vessels had a specific function when they were used on the mine. Did they have their usual daily function or are we faced with a specific, secondary use? This ceramic was undoubtedly used first for its original purpose, as containers for drinking water and for food. The high percentage of fragmentation of the ceramics from Sakdrisi is certainly unusual. It is possible that some pieces came to the site already broken, as potsherds and for a different purpose. On the other hand, considering the taphonomic processes usual on a mine through the accumulation of mining debris, such a high percentage of vessel breaking is not surprising. The relief of the mine of Sakdrisi is also uneven, which may have favoured breakage. But this fragmentation might also be due to other secondary usages. However, vessels made of alternative material were certainly used in the pits, e.g. skin bags or pouches, for carrying loads and supplying goods. Therefore, the limited use of ceramics at Sakdrisi is not surprising.

12The specificity of mining work requires an abundant volume of drinking water, while the narrowness of the mine shafts requires the use of containers more durable than terracotta vessels. It is therefore likely that containers and drinking jugs, which are the most frequently attested, were used as drinking sets above the ground, especially near the entrances to the tunnels. But, of course, this does not exclude a secondary usage, evident through the body and basis fragments of large vessels that were used as oil or fat lamps after breakage.

Secondary uses of Kura-Araxes ceramics on the mine of Sakdrisi

13In the repertoire of Sakdrisi, a number of ceramic potsherds suggests their ultimate use as tools. They present worn-out edges that are not typical of abrasion mechanisms. These fragments differ in their colour, structure, thickness and hardness. Two types of tools can be distinguished. The first type consists of thin-walled, fine-crafted ceramic. Here, a few pieces with almost flat broken edges are attested. The broken edges display an almost leathery, polished surface, as evidenced in artefact n°7055: this may indicate that it was used over an organic surface (fig. 6), probably a very soft, organic material. Polished notches indicate furthermore the handling of thin objects (bone or wooden tools?) on them.

Fig. 6 – Use-wear on soft reddish and greyish Kura-Araxes ceramics from Sakdrisi (DBM/RUB/GNM, F. Klein).

Fig. 6 – Use-wear on soft reddish and greyish Kura-Araxes ceramics from Sakdrisi (DBM/RUB/GNM, F. Klein).
  • 2 Fur or leather skins may have been used by miners for collecting high concentrations of ore.

14The second type of tool is made of thick-walled, coarse-grained, porous potsherds. In some cases, only minor signs of use-wear, in the form of grooves over the breaks, may be observed. In other pieces, the breaks are sharp all over, which points to a repeated or long-lasting activity. Thus, these sherds may have been used for gathering small, crushed working debris, including sharp-edged quartz pieces. Such work was possibly carried out over a piece of fur or leather in order to collect and separate the different components of the ore; e.g. hematite and quartz (experiments carried out in 2011 and 2013: Stöllner et al. 2012; Timberlake 2017). Perhaps grinding and crushing plates were also used to collect the waste more effectively. But if these sherds had been used as scrapers over the rough surfaces of grinding and crushing plates (such as dimple-stones), it would have led to heavier use-wear over the working edges. It is therefore more probable that the sherds were used as ad hoc tools over a leathery surface in order to collect the waste produced by grinding and crushing processes.2

15Artefact no. 11938_4 deserves special attention (fig. 6). These sherds can be described as so thoroughly polished that hardly any original surface of the vessel has been preserved. A potsherd found in pit A is worth mentioning. It recalls the Kiketi group ceramics by its colour and structure. Its structure is so soft and crumbly that it leaves a bright colour on one’s hands. It was perhaps used for its colouring properties. It should be noted that a red powder has been found at Dzedzvebi in area II.8, which was clearly used for ritual purposes (Stöllner 2017; for the analysis see appendix by T. Skowronek, M. Jansen and T. Stöllner). Were these sherds ground to produce a red colour, perhaps used as a body paint or as an ochre-based protection paste, which would be the usual purpose (Borg, Jacobson 2013, pp. 43‑51)? The potsherd itself also left a lot of red powder on the plate during a simple scraping experiment. But another explanation is also possible: could all the potsherds with broken red edges also be used as a kind of marker? The use of ceramic as a scraper or even as a palette is at least attested in other contexts (Raedler 2007, pp. 34‑36). Further detailed studies of the ceramics of Dzedzvebi may reveal alternative usages of the sherds for various other ad hoc purposes.

16It should be stressed that a number of ceramic handles typical of the Kura-Araxes culture have also been found at Sakdrisi (e.g. 11517; 8689‑1; 11176). Unfortunately, these handles are not very useful to determine the vessels’ types and sizes. But here are some indications: if small-sized handles are often found on large vessels, large, massive handles are never applied to small-sized vessels. This rule is especially true for the middle and late Kura-Araxes cultures. Therefore, the large handles attested at Sakdrisi should be considered as belonging to large-sized vessels, the so-called pithoi. This interpretation is supported by the rim fragments, the diameters of which confirm the existence of large jars and pithoi (fig. 3, 7).

Fig. 7 – 1, 2, 6: Circular Kura-Araxes handles from Sakdrisi; 3, 4, 5: Circular Kura-Araxes handles from Dzedzvebi (DBM/RUB, GNM, S. Senczek).

Fig. 7 – 1, 2, 6: Circular Kura-Araxes handles from Sakdrisi; 3, 4, 5: Circular Kura-Araxes handles from Dzedzvebi (DBM/RUB, GNM, S. Senczek).

17The distribution pattern of the handles shows that they are concentrated near the entrance of mine A, and more specifically in the dump-layer n°10042_1, which overflowed into the pit. All the Bronze Age layers located in the area of the entrance have been studied to check this point. The ceramic potsherds were plotted according to their size and fragmentation type, which resulted in the categorization of sherds with similar sizes but different fragmentation patterns (e.g. long-rectangular ceramic fragments are found in the same place as the square ones with a similar edge length).

18As a result, it seems possible to draw some conclusions on the filling processes: a concentration of large ceramic fragments can be observed within the waste dump 10042_1, not far from the entrances to the mine, which also had served as a small-scale processing station. It is also possible that this place was used for food processing or equipment repairing, which must be located outside mine A. Moreover, no water was available in the mining area, but water was necessary for assaying the ores: it was stored in a cistern that was filled either with natural rainwater or by water carried up from the river stream. For this reason, the storage of water played an important role in mining procedures and could even represent a separate area of responsibility (Stöllner et al. 2014, pp. 7‑24).

19At first, we thought that the ceramic fragments in the underground areas and at the entrance of the mine could have been related to the dousing process during fire setting. Water could have been transported in by handled vessels. But handled jugs can only be used to transport small quantities of water: larger containers, possibly organic vessels, appear to be better adapted for this process. Moreover, the experiments carried out in 2011 and 2013 have made clear that dousing is not an indispensable working step during the ore-producing process. Dousing is usually used to cool the rock wall but this technique is not very effective for splitting the rocks after setting fire, since the ore-compound (interspaced pieces of quartz and hematite) would only be marginally impacted by the water (Weisgerber, Willies 2001, pp. 136‑147; Stöllner, Craddock, Timberlake 2012, pp. 65‑76; Timberlake 2017, pp. 125‑130). So, it seems better to rule out dousing and the use of vessels for water transport in fire-setting processes.

20The handles are clearly concentrated near the entrance of mine A, in close proximity to the mining pockets. This is especially true for layer n°10101_1. Judging by the stratigraphy, we may assume that this layer was originally filled with a fine, Early-Bronze-Age processing waste. Since this dump had slid into the pit, it may have come from a working or storage area located outside the opencast. 345 stone tools were also found in this area, which supports this hypothesis. This provides a variety of possible interpretations for the high number of handles found here. Although this place may have been used for storing stone tools or as a ritual area (Stöllner 2017), its location and stratigraphic context rather suggest that the handles result from ore-beneficiation activities as described above. Their concentration among beneficiation debris resulting from grinding and sorting supports this interpretation (fig. 8). In such a context, they may be identified as a part of the toolkit used during ore-beneficiation activities on the site.

Fig. 8 – 1: View from the north-east of the dump of beneficiation tools (feature 10042); 2: Distribution of Kura-Araxes ceramics and handles over the surface areas of the mine (DBM/RUB/GNM, M. Zeiler, F. Klein).

Fig. 8 – 1: View from the north-east of the dump of beneficiation tools (feature 10042); 2: Distribution of Kura-Araxes ceramics and handles over the surface areas of the mine (DBM/RUB/GNM, M. Zeiler, F. Klein).

21Of special interest is a terracotta conical stand that was found on excavating “entrance A” of the mining complex. One group of scientists considers such stands as cult attributes, while others see them as an attribute necessary for everyday use, for instance in a kitchen. Similar artefacts have been found at Dzedzvebi (e.g. II.8) in connection with ritual activities and depositions. The discovery of a “tuyère” used with bellows may indicate a more mundane usage connected with the assaying activities performed at Sakdrisi (fig. 9).

Fig. 9 – A blow-pipe nozzle from entrance A of Sakdrisi A (DBM/GNM/RUB, T. Sachvadze).

Fig. 9 – A blow-pipe nozzle from entrance A of Sakdrisi A (DBM/GNM/RUB, T. Sachvadze).

22Mining activities usually require the use of a well-adapted toolset, but also the ability to solve problems as they appear, hence the presence of ad hoc tools, which constitute part of work practises necessary to mining. This is also the case with the Kura-Araxes ceramics of Sakdrisi. The available rim and body fragments suggest that only medium to large-sized vessels were used at Sakdrisi. Whether these vessels were used for their original purposes remains unclear, since the number of potsherds from large containers is quite limited, while the pieces themselves are comparatively small. It is thus not unlikely that these potsherds came to the mine as such. The available data show the use of everyday containers that may have been first used as storage and serving vessels and then reused, even as fragments, to meet the specific requirements of mining works, either as oil lamps, or as ad hoc tools. Whether their function belonged to the field of everyday use, such as drinking water transport, is therefore questionable. But a wide range of uses as definite subsidiary tools is certainly attested in different areas of the gold mine of Sakdrisi.

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Notes

1 Such a function was discussed by various scholars such as T. Chubinishvili (1970, pp. 151‑200).

2 Fur or leather skins may have been used by miners for collecting high concentrations of ore.

Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1 – Chronological distribution of pottery sherds on the mine of Sakdrisi (DBM/RUB/GNM, N. Otchvani).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/12507/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 148k
Titre Fig. 2 – Fragments of goblets and drinking vessels from the mine of Sakdrisi, different scales (DBM/RUB/GNM, T. Rabsilber, T. Sachvadze).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/12507/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 444k
Titre Fig. 3a – Type I.A, group of mugs and drinking vessels from the settlement of Dzedzvebi (DBM/RUB/GNM, H.‑J. Lauffer, T. Sachvadze).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/12507/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 371k
Titre Fig. 3b – Type I.B, group of mugs and drinking vessels from Dzedzvebi (DBM/RUB/GNM, H.‑J. Lauffer, T. Sachvadze).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/12507/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 754k
Titre Fig. 3c – Type I.C, group of mugs and drinking vessels; 1: Dzedzvebi; 2: Sakdrisi (DBM/RUB/GNM, H.‑J. Lauffer, T. Sachvadze).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/12507/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 150k
Titre Fig. 4 – 1: Binary diagrams with MgO, MnO and CaO minor components; there are two ceramic groups at Sakdrisi, one of them matches the ceramics from Dzedzvebi; in addition to a low ratio of MgO, the second group also has lower MnO levels; the ceramics of Gudabertka display higher levels of MnO and CaO than the ceramics of Sakdrisi and Dzedzvebi; 2: Ternary diagram with the main components SiO2/Al2O3/CaO+MgO; while Gudabertka (Geo‑119) can be classified as lime-rich ceramics, the ceramics from Sakdrisi and Dzedzvebi are deficient in lime (Geo‑117, Geo‑118) (after M. Jansen in Otkhvani et al. 2015).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/12507/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 330k
Titre Fig. 5 – 1: Fragments of grooved Kura-Araxes ceramics from Dzedzvebi; 2: Fragments of ornamented ceramics from Sakdrisi (DBM/RUB/GNM, H.‑J. Lauffer, T. Sachvadze).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/12507/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 752k
Titre Fig. 6 – Use-wear on soft reddish and greyish Kura-Araxes ceramics from Sakdrisi (DBM/RUB/GNM, F. Klein).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/12507/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 751k
Titre Fig. 7 – 1, 2, 6: Circular Kura-Araxes handles from Sakdrisi; 3, 4, 5: Circular Kura-Araxes handles from Dzedzvebi (DBM/RUB, GNM, S. Senczek).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/12507/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 323k
Titre Fig. 8 – 1: View from the north-east of the dump of beneficiation tools (feature 10042); 2: Distribution of Kura-Araxes ceramics and handles over the surface areas of the mine (DBM/RUB/GNM, M. Zeiler, F. Klein).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/12507/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,5M
Titre Fig. 9 – A blow-pipe nozzle from entrance A of Sakdrisi A (DBM/GNM/RUB, T. Sachvadze).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/12507/img-11.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,4M

Auteurs

Georgian National Museum, Scientific Laboratory, Georgia

Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Institut für Archäologische Wissenschaften, Germany; Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum, Research department, Mining archaeology, Germany

Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Institut für Archäologische Wissenschaften, Germany; Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum, Research department, Mining archaeology, Germany

Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Institut für Archäologische Wissenschaften, Germany; Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum, Research department, Mining archaeology, Germany

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